Time: Philadelphia Junto

Monday, Oct. 20, 1941

Last week Philadelphia revived Benjamin Franklin’s famed Junto, 174 years dead. The sight would have startled old Ben; the cozy little study club he founded in a tavern with eleven convivial companions in 1727 has a mammoth reincarnation. Two thousand Philadelphians trooped into the Academy of Music for the new Junto’s first meeting, and at week’s end fresh hordes were still coming. It was the biggest cultural revival in many a Philadelphia year.

When Franklin started the Junto (council), a mutual self-improvement society, among his “ingenious acquaintances,” he was a stripling of 21, and his fellow members (a joiner, a surveyor, a glazier, an Oxford scholar, a “young gentleman of some fortune”) were not much older. Proceedings were secret and no minutes were kept, But Franklin revealed some of the study topics. Samples: “Whence comes the dew that stands on the outside of a tankard? . . . What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed? … Is self-interest the rudder that steers mankind?” For excessively dogmatic answers, members had to pay fines.

The Junto lasted some 40 years, left a permanent stamp on Philadelphia. It started the Union Fire Company (Philadelphia’s first volunteer fire department), the Library Company of Philadelphia (now the oldest circulating library in the U.S.), is said to have inspired the founding of the University of Pennsylvania, and when it died was apotheosized as the American Philosophical Society, oldest of the great U.S. scientific societies.

The man who revived the Junto was John Frederick Lewis Jr. Heir to a great Philadelphia fortune, frowzy-haired, rumple-shirted John Lewis works. 3 twelve hours a day keeping culture alive in Philadelphia. He is on the boards of 21 cultural institutions, heads the Academy of Music (a Lewis heirloom), the Mercantile Library, the Art Alliance. He inherited the largest single collection of portraits of Washington, and gave them away to Philadelphia’s schools.

Recently Mr. Lewis became alarmed at the dust piling up in such world-famed centers of Philadelphic culture as the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Fine Arts. Observing that adult-education clubs flourished in Philadelphia suburbs, he launched a campaign. He put circulars on every Philadelphia doorstep, posters in every Philadelphia streetcar, inviting one & all to join a new Junto and gather in the museums for fun and learning. Members would attend ten-week courses (at $2 a course) on such subjects as art, cartooning, music, nature, airplanes, contract bridge, writing, gardening, philosophy, dancing. To teach them, he got top-notch instructors (who practically donated their services at $5 to $10 a session).

One hot, stifling night last week, while stripteasers in a burlesque theater next door shed their clothes before an almost empty house, Juntoists crammed into the Academy of Music for their inaugural mass meeting. They were greeted by Mr. Lewis, University of Pennsylvania’s President Thomas S. Gates, School Superintendent Alexander J. Stoddard and Franklin Biographer Carl Van Doren.
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,851344,00.html#ixzz0dmI8Xm0l

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