Finding My Grandfather in the Archive

My maternal grandfather, Richard Nolan was a pilot in the Air Force. He flew reconnaissance planes in Vietnam.

A few weeks ago, I taught a lesson on soldiers’ experience during the Vietnam War. To connect the history to my students’ lives, I asked them if anyone in their family served in the war. Six students raised their hands. They all knew that their grandfather’s served in some capacity but they had never asked them about their experience. My students’ homework was to go home and call their grandfathers and see if they were willing to share their story.

Both of my grandfathers served in the Vietnam War but neither are still with us. Thankfully, they were both fairly open with us and with my parents about their service, so I grew up knowing a little about their experiences. However, I still wanted to know more. Not having the option of talking to them, I turned to google. I searched my paternal grandfather’s name: Thomas Austin, and the title of his position during the war.

My paternal grandfather, Thomas Austin. He was the Senior Advisor of the Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam.

To my delight, I found a book that not only references my grandfather, but references several reports he wrote during the war. My grandfather was a graduate from West Point, and by the time he was deployed to Vietnam, too many of the men from his graduating class had died in combat that he was not allowed to be in a combat zone. Instead, the Army sent him to learn Vietnamese and in 1976 he became the Senior Advisor of the Phuoc Tuy Province. As part of his job, he submitted monthly reports on his province. I read some of his direct quotes in the text and immediately flipped to the footnotes to see where these materials were located. I found the following footnote:

LTCOL Thomas Austin, ‘Province report — Phuoc Tuy Province — period ending: 29 February 1968 (2), Box 1575, A1 731, RG 472, NARA.

I went to the NARA website, searched for the reading group and started digging through the finding aid. What I found is that the NARA website and their finding aids are extraordinarily confusing and difficult to navigate. It was seemingly impossible to find where the files were located or how to request them. I ended up reaching out through their contact page and am hoping to hear back.

My dad followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the military. He reveres my grandfather’s service and seeing those reports would mean a great deal to him. NARA holds military personnel files that are accessible for family research, but it is these more detailed primary documents of a person’s work that I think can provide the opportunity to really connect with a family member’s impact on history.

A page from my grandfather’s scrapbook

My grandfather returned from Vietnam he put together a scrapbook of photos from his time in Phuoc Tuy and the people he met with. These scrapbook pages have lived in my parent’s secretary desk, along with other family albums. But when I saw them recently, I thought back to the book where I originally found my grandfather’s records.

Another scrapbook page, filled with photos taken by and of my grandfather.

In the book, my grandfather is just another Army official whose records were consulted, but these scrapbooks tell a different history of his service in Vietnam. These accounts are filled with his personal interactions with South Vietnamese provincial leaders and citizens. His personal papers made me think of all of the family papers that exist outside of archives that would make our histories so much richer. How can we write a history of the experience of the Vietnam War without these rich sources being organized in a repository? Will these stories ever make their way to an archive? I am not sure what the answer to that question is, other than to continue to encourage my students to learn their own family history and emphasize how important their stories are to our collective national history.

Archives in the News: The Digitization of the Nuremberg Trails

In keeping with the theme of this week’s class, I found myself getting lost in story after story of archives in the news until one piece in particular caught my attention.

One week ago, archivists at the Shoah Memorial in Paris announced the completion of a two-year long project to digitize the audio recordings of the Nuremberg Trials. The announcement came just days after a shooting in Germany, outside of a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. The timing of this anti-semitic incident coinciding with the increasing accessibility of these records,  emphasizes the pressing importance of making this history more accessible to a broader public.

While transcripts of the court trials have long been available, the audio recordings give new life to this history. The head archivist of the project, Karen Taieb, argues that hearing the actual voices of the people on trial adds new emotion and weight to understanding the power of the history.

In addition to digitizing hours of auido files — previously stored on “2,000 large discs housed in wooden boxes” for the past fifty years — the files will now be accessible in three different institutions: the Shoah Memorial in Paris, the International Court of Justice library in the Hague, Netherlands, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Herein lies one of the primary advantages of digitization and the power of this particular project. Sending the files to three different institutions further increases accessability and also places the materials within different insitutional and historical contexts. Hopefully, more people are able to interact with this moment of history, connect with it emotionally, and learn from it more effectively.



