Dear Friends,

A lot of information has been emerging in the past few days about guidelines for the reopening of our nation, state, and city; some of it is contradictory, all of it is partial and incomplete. As Athenaeum staff launch our 6 th week working remotely from our homes, we are working on plans for how we might begin working and serving you at the Athenaeum based on several different scenarios. We want to see your faces at our National Historic Landmark building for work, books, research, and programs, but we want to keep you and ourselves safe and healthy even more! I will provide you updates as we gain more clarity.

In the meantime, we are finding some new ways to bring you content. Jill and Lois have been working with our vendor Baker & Taylor to enable Athenaeum members  to access an online collection of domestic and international newspapers and magazines during this Covid-19 crisis. You will be able to read these titles on your computer. This collection includes some of our current favorites, and many that we do not receive in print (including foreign language magazines and newspapers for our multi-lingual members, and magazines for the children in your life). Access will be through the following link:

You will require login credentials to access the materials. Please email Librarian Jill LeMin Lee at to obtain them . Please be patient, as Jill will need to confirm your membership before sending you the login. We also covet your feedback so we know if it is a service that you would like for us to continue in the future.

As you hear me remind you at every program you attend, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia remains a special home for individuals who value life-long learning, ravenous readers, insatiable wonderers, and individuals eager to engage heart, mind, and soul in the ideas and questions that animate our neighborhoods, our city, and our world. I hope you enjoy this week’s offering for your heart, mind, and spirit. And I invite you to join the Athenaeum if you seek a community that transforms your spirit. 
Monday, April 20

Start your week off with something new to read! Cataloger Lois Reibach has put together a list of our historical mysteries currently available to download on the Athenaeum eBook app!

For those who wish to lose themselves in another time or place, our ebooks collection of historical mysteries have been gathered together at  
The collection includes multiple titles by favorite authors Anne Perry, Charles Todd, and Jacqueline Winspear. Time periods range all the way back to the Roman Empire, but most take place in the first third of the twentieth century.

Lois notes that she has also included some classics that are set in the author's current time. If there is another time or place you would like to experience, please contact Jill or Lois and we will see what we can do.
Tuesday, April 21

The Athenaeum collection is full of thousands of items not on display. Our collections staff has taken advantage of this time at home to showcase and write about some of our lesser seen items. This week, Collections Manager Denise Fox wrote about one of the smaller items we have. 

One of the privileges of working with Athenaeum museum objects is the opportunity to bring hidden stories to light. I recently wondered what we could learn from this miniature portrait of Suzanne Curchod Necker (1737-1794). While this curio has lain nearly-forgotten in Athenaeum storage for almost five decades, the name of Mme Necker is anything but forgotten in Paris.
Suzanne Necker was married to Jacques Necker, finance minister of France under King Louis XVI. She was an accomplished writer who hosted one of the most celebrated salons in Paris, where luminaries gathered to discuss art, literature, and politics. More than that, in 1778, seeking to ease the suffering of overcrowded hospitals, she remodeled a monastery and established a neighborhood charity hospital, with the aim of providing every patient their own bed.  
Today that hospital continues as the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital, a teaching hospital in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, affiliated with the University of Paris Descartes. Like other hospitals around the world, it is currently mobilized in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. Looking once again at her miniature portrait, we realize that Mme Necker was no mere society matron with a poofy hairdo; rather, she was a strong, motivated woman whose commitment to humanitarian care reveals itself in the lasting legacy of public service that is now more relevant than ever.
Mme Necker was the mother of Madame de Staël, or Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, who was a friend and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson.
To see more portraits and paintings in the Athenaeum’s collections, please visit
Wednesday, April 22

Today we celebrate Earth Day! You probably all recognize the beautiful globe pictured. It stands in the middle of the Member's Reading Room on the Second Floor. The globe has been a part of the Athenaeum Collection for decades, and continues to be a stand out in the already beautiful room.

