VAUX, ROBERTS ( 21 January 1786, Philadelphia--7 January 1836, Philadelphia). Education: Friends Academy, Philadelphia. Career: Social reformer.
Son of a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family, Roberts Vaux at age twenty- six, possessing a substantial inherited fortune, left business and devoted himself to a wide variety of philanthropic endeavors. Best remembered for his work in fostering private charity and creating the free public education system in Philadelphia, Vaux saw in educational institutions a method of ending illiteracy and promoting virtue among the poor. Vaux wanted to provide free education, and he at first worked to encourage the use of English Quaker Joseph Lancaster's monitorial system; he became increasingly convinced of the need for public tax support. From 1818 to 1831 Vaux served as the first president of the Board of Controllers of the school system.
As a member of the Quaker-dominated Prison Reform Society, Vaux took an active role in their efforts to change prisons into penitentiaries--institutions where criminals would learn to be sorry for their misdeeds and change their way of living. Reformation would be fostered by a program of manual labor, solitude, and regular visitation of inmates by members of the Prison Society and other respectable people. Vaux lobbied the state legislature to build a model penitentiary, the Eastern State Prison, which opened in 1830. Vaux also persuaded the state to build a juvenile reformatory to separate children from adult criminals.
Convinced that the upper classes needed to be reminded of the simple moral living of their ancestors, Vaux wrote biographies of earlier antislavery reformers and helped found the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Athenaeum, and the Academy of Natural Sciences. He supported the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, wrote many articles on improving farming methods, served on the boards of the Pennsylvania Hospital and Friends Asylum at Frankfort, and help create the Apprentice's Library and the Philadelphia Savings Fund