Parker, Claire. “Public to get access to Nuremberg trails digital recordings.” Associated Press. October, 12, 2019.

#AskAnArchivist Day

As part of American Archives Month, the SAA christened October 2nd “#AskAnArchivist Day”. The purpose of the day, according to the SAA website, is to “break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.”* Last Wednesday, archivists took to social media to responsed to questions, post creative content, and interact with other archives around the country.

I spent the day following along and marveling at all of the delightful ideas archivsts used to engage followers and make the archive both more accessible and more fun. I found the hashtag a really successful method to draw focus, not just on the materials within the archive, but how the archive itself functions.

One of the most common approaches archives took was to highlight unique archival materials. The Newberry Library answered the question, “What’s the strangest thing you’ve processed in a collection?” Their answer was a book of intricately braided human hair from the 1840s. There’s a common misconception that archives mainly hold traditional “papers”. Answers like this expand public perception of the types of materials that they would find in an archive.

The University of Minnesota took us on a ride. They placed a camera on an archive box so we could follow it on its journey from storage to the reading room and back.

The Utah State Archives showed off the cousin of our very own book bot.

But one of my favorite posts shined a light on a small, yet very hazardous threat to every collection — the paperclip, or as the Smithsonian Archive called them, the “Artifacts of Paper Torture”.

#AskAnArchivist Day was a creative and engaging way to make the archive more accessible. These tweets merely offered a glimpse into all the fun that lies behind archival doors and within document boxes.


*”#AskAnArchivist Day – October 2, 2019″, Society of American Archivists, updated September 11, 2019. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Chaos & Order

Last week we did an accessioning exercise where we looked at an unprocessed box from a new collection and thought about ways to establish order. It was a fun exercise to dig through the contents of the box, and think about ways to organize the chaos. Ultimately however, it was overwhelming and intimidating to see the sheer volume of work ahead for the archivists who will make the collection accessible.

Fastforward to today, where I spent the day in the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland. When I arrived, the archivist wheeled out a cart of boxes I had reserved and we chatted about the collection. Ten minutes later I was diving in to a tidy box of viewer mail, roughly organized by year.

While I was excited to see the sources and each one felt like a fun discovery, I was continually reminded of the number of hours of work and care that went into establshing the order of each folder and each box.

Not only can I imagine the chaos that this collection may have arrived in, and marveled at how much sense each box made. But I also thought about the detailed work done on each folder. Metal paperclips were replaced with plastic ones. Photos are sandwhiched with acid-free. Some fragile materials had duplicated photocopies.

In the course of the day, I only made it through four boxes. There are seventeen more just on Sesame Street, and about 300 more in the entire collection. Sitting here, processing my day of research, I cannot help but be awed and incredibly thankful for both the work that went into making this collection accessible, but also for being more informed about this otherwise invisible process so I could truly appreciate it.

This All Seems Familiar

Touring the Special Collections Resource Center at Temple this week and seeing some of the chaos induced by the move and new work flows vividly reminded me of my struggles with an archive of a different sort. Before coming to graudate school I worked for a television network, where my day-to-day job relied heavily on working with a media library that was responisble for maintaining an archive of episodes, movies, and promotional materials.

Throughout the three years working for this company, the library went under constant and drastic changes, many of which happened with little to no input from the people using the materials. Each change resulted in more precarious preservation and decreased accessibility, all for the sake of office aesthetics.

When I first started, I was shocked to see that all of the company’s media assets were almost exclusively archived on HDCam tapes. If an old episode or arhived promotional spot was needed, a digitization request had to be submitted. The process was slow; digitizing an episode could take up to one week. Once digitized, there was no method in place to store the digital file. So the company perpetually wasted time re-digitizing files whenever they were needed again. This led to the creation of an informal archive at my desk of digitized files on various hard drives.

