New Century Trust

Address: 1307 Locust Street
Neighborhood:Center City
Year Built: 1851
Architectural Style: Mid-Nineteenth Century Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Philadelphia Register of Historic Places: Yes
National Register of Historic Places: Yes
Current Use: Headquarters for the New Century Trust, programs, rentals

Historical Background
The New Century Trust traces its roots to the Women’s Pavilion at the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. This first-ever undertaking resulted in the founding of the New Century Club (1877) of which Eliza Sproat Turner (1826-1903) was a member.  Turner and other progressive members of the Club formed a committee in 1882 they named the New Century Guild for Working Women.  The Guild offered innovative vocational training, classes and social opportunities for working women. The Guild soon became a separate organization, but retained close ties to the Club. By 1892 the Guild’s classes and programs had grown to the point that the group needed its own building.  And in 1893, the Guild’s leadership created the New Century Trust as the incorporated body of the Guild, a move that enabled the Trust to accumulate substantial funds to purchase the Guild’s first building.

The New Century Trust purchased the 1307 Locust Street building in 1906 from the widow of Dr. William Drysdale; the Drysdale family had used the building both as their residence and for Dr. Drysdale’s medical practice.  After the Trust purchased the building, it began to tailor the structure to meet its mission, reconfiguring the second floor to create an auditorium with a stage to provide a place for programs and classes-a place where women’s voices and viewpoints could be heard.  The Trust added a kitchen to the back of the building to offer low cost, nutritious meals to its members and their guests in the adjacent “Noon Rest”.  The “Noon Rest” provided an important service and respite for working women in Center City who, until the late 1940s, had few places where they could find affordable, respectable places to have lunch.  The Trust transformed Dr. Dry dale’s gentlemen’s library into a lending library for members. The Guild Building also had temporary lodging on the 3rdr and 4thth floors where the family’s bedrooms and servant  quarters were reconfigured into dorm-like spaces for members to stay overnight, up to 3 nights a week for as little as 25 cents. This amenity gave single working women a chance to benefit from the city’s offerings while having a safe place to retire for the night, as well as free them from the constraints of living at home. By 1920, the building’s interior reflected the mission and values of the Trust.

During the first decades of the 20tht century the Guild Building was the locus for a wide array of political causes including women’s suffrage, municipal reform, consumer issues, labor reform, and citizenship training for women.  The Trust and Guild were deeply involved with the larger women’s club movement and its causes, both statewide and nationally.   Beginning in 1887, they used their nationally circulated publication the New Century Journal for Working Women to raise awareness about issues impacting women in the workforce. In the 20thcentury, the journal changed names to the New Century Journal of Women’s Interests and took on a more local focus than in earlier decades. By the 1950s, the Journal had become a Guild newsletter and ceased publication about 2001.

Membership in the Guild offered working women who could pay the modest annual dues various opportunities. The members typically were single white women, often Protestant, who worked in Center City’s offices, and retail establishments as bookkeepers, secretaries, and clerks.  Some members taught and others were social workers at one of the several settlement houses in the immigrant neighborhoods in South Philadelphia.  The Trust and the Guild experimented with providing support for members including emergency financial assistance, use of a hospital bed, and life insurance at a time when these opportunities were seldom available for working women.   Membership also offered members a network of like-minded women whose experiences in the workplace and interests in politics often set them apart from their peers.  Guild membership also provided them social opportunities from bike outings to dances.  Women often remained members throughout their working life and after retirement. The Guild offered activities for every stage of adult life.

The directors of the Trust (maximum of nine until 2005) in the 19th and early decades of the 20ththcentury typically were women of means with a commitment to wider roles for women in the workplace and political life.  Today the Trust has almost 20 directors, both working and retired women from many backgrounds. In 2005 the Trust eliminated the New Century Guild committee and became a non-membership organization.  The New Century Trust at Guild Building continues as a place for discussion on issues impacting women and girls.  Today, the historic legacy of the Guild and the Trust is carried on through the preservation, use, and interpretation of its landmark building and the Trust’s grant giving and mission-related programming serving women and women-and-girl based non-profit organizations within the Delaware Valley.

The building is listed on the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Historical Registers and is a National Landmark in Women’s History on the National Register of Historic Places.

Some Community Stakeholders
Center City District, William Way Community Center, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Library Company of Philadelphia

Possible Artistic Uses & Limitations
The upper rooms pictured in the above photographs are vacant, and could be used for a wide variety of installations and performances.

The relatively small size of many of the rooms may limit some possibilities, for performance works especially. Proposals should take into account where the audience might be situated. Also, performances cannot involve jumping on the floors. Although the stairways are significantly larger than the average row house, keep in mind that the entrances to the rooms are of standard size. The building is not air conditioned; this may change by 2013.

The New Century Trust’s archives are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  They include minutes, journals, newspaper clippings, financial records, and photographs.

Disclosure

Hidden City Philadelphia has secured provisional interest and commitment to participate from the owners or stewards of prospective sites for the 2013 festival. We cannot guarantee final festival participation for any site, as many are subject to transitional forces, such as changes in ownership or stewardship, development, hazmat remediation, public-private jurisdiction, access restrictions and, in some cases, continued physical deterioration.

With that said, we have secured interest and willingness from site owners and stewards to engage in a discovery process with artists, partner organizations, and other stakeholders concerning creative projects and public engagement. The realization of any artistic project for the festival will be the result of a collaborative process with, and eventual collective approval of, Hidden City staff, advisors, community stakeholders, and site owners.

Hidden City’s staff are facilitators and advocates with the goal of bringing about a productive and mutually satisfying relationship between artists and the other stakeholders essential to any creative process located in places where art making is not a regular activity.