A charitable school, three horses, and a tavern: How the Ludwick Institute became the Academy of Natural Science’s educational partner

Almost every museum educator could use some extra funding. I know, I could easily drop the “almost” and the “some” and not be too far off. Well how would you feel if, instead of going through the life-shortening process of writing a grant, all it took to get the cash was to lace up your nice (budget) running shoes and beat another institution in a race? Preposterous and slightly appealing, right?

As ridiculous as it sounds, a race is exactly how the Ludwick Institute — the charitable organization that was put in charge of delivering educational lectures at Philadelphia’s venerable Academy of Natural Sciences (ANS) from 1896 through the mid-twentieth century — came to be and eventually deliver decades of museum programs. When Christopher Ludwick, described as “a benevolent and wealthy German citizen” died in June 1801, he left roughly $8,000 to provide free education for Philadelphia children regardless of race, religion, or country of origin, although we can probably assume the standard nineteenth century exclusions of anyone brown.[1] Spoiler alert: the people who got the cash and the name did so by winning a race. The event took place in early September 1801, and the story of the race that extended over sixty-plus miles was chronicled in an article, “The Very Curious and Entertaining History of the Ludwick Institute,” published in Philadelphia’s The Times newspaper in December 1899. See where we’re headed? But, before we dive in, allow me to give a little historical context.

[Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if you don’t want historical context, but it’s fantastic and you should want fantastic things in your life.]

Despite the conventional wisdom that American museum education, particularly in science museums, didn’t come of age as a field until the 1980s, there is ample evidence that professional museum educators have been actively working with school children, teachers, and the public since the late nineteenth century.[2] Admittedly, the years before World War II were a formative period when many museums were slowly building their educational staff’s and programming. The ANS is a pretty good example. In 1936, ANS leaders hired W. Stephen Thomas as Director of Education, based on his background working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and perhaps that stately name.[3] Thomas surveyed ~1600 Philadelphia-area teachers, asking what kinds of educational support they’d like from Academy, and soon after instituted several lessons for school children. Nothing too earth shattering here.

Meanwhile, some of the earliest educational programs offered by American science museums – and we’re just talking about natural history museums at this point – were for teachers. In the late 1870s, a group of teachers got things rolling by partnering with the Boston Society for Natural History to offer courses and even certification for student teachers.[4] The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York started offering teacher lectures in 1881.[5] The Milwaukee Public Museum claims to have been the first American museum doing specimen loans for teachers in 1888.[6] The AMNH joined in on the teacher loan program fun in 1903, and by 1914 the Field Museum in Chicago had its own program.[7] Teacher lectures were peppered in all over the place. Whether fueled by altruism or the view that teachers suck at their job (as we know far too well, lame arguments are resilient), museum professionals were all about helping teachers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

While all this teacher-museum goodness was going on, the leaders at the Academy of Natural Sciences (ANS) were chilling. And by chilling, I mean doing nothing.[8] To be fair, the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, founded in 1894, was deeply immersed with the Philadelphia Public School district, distributing object-loans and lecturing students aplenty.[9] It’s not like there was some glaring need in the schools that the ANS’s leaders were ignoring. Still, the ANS, founded in 1812 as a learned society of science nerds (I say this admiringly because I’m writing a blog about the history of science museum education, so…glass house and whatnot), wasn’t too keen on dealing with the public. The ANS’s members even fought their own highly respected president and MAJOR benefactor, William Maclure, who wanted to open their collections and library to the public in the 1830s.[10] Their compromise was allowing select, approved citizens to visit the ANS during severely restricted the hours. So, it’s not surprising that ANS leaders would propose that the Ludwick Institute organize and pay for lectures on natural history topics primarily aimed at teachers, while the ANS just opened the door to their auditorium. I can imagine that the ANS’s leaders did cartwheels and high-fives when the Ludwick Institute’s leaders agreed.

William Maclure from A Short History of the Academy of Natural Sciences by Nolan
“Let’s let everybody in to see the Academy of Natural Science’s museum and library! Is that a hard ‘no,’ or is there some wiggle room?”


[Pick up here if somehow you didn’t want to read about history in a post about history. Not that I’m bitter.]

