Early Days of the Committee
In 1926, Philadelphia held the Sesquicentennial International Exposition, a world’s fair, to celebrate the 150th year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One of the most popular exhibits, the High Street exhibit, was administered by several different women’s groups. They sought to teach the public about life during the 18th and 19th centuries through antiques and other artifacts.
After the Sesquicentennial, the ladies wanted to continue to educate the public about our nation’s early history, so they formed the Committee of 1926 and hoped to create a museum to share the history of early Philadelphia with visitors.
Building a new museum proved too costly, so the women of the Committee of 1926, at the suggestion of Mr. Fiske Kimball, leased Strawberry Mansion from the city of Philadelphia. In order to open as a museum, they had to completely renovate the space.
The Committee undertook the restoration of the property. They removed many of the later additions in order to bring it back to what it looked like in the 1830s. According to Committee records, the house was in rough shape when they took began their restoration. Park Guards used the downstairs room for recreational activities and the kitchen was dirty and greasy due to the mansion’s previous life as a restaurant. The women took on the challenge and brought the house back to its former glory in under a year. The house opened to the public in 1931 and the ladies of the Committee took an active role welcoming and educating visitors.
Women of the Early Committee
Mrs. Elizabeth Price Martin was the first Chairman of the Committee of 1926. She helped conceive the idea for the High Street Exhibit and was subsequently very involved with the restoration of Strawberry. In addition to her work with Strawberry, she served as the President of the Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania during World War I, co-founded the Garden Club of America, and was responsible for the restoration of Stenton Mansion and Bartram’s Garden, along with many other accomplishments and contributions.
Miss Sarah D. Lowrie was one of the most dedicated members of the early Committee. She was responsible for the High Street Exhibit and contributed greatly to the restoration of the house. She also created the Book of Honor, which is a commemoration of notable women from 18th, 19th, and 20th century Pennsylvania. Miss Lowrie was a member of the Committee from 1926 until her death in 1957 and wrote a book on the history of the house and its residents. Today you can see her portrait, painted by Violet Oakley, in the second floor hallway.
Mrs. Harrold Gillingham was one of the most prolific donors to Historic Strawberry Mansion. She donated many of the items in our 18th Century Bedroom, named the Gillingham Bedroom. She also contributed to the collections of many other historic houses and museums in the area, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Stenton Mansion.
The Legacy Continues!
The Mansion played host to many parties. During the 1935-1936 period alone they hosted 312 parties, dinners, and other entertainments. One of their most popular fundraisers were annual fashion shows, hosted in conjunction with Lord and Taylor. They also hosted dinners before concerts at the Dell Music Center, located next door to the Mansion.
For the next several decades the ladies of the Committee continued to dedicate themselves to the stewardship of Historic Strawberry Mansion. They expanded the collection, continued to enthusiastically educate visitors, and shared their passion for history with Philadelphia and beyond. They also cultivated beautiful gardens, including an azalea-lined path along the back of the property.
In 2009 the Committee decided to restore Historic Strawberry Mansion once again. Both the inside and the outside were restored in order to preserve the house and grounds for future generations of visitors.