Becoming Penn: The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000

Becoming Penn: The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000

Becoming Penn: The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000

Becoming Penn: The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000

Synopsis

The second half of the twentieth century saw the University of Pennsylvania grow in size as well as in stature. On its way to becoming one of the world's most celebrated research universities, Penn exemplified the role of urban renewal in the postwar redevelopment and expansion of urban universities, and the indispensable part these institutions played in the remaking of American cities. Yet urban renewal is only one aspect of this history. Drawing from Philadelphia's extensive archives as well as the University's own historical records and publications, John L. Puckett and Mark Frazier Lloyd examine Penn's rise to eminence amid the social, moral, and economic forces that transformed major public and private institutions across the nation.

Becoming Penn recounts the shared history of university politics and urban policy as the campus grappled with twentieth-century racial tensions, gender inequality, labor conflicts, and economic retrenchment. Examining key policies and initiatives of the administrations led by presidents Gaylord Harnwell, Martin Meyerson, Sheldon Hackney, and Judith Rodin, Puckett and Lloyd revisit the actors, organizations, and controversies that shaped campus life in this turbulent era. Illustrated with archival photographs of the campus and West Philadelphia neighborhood throughout the late twentieth century, Becoming Penn provides a sweeping portrait of one university's growth and impact within the broader social history of American higher education.

Excerpt

Our book stands on the shoulders of Roy Franklin Nichols and Jeannette Paddock Nichols, husband and wife—and distinguished members of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of History—who, in the 1960s, set out to write a social and institutional history of the University. Their book would take as its starting point Edward Potts Cheyney’s magisterial History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740–1940 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940). Recognizing the magnitude of the changes they had witnessed since their arrival at Penn in 1925, the Nicholses planned to cover the three decades between 1940 and 1970. Surveying his more than forty years’ experience as a Penn faculty member, Roy Nichols wrote in 1968, “A university amorphous and slow-paced, where so little seemed to happen, had achieved a new vision of itself and created a new image. Strength, vitality, and enterprise were transforming characteristics. These experiences I shared as I had participated in them.”

Lacking access to the archival records for the University presidencies of Thomas Sovereign Gates, George W. McClelland, Harold Stassen, and Gaylord P. Harnwell, the couple decided to base their study on oral history interviews they would conduct themselves. Unfortunately, Roy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a major doyen of the Social Science Research Council and the American Historical Association, and an internationally famous scholar, died in 1973, leaving his undaunted spouse to soldier on with the project. Though Jeannette, who died in 1978, never completed the book or even a manuscript fragment, she left behind some one hundred transcribed interviews for future researchers to mine. A knowledgeable, astute, and sometimes cantankerous observer of University affairs in the postwar era, Jeannette constructed her interviews as colloquies with her informants and felicitously intruded her own informed perspectives into the archival record.

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