According to the December 10, 1899 story in The Times, what came to be known as the Ludwick Institute started out, like many of the best American things, with a bunch of friends hanging out at the bar.[11] As described in the uncredited article, during the Winter of 1799, “a few young men were in the habit of meeting at a public house for social enjoyment,” and one of them, William Nekervis, was late because he “had allowed himself to be detained to witness a most praiseworthy effort of some young women to teach gratuitously poor girls who had no opportunity of acquiring an education.” Nothing creepy about that. Anyway, he decided that he and his friends should do the same for boys and they each kicked in some cash and created the Philadelphia Society for the Instruction of Indigent Boys. So far, so “praiseworthy.” In June 1801 they opened a day school and changed the name to the Philadelphia Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools (which I’ll call “The Society” because we all have lives we want to get back to). The only thing left to do was file an article of incorporation.

Before the Society for charity schools was incorporated, Charles Ludwick died and left money for exactly that purpose, but they weren’t the only organization aiming to provide free education for poor children (try not to cry; people once thought that should happen). The Society immediately pursued the charter, along with a group from the University of Pennsylvania (U. Penn) which was like the oldest university in America, founded by Ben Franklin, and already firmly established as what academics refer to as “nice with theirs.” Each group had gotten the appropriate signatures and Philadelphia’s Chief Magistrate, who, maintaining “strict impartiality” delivered deeds to both the Philadelphia Society and U. Penn. The catch was that the deed had to be recorded at the Rolls office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about sixty miles away, in order for the incorporation to be finalized. The first group to get to Lancaster would get the Ludwick funding. The race was on.

The public was notified that the Ludwick endowment would be awarded to the first group to go from Philadelphia to Lancaster, PA, and “there was great excitement respecting it.” No kidding. Who wouldn’t be excited about a race to fill out some paperwork? “The University had everything in readiness,” reads the story in The Times, “with relays arranged for along the road.” U. Penn wasn’t playing games, and their representative got on “a fast trotting horse” that was waiting right in front of the court room. Joseph Bennett Eves, at that time president of the Society and somehow not aware that he was racing against a premier university with a horse known for speedy trots, hopped on what was described as “a fine horse.” C’mon Eves. “Fine” is not greater than fast when racing. At this point I think it’s reasonable to question how much of The Times’ story was embellished for sensationalism and express my personal gratitude if that did indeed happen.

For the first fourteen or sixteen miles, the two riders traveled side by side. But Eves, slipping yet again, hadn’t set up horses along the way for relays, and didn’t know about “the discomforture of the horseman” (in fairness to Eves, I don’t even know if that’s a real word) and his horse became exhausted. Undaunted, Eves took a horse from a plow (!!!) to go to the next town where he purchased a third horse from a traveler. Basically, Eves got a cute looking horse, didn’t plan ahead, ran the attractive horse into the ground, and left both a person and a plow stranded to make up for his lack of foresight. And yet, Eves was STILL in the lead. What was happening with the U. Penn rider? When Eves rode through Downingtown, Pennsylvania, the crowd that had gathered to watch him race to file a legal document thought they saw the U. Penn rider “coming in the distance” and shouted “there he comes; there he comes!” But it wasn’t him. Eves had passed and lost sight of his opponent along the way as they passed the Spread Eagle Tavern. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. We can assume, then, that U. Penn’s rider made an unexpected stop. Please allow me this moment of tact and make up your own jokes regarding the Spread Eagle Tavern.


I think this is Eves, and I want so badly for that to be the Spread Eagle Tavern in the background.

Seven hours and sixty-six miles later, Eves arrived in Lancaster at the residence of the Master of the Rolls, a title sadly not reserved for a bread maker, and submitted the charter for enrollment on behalf of the Society. He did so at 8:10pm in the evening on September 7, 1801, and the charter was officially recorded at 12:10pm two days later. No word on if the rider from U Penn ever arrived. Available data does not disprove that his bosses encouraged him to just stay at the Spread Eagle Tavern if he liked it so damn much.

The Society had won the race and the Ludwick funds, but they didn’t receive the award for another five years. By then, the value of the endowment had risen to $10,340 and, when Ludwick’s wife died, included a house for a grand total of $13,000. In the meantime, the Society used subscriptions to purchase land and build a brick house where they taught both boys and girls. All was good until 1818, when the law was passed establishing the Philadelphia common schools – with help from members of the Society – and the need for charitable schools would dwindle over the succeeding decades. The Society was slowly becoming an organization without a purpose.