HDCams that were frequently used were initally kept on site in the office. These tapes were used weekly by multiple producers and editors. However, when the library was rennovated to house new desks, the company decided to move almost all of the tapes off site, to an office fifty miles away in Connecticut. A truck would deliver assets from offsite twice a week. This led to the creation of many mini-libraries, as people began hoarding assets at their desks and in offices so as to not lose accessibility. What we did lose was multiple tapes.

I did have control over our online archive of promotional campaigns. I inherited a hodge-podge collection of our show’s campaigns and reorganized the entire system to be more accessible. However, a month or so before the leaving the job the company announced it was switching platforms, meaning that terabytes of files needed to be downloaded from the old site and reuploaded and reorganized on the new one. I am not so sad to say that I left before the chaos ensued.

So Many Boxes, So Little Time: Planning a Visit to the Archive

The archive used to intimidate me. Thankfully, after a few weeks in my Archives & Manuscripts graduate course, I feel more prepared to plan my first visit to an archive for my dissertation research.

In two weeks, I am visiting the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland to look at their Children’s Television Workshop collection. I started planning my visit by looking through the collection’s online finding aid. The entire collection contains 14 series that amount to 456 linear feet of material. The volume was initially overwhelming, but I know I’ll be making several return trips. For this visit, I narrowed down my search to the series specifcally focused on Sesame Street (which totals 30 linear feet).

Having never conducted research in an archive, it is difficult to know how many boxes to request or what material to start with. My hoarder tendencies want to see as much as possible, but I know I need a more realistic approach.

To find a starting point, I browsed the boxes within the four sub-series: Planning and Production, Promotion, Viewer Mail, and Ancillary Materials. I scanned each box for folders that either caught my attention or surprised me. One box contained over twenty folders labeled “Anti-Abortion Mail”. I have yet to read anything about the issue of abortion in relation to Sesame Street; I was hooked. Other boxes contained folders on playgrounds, Sesame Street magazine, and folder after folder of viewer criticisms, praise, and letters from parents and kids. I ended up with a list of eight boxes that picqued my interest.

Before putting in a request, I reached out to the archivst to let them know when I was planning on visiting and to give them a broad overview of what I was interested in looking at. One of the archivsts wrote back and said the viewer mail is some of the most interesting content in the collection and it was a great place to start.

After an hour or two of work, I was surprised at how learning basic skills like navigating finding aids and understanding an archive’s structure, made the entire endeavor seem more inviting and doable. Hopefully that feeling continues when I step into the archive to begin my research.


If a tweet doesn’t make it to the archive, does it still exist?

In 2010, the Library of Congress (LOC) announced they would be archiving Twitter’s arsenal of tweets, dating back to 2006 and moving forward in perpetuity. However, the volume of tweets quickly overwhelmed the collecting process. In 2013, when the LOC finished cataloging tweets from 2006 to 2010, the collection included over 170 billion tweets. While tweets might seem small, billions of them add up. The tweets collected required over 300 terabytes of data storage.*

In December of 2017, the LOC changed its collection policy for Twitter. For all tweets posted after 2017, the archive would be far more selective about the historical importance of tweets entering the archive.

The decision to archive tweets was ambitious and the hurdles that have come up in the collecting process will establish lasting precedents for the archiving of other social and digital platforms. There are already a number of concerns I have had with the twitter archive in my own research.

The first is access.

The collected tweets are currently inaccessible to research due to a series of concerns with Twitter’s privacy policies and LOC’s resource priorities. According to a LOC press release, “There is no projected timetable for providing public access.”**

When the tweets do become accessible, there is still the issue of what tweets will meet the standards of the collecting policy. Tweets are significant sources for multiple disciplines, but in history they give us unprecedented access to understand history from the bottom up. Twitter is an open forum for social interaction, public opinion, and political debate between average Americans. If the archive is too selective about whose tweets are worth saving, we risk losing access to these conversations.

The inclusion in the archive isn’t just about access, it is also about the prestige of the archive in the historical profession.