Thomas Malby & Son
London, c.1867

This 42-inch diameter globe consists of two hollow hemispheres of papier-mâché , joined at the middle. In a globe this size there will probably be internal supporting cross-struts and ribs as well. The papier-mâché shell is covered with plaster, giving a smooth surface upon which to adhere the map of the world. The horizon circle is incorporated in the stand and has eight paper sections, showing the Gregorian and Julian calendar signs of the Zodiac, etc., adhered directly onto the wood surround. There is a cartouche in the areas of the Atlantic Ocean, giving description, makers name, address and date.

The Athenaeum Annals, January 1971, reprinted an account from the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1929: “In the center of the room is a large globe of the world. In order that members may follow commander Byrd through his Antarctic exploration, this globe has recently been reversed so the South Pole is now on top.” In the middle of the Atlantic there is a hand-written note in ink, “Here the Mary Flint was dismasted,” but who placed the writing there and to what event it may refer, is not known. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer, January 22, 1921, offers this hint: “The hand that wrote it was that of a member. One of whose relations was on board. You can easily imagine that the fingers trembled as this tragic happening was recorded.”
Thursday, April 23

Curator’s Pick by Bruce Laverty

Laverty family spring tradition has always included watching The Ten Commandments , Cecil B. DeMille’s star-studded, Cinemascope spectacular. About 15 years ago, we discovered in the Athenaeum’s archival collections a version of the ten commandments, not issued by Jehovah, nor even by Paramount Pictures. Found in the Paul Philippe Cret Collection was a single letter size sheet with the title Ten Commandments for Architects , universal truths for those who toiled not on stone tables ,but on drafting tables. 

Paul Philippe Cret’s Ten Commandments For Architects

1. Don’t try to please everybody. Try first to please yourself.
2. Don’t save time on the study of a project. Construction will move faster.
3. Don’t think you know it all. A building needs many craftsmen; make use of them.
4. Don’t promise your client the moon at a bargain.
5. Don’t regard any commission as unworthy of your best endeavor. You will be judged by all your work.
6. Don’t believe architecture was invented ten years ago.
7. Don’t repeat your story. Try to tell a better one...if you can.
8. Don’t think a design is good or new when it is merely different.
9. Don’t hope to find a formula for beauty.
10. Don’t worry about what others are doing. The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself!

To find out more about Paul Cret check out PAB
Friday, April 24

Did you know the Athenaeum is on social media? We are all spending a little more time than usual on our phones and computers, so give the Athenaeum a follow on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram for even more content throughout the week!

There are also a number of photos from our collections on the Athenaeum Pinterest page.

Any content you would like to see? Let us know!
Saturday, April 25

Curator Bruce Laverty has been able to take advtange of extra time at home by catching up on reading. He recently finished Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, and wrote a review of the book for us. You can check this book out on the eBook app as well!

Below is a preview of the piece, click here to keep reading.

" When I was smart enough to let the computer and the TV go dormant, I picked up that fat book, Helen Zia’s Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution . This last minute book choice didn’t disappoint . As the title suggests, Zia begins on May 4, 1949, the day of the final scheduled maritime departure from free Shanghai. This meticulously researched non-fiction work opens with the crush of desperate crowds hell-bent on escaping Mao Tse Tung’s victorious Red Army. The author skillfully uses this date and this boat to introduce four young Shanghai residents. There was 21 year-old Benny, privileged eldest son of Shanghai’s police commissioner; Bing (20), a peasant-born girl given up ( perhaps sold ) first by her biological father, and then again by her adoptive parents; Ho, a 24 year-old engineering student ,whose dream was to invent the first Chinese character typewriter; and Annuo, a 14 year-old girl whose family fled Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, returned after World War II, only to be driven out a second time by the Communists in 1949."
As we continue to celebrate National Poetry Month, I offer you a poem from one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry. For each of us who has a little poetry stirring in our soul:

Wishing you all health, hope, and happiness,
Beth Hessel
Executive Director