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Founder’s Week in Philadelphia

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In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the city of Philadelphia hosted several large celebrations. Events such as the 1876 Centennial and the 1898 Peace Jubilee connected Philadelphia residents to the anniversary of the founding of the United States and the end of the Spanish-American war. From October 4 to 10, 1908, however, the city threw a celebration that focused on local history rather than national or global events. Known as Founder’s Week, the festivities commemorated the 225th anniversary of the founding of Philadelphia with events throughout the city.

The festivities were well-attended by residents of Philadelphia as well as visitors to the city. A New York Times article from October 5, 1908 states that trains traveling into Philadelphia were three to five cars longer than usual to accommodate the crowds. As part of the celebration, the week was divided into different thematic days, each featuring corresponding parades and other activities. October 4, 1908, designated as Religious Day and the first day of the week long celebration, included services at various churches as well as open air services in Independence, Washington, Rittenhouse, Logan, Morris, and Franklin Squares and at Memorial Hall and Strawberry Mansion in Fairmount Park. The article estimates that 15,000 people attended each of the outdoor services and 20,000 Catholics gathered in Chestnut Street to receive the papal blessing from Mgr. Falconi. Members of the National Guard of Pennsylvania were housed in armories throughout the city, and thirteen United States fighting ships were anchored in the Delaware in preparation for the military parade on October 5, also known as Military Day.

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October 6, Municipal Day, included a parade of police and firemen from around the city and Industrial Day, October 7, featured a parade that focused on Philadelphia’s industrial achievements followed by a later parade that included members of local labor organizations. On October 8, Children’s and Naval Day, activities consisted of a patriotic performance by children at Independence Hall, a review of the ships in the harbor, and a river pageant.

Historical Day on Friday, October 9, featured a large historical pageant held on Broad Street. The pageant was divided into nine divisions with multiple floats illustrating the historic events that occurred in each division. Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer, a local historian and one of the pageant’s organizers, felt that the event should provide a historical and civic education to Philadelphians, rather than simply serving as another form of entertainment. This lesson in civic history, however, was influenced by the views of the pageant’s organizers. Native Americans were mentioned at the beginning of the pageant and African-Americans were included in scenes illustrating the underground railroad, but the pageant did not mention the arrival of any immigrants or ethnic groups after the American Revolution.

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The lack of focus on the history of specific ethnic groups in Philadelphia is seen by some historians as evidence of city leaders’ attempts to unite different neighborhoods and groups in the city. Often, ethnic groups held celebrations commemorating events important to that group rather than joining together in municipal holidays. The Founder’s Week served as a way to bring Philadelphians together while also providing them with a civic history lesson, albeit one that focused on only certain historical events. After Historical Day, the celebration concluded with Athletic and Knights Templar Day on October 10. The final events included more parades, fireworks, an automobile race, and a regatta on the Schuylkill River.

After Founder’s Week, Philadelphia hosted a few additional large celebrations. In 1919, the city held a parade for troops returning from World War I, and in 1926, the Sesquicentennial International Exposition was held in the South Philadelphia area.


[1] Glassberg, David. “Public Ritual and Cultural Hierarchy: Philadelphia’s Civic Celebrations at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 107, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 421-448.

[2] New York Times. “Four Races for New York.” October 11, 1908.

[3] New York Times. “Philadelphia Opens Its’ Founders Week.” October 5, 1908.

[4] Joyce, John St. George. Story of Philadelphia. Rex Printing House, 1919. p. 305-306.