When writing about a seemingly trivial subject like Sesame Street, I often face criticism over the legitimacy of my evidence as historical sources. Archives help to legitimize source material, elevating material as historically significant. On a practical level, when applying to research fellowships, you include a list of archives you wish to visit. You cannot receive a fellowship for trolling Twitter for tweets about felt puppets.

These are just a few of the challenges posed by the Twitter archive from a research perspective. I am wary, but excited, to continue to navigate these turns as I continue my project.





The Pitfalls of a Keyword Search

The ability to search by keyword through terabytes of files may at first seem like a helpful shortcut to cutdown on time spent rifling through unrelated sources, but as Ian Milligan argues, we cannot simply “outsource our intellectual labor to a search engine like Google.”* Instead, as historians, we must equip ourselves for the age of digital research by increasing our data fluency and understanding the pitfalls of abundance.

One of the main concerns to methodology in the digital age is the threat of losing the evidential value that defines the traditional archive. Evidential value is the organization of archival materials so that researchers understand the context of the sources. Archivists work to establish as close to the organic whole for each collection and organize it in such a way to maintain the historical context. A keyword search has the potential to isolate a source from its place in a collection and remove the original context completely.

As we  lose our “paper trails” maintaining the context will become an even greater responsibility for the historian. That being said, context is not impossible to retain within in a digital archive, but it will require historians to think about context more carefully as they sort through digital sources.

Another concern is that the traditional questions we apply to archives – who created this archive, where did the material come from, what has been removed or is missing – may be harder to ascertain unless we learn an appropriate level of data fluency. Historians need to actively think about how data (and metadata) operates, how digital files are stored and retrieved, and “humans’ role at all stages” of the creation and use of data management.*

While some skills in a historian’s toolbelt will come in handy in a new age of digital archival research, for new methodological obstacles we may currently be ill-equipped or ill-prepared to do our research responsibly.


** Ian Milligan, “Historians’ achival research looks quite different in the digital age,” The Conversation, August 19, 2019.

A Revised Statement of Significance

The Alfred E Burk House

At the bustling modern intersection of Jefferson and Broad in North Philadelphia, a three-story green river limestone mansion reminiscent of days long gone stands tall. This building – the Alfred E. Burk Mansion at 1500 North Broad Street has stood at this location since 1907. However, since 1995 the mansion has been vacant. Although its current dormant status and public inaccessibility yields the image of a relic long past its prime, this building holds much significance, both historical and contemporary.

The house is a timeless reminder of the ways in which the community that surrounds it has changed. From the end of the Gilded Age, to the height of industrialization in Philadelphia, to the growth of Temple University, the Burk Mansion has been a witness to continual change on Broad Street. Although ownership of the house has changed hands several times and it served many purposes in its lifetime, it has always remained a significant institution in the community and an encapsulation of local history. Protection of this building from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia will not only keep this historic site from further decay, but will also assist the building owner and the community – both public and academic – in finding an appropriate use for this North Broad institution.

One of the critical arguments for the preservation of Burk Mansion is its architecture. Built in 1907 by the architectural firm Simon & Bassett at the behest of local businessman Alfred Burk, the house resembles an Italian villa of the Late Renaissance style. The construction is three stories with a raised basement that exceeds the square footage of the first floor. Furthermore, it contains twenty seven rooms and is surrounded by verdant gardens and an annex that once served as a conservatory. The centerpiece of the house was a glass dome in the roof that could be seen upon entry on the first floor. This dome is now gone, but many of the internal features are still the same or resemble those of Burk’s time.

At the back of the property is a conservatory built in the same style as the house. During Burk’s ownership the conservatory housed a lush garden. The conservatory’s large windows allowed for the plants to be viewed and enjoyed by the pedestrian passersby. The garden even included a rock garden and a cascading waterfall. The conservatory building also included a garage for Burk’s carriage and a lofted apartment for the gardener, S.J. Irvine.

Completing the Italian style villa is a green river limestone facade. The white limestone exterior gives the building clean, stark lines, while a cresting of carved architectural details crowns it.  In a modern-day setting, this architectural achievement stands in contrast to the muddled facades of brick and plastic of the surrounding buildings and adds some much needed character to a street now defined by shopping plazas, high-rise towers. The house is representative of the splendour embodied by the wealthy merchants and elites of the progressive era. Furthermore, its connection to local architects Edward Simon and David Bassett, who also designed other prominent buildings in the area such as the Fidelity Building at Walnut and Broad, serves as a fine example of Philadelphian contributions to local architecture.

When the house was completed in 1907 it was one of the last mansions built on Broad Street during the post-Civil War era. Its original occupant and owner was Alfred E. Burk, the President and Director of Burk Brothers. Burk Brothers was a prominent manufacturer of glazed kid leather, but Burk himself was the subject of many other financial, political, and philanthropic pursuits in Philadelphia. Burk served as the Vice President of the Atlantic City Steel Company, a director of the Market Street National Bank, and helped run the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company. Burk also served as the president of the local Manufacturers’ Club and was the key sponsor of the local children’s hospital.

In the political arena, Burk was the brother of local congressman Henry Burk and represented this district at the 1920 Republican National Convention. Socially, Burk took part in activities within the numerous local business, ethnic, and leisure clubs that surrounded his home on Broad Street. Alfred Burk was extremely well-connected to the financial, social, and political life of Philadelphia at large and the North Broad community more specifically.

The legacy of Alfred Burk is represented physically by his former home at 1500 North Broad. The product of an immigrant family who came to the United States from a fractional Germany in the 1850s, Burk achieved financial success and community stature in North Broad where he built his home. His mansion embodies the legacy of the Progressive Era “American Dream” that affected many more besides Burk during that time of industrial and institutional expansion in Philadelphia. This house was also constructed during a time when many affluent Philadelphians were fleeing to the outskirts of the city. This is why Burk’s mansion was one of the last built on North Broad Street and represents a community leader going against the trends of his peers, and opting to remain in North Broad to operate his business, and the social, political and private spheres of his life in the community. Burk resided at 1500 North Broad Street until his death in 1921. He built his home within the community he engaged with and remained an active community leader until his death in the mansion in 1921.

Following Burk’s death, the mansion was willed to his surviving siblings Minnie, Mathieu, and Louisa Burk. By 1935, Mathieu was the last sibling of Burk’s seven brothers and sisters alive and therefore also the last beneficiary of Burk’s inheritance. According to newspaper reports, Mathieu moved out of the main house in October 1942 because it became to spacious for her. The residence remained vacant until Mathieu sold the property to the Upholsterers’ International Union (UIU) in 1945. The UIU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor – which had connections to Burk’s leather company as well as the greater Philadelphia industrial community – used the house as its local headquarters for twenty-five years. Overseen by Sal B. Hoffman, the UIU held meetings, ran educational programs, offered women’s auxiliary groups and organized union efforts at the Burk Mansion for twenty-five years.

The most obvious change to the building’s structure during UIU ownership can be seen on the exterior of the main building. In 1950, the UIU constructed a three story addition to the house. The addition, also effaced in limestone, added considerable square footage to the construction. Furthermore, the union added an elevator to the main building. Aside from these additions, changes to the structure were minimal. The UIU even continued to use the conservatory as a garden space, just as the Burk family had done.  

The house changed hands again in 1971, when Temple University purchased the building from the union. Temple University was founded in 1884 but became an institution in 1907, the same year construction started on the Burk Mansion. Temple’s purchase of the property is an example of the university’s continued expansion and presence in the North Broad community. Temple and the Burk Mansion have always been neighbors and institutions in the community. In 1971, their histories became forever intertwined.

Interestingly, Temple University’s drive for expansion can also be physically seen by looking at the changing property lines of 1500 N Broad. In the transition of ownership between the UIU and Temple, the property was extended in include the adjoining property at 1510 North Broad Street. The allotment of land, that we presume nowadays to be one piece of property, consisted of two separate, as late as 1963, according to a map from that time. It is unclear the exact time this acquisition took place, but one thing is certain: the property expanded, just as Temple’s presence in the community expanded.