The Society changed its name to the Ludwick Institute and sought solutions to continue to use the trust, which is where the Academy of Natural Sciences enters the picture. In 1896 Dr. Samuel G. Dixon, the president of the Academy, also member of Board of Managers for Ludwick Institute, suggested that it would “be entirely in harmony with the original design,” to use the money for teachers, whose knowledge is used indirectly for children anyway. Dixon also suggested that the Ludwick’s members could arrange courses of scientific lectures, because teachers, and by proxy students, would benefit from the direct knowledge and “the mental training inseparable from such knowledge.” To achieve all this, the Ludwick would simply have to devote its money “to aiding the Academy in securing the best scientific talent possible to lecture.”


And there you have it. The race that led to programs at a museum that the museum’s staff did nothing but host – at least for a while. The Ludwick Institute hosted lectures and programs at the ANS for decades, and by the 1940s, many of those programs were organized by the museum’s director of education. Even through the 1970s, some ANS programs still carried the name of the Ludwick Institute. The Ludwick Institute, now known as The Christopher Ludwick Foundation, continues its original charter to fund programs for poor children in Philadelphia. You can check out their important work at their website.

Now that you’ve read all of this, feel free to be disappointed that you can’t win some race to get cash for your museum programs, or find someone who already won a race and have them do all your programs while you do nothing. And if you feel sad enough, take heart in knowing that there’s probably a tavern to get lost in somewhere along the way to work tomorrow.


*I’m not on the Internet much so I don’t see everything. If the information or perspectives in this post have been published or discussed elsewhere, please send me an email or comment below with links and I’ll update this post to incorporate and reference those works.





[1] “The Very Curious and Entertaining History of the Ludwick Institute,” 10 Dec 1899, Page 18 – The Times at Newspapers.Com.” Newspapers.com. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://www.newspapers.com/image/53388897/?terms=%22academy%2Bof%2Bnatural%2Bsciences%22%2Bteacher.

[2] The idea that museum education “came of age” in the 1980s comes directly from Roberts (p. 6), which she argues raised the political tensions with scholarship. During this time, Roberts argues, educators challenged prevailing notions about who determines what should be taught in museums, and how, and that by doing so they brought the voices of visitors and marginalized communities to the fore. This perception may come from the Museums for a New Century Report, published by the American Association (now Alliance) of Museums in 1984, but I’ll admit that I’m neither sure nor convinced. Rader and Cain and Roberts each acknowledge that several American natural history museums had active education programs in the 1930s. See Rader, Karen A., and Victoria E. Cain. Life on Display: Revolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science and Natural History in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University 0f Chicago Press, 2014.; and Roberts, Lisa C. From Knowledge to Narrative: Educators and the Changing Museum. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997. Also see American Association of Museums Commission on Museums for a New Century, Museums for a New Century: A Report of the Commission on Museums for a New Century. American Association of Museums, 1984.

Also, Grace Fisher Ramsey’s doctoral research surveying American museums in the 1930s provides a broad overview of the state of education in these institutions. See Ramsey, Grace (Fisher). Educational Work in Museums of the United States; New York, 1938. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89090364522.

[3] Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia Exhibits Department records, 1852-2001 ANSP.2010.004 Finding aid prepared by Eric Rosenzweig and Kira Vidumsky, 2010. https://www.ansp.org/~/media/Files/ans/library-archives/finding-aids/ANSP_2010-004_Exhibits_Department_Records_1852-2001.ashx?la=en

[4] Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory. Teaching Children Science: Hands-On Nature Study in North America, 1890-1930. Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press, 2010. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10389565.

[5] Ramsey, Educational Work in Museums

[6] Lurie, Nancy Oestreich. A Special Style: The Milwaukee Public Museum, 1882-1982. Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1983.

[7] Sherwood, George H. “The Story of the Museum’s Service to Schools.” Natural History 27 (1927): 315–350.

Field Museum of Natural History. Field Museum and the Child. An Outline of the Work Carried on by the Field Museum of Natural History among School Children of Chicago through the N.W. Harris Public School Extension and the James Nelson and Anna Louise Raymond Public School and Children’s Lectures. Stephen C. Simms, Director. Chicago, 1928. https//catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001490195.

[8] Rosenzweig and Vidumsky, “ANS, Phialdelphia Exhibits Department records”

[9] Toothaker, Charles Robinson. Educational Work of the Commercial Museum of Philadelphia. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1921.

[10] Orosz, Joel. Curators and Culture: The Museum Movement in America, 1740-1870. Tuscaloosa : University of Alabama Press, 1990., 120-121

[11] The Times, “The Very Curious and Entertaining Story.” For the next few sections, all the info comes from this story. Let’s skip all the footnotes because we all have lives to get back to.

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