Under Temple’s leadership, the Alfred E. Burk Mansion became a place of convergence between the university and community. After the purchase of the building, Temple University utilized the house as the office for the School of Social Administration and Center for Social Policy and as a childcare facility. The university daycare was beloved by teachers, students and community members whose children attended the facility. Over the course of its twenty-four years of operation, the daycare taught and cared for thousands of children. The Center for Social Policy and Community Development, an arm of the School for Social Administration, offered several programs at the Burk Mansion that benefited members of the surrounding community, including education programs and job training for welfare recipients.  

In 1993, the accidental explosion of an air conditioner unit caused some damage to the main building at 1500 North Broad. As a result of the damage, the university moved the School of Social Administration to another building on campus. The daycare continued to operate in the building until the university closed it down in 1995 as a part of a university wide budget cut.
Temple executive vice president James White announced the closure of the daycare in June of 1995. Set to close just one month later, the decision was met with substantial resistance from employees and parents who fought against Temple’s decision. Holding protests and rallies that summer, employees and parents fought to keep the daycare open and to keep the daycare at the Burk Mansion. Four students with children at the daycare even filed an injunction with the Superior Court claiming Temple violated a contractual agreement by taking away their childcare, but these fights only sustained the daycare for another month. On August 2, 1995, the court denied the injunction and the Temple daycare officially closed.

Since that day in August of 1995, the Burk Mansion has stood empty. While still owned and maintained by Temple, the management of the property and the building has been minimal. However, this is not to say that the building has ceased being significant. This building has a history important to both the institution that currently owns it and the wider community of North Philadelphia. From the ownership of Alfred Burk to the operation of Temple’s daycare, the Burk Mansion stands as a historical site with “multiple truths” whose complexity make the site meaningful to many different people. These truths not only exist in those with past ties to the site, but are housed within the mansion complex itself, and therefore, gives this location an important and unique status as a place of convergence between multiple facets of the North Broad community.

The history of the building’s use demonstrates that the Burk Mansion has served different individual, institutional, and community needs. As a result, the occupants of the property have a combination of shared and distinct memories and experiences that make it fit what scholar Dolores Hayden has termed as “place.” The house is not just a space to be admired for its grandiose architecture or its namesake, but is a “place” that has many different meanings affiliated with it. These meanings can be traced to the most contemporary – that of those who used the daycare and were affected by its closure – and to the more historical –being those involved with the Upholsters’ union and the Burk family. Despite its recent dormant status, this building thrived throughout the majority of the twentieth century as an active center for business, education, and childcare. In this, the building’s adaptability is on display, which not only opens up its historical significance to include many different groups of people, but serves as evidence to the mansion’s further utility if preservation is maintained.

A careful analysis of sources outlining the makeup of North Broad during the building’s early history indicates how the area surrounding this house is drastically different from what a cursory look at the current neighbourhood would yield. The Bromley and Co. Insurance Maps of 1905-1922, housed at Temple’s Special Collections Resource Center, reveal that the Burk Mansion was once situated at the heart of a vibrant neighbourhood marked by various religious, ethnic, and economic institutions – several of which the building’s namesake participated in. Working in this neighbourhood currently, the fabric of the community has drastically changed. Temple University (who owns yet vacated the building) has extended itself down Broad Street, modern businesses dot the landscape of what once was social clubs and churches, and the residential makeup looks depleted in comparison to the maps of the area from nearly a century ago. However, the Burk Mansion still stands in its original location – a testament to the building’s resilience and significance in an ever changing cultural and physical landscape. Preservation of this building would ensure that the decay of the former vivacious North Broad community does not perpetuate.

The building’s future utility also lends credence to its need for preservation. The exterior of the main building looks to be in excellent condition, and save for several unstable parts of the flooring and an apparent issue with mold growth, the interior of the building is intact and habitable. In addition, the annex is still functional with very little evidence of decay. These factors speak to how the building can be repurposed into a functional space and should not be considered an old relic suited for demolition or neglect.

We want to see Burk Mansion become a place of convergence once again between institution and community. We imagine the future of the Burk Mansion as a multi-purpose building with open access for the Temple University students, as well as the wider public. The additions to the property, like the UIU’s add-on and the acquisition of the 1510 North Broad plot, have increased the space for potential uses. The main building will be the main site of convergence. Temple could have a local coffee shop and a lending library, an inviting space for students and members of the community to connect. This space could also house an exhibition space featuring the history of the property or rotating exhibits on the history and culture of the surrounding community. Showcasing the local history keeps the history of the building and the constantly changing North Broad community alive. The add-on could be used for offices and rooms where university groups or classes could meet. This space could also be open to community groups. We also envision using the green space where 1510 North Broad once stood as a place for a community garden, a place of collaboration and for giving back to the local community. The conservatory could serve as the location of a microbrewery. Temple already provides an on-campus bar, and sites like this provide a safe space for students to socialize on campus.

Not all of these ideas, we realize, would be met, but the possibility of such uses it what is important. Throughout its rich history, Burk Mansion has served multiple uses – a legacy that should continue with the site’s purpose moving forward. These plausible and constructive potential uses of the building, in conjunction with its history and architecture, serve as testaments to the building’s significance as a site worthy of preservation with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.


Works Cited

“AFL Union pays 50,000 for 27 room mansion.” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 22, 1945.

“Alfred E. Burk Dies at His Home.” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 13, 1921.

“Alfred E. Burk.” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 1919.

“Alfred E Burk House Application for Preservation.” Philadelphia Historical Commission 

Register of Historical Places, prepared by Charles P. Zanes.

Bruch, Laura J. and Woestendiek, John. “Child center at Temple is closed down.” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2, 1995.

Corr, John. “Eliminating welfare to a fare-thee-well.” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 3, 1987.

Gibbons, Thomas J.. "Freak blast injures 4 at Temple." Philadelphia Inquirer, July 9, 1993.

Goodman, Howard. “Parents protest Temple’s day-care plan.” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 1995.

Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Boston: The MIT  Press, 1995.

Kelman, Ari. A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek. Cambridge,  MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. 

Krause, Blanche, “Private Conservatory Shared by Public.” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 

January 29, 1934.

Mulholland, Emilie. “Temple University News Release To the Philadelphia Bulletin.” March 1971.

“Simon & Basset (fl. 1905-1918).” Philadelphia Architects and Buildings. (November 1, 2018).

“Temple takes Burk house for school of social work.” The Sunday Bulletin, March 21, 1971.

Temple University. “Temple University News Release.” July 25, 1995.

“The Latest News in Real Estate.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 1908.

“Third Annual List of Endangered Properties.” Preservation Matters, December 2005.

An Easy Target

“In today’s world, money talks. And you can be sure that money will flow toward men in power and toward men’s programs not toward working mothers and their children.”

While a story about male dominated leadership making decisions that primarily affect women might sound like a present day headline, this quote actually comes from an op-ed written in 1995 by Dr. Gail Greenspan on the closure of Temple University’s daycare, housed at 1500 N. Burk.

The closure came as part of an $18 million dollar university-wide budget cut, even though the daycare only cost an estimated $60,000 annually to operate. Announced in June of 1995, and officially closing just two months later, the closure displaced over 100 children and 85 employees.

Among the articles written during the summer of the closure, Dr. Greenspan’s op-ed was distinct. Instead of a summary of the lastest events, she took a stand against Temple and connected the closure to a larger issue. Greenspan criticized Temple’s predominately male leadership for making decision that directly affected women without any consultation, collaboration, or creative problem solving. As a program that does not exist for profit but instead to provide a service to working mothers, Greenspan argued the daycare was an “easy target” for Temple’s administration.

“Like most programs that particularly benefit women and children, this one didn’t have a lot of political clout, it didn’t generate a lot of money and it didn’t make local or national headlines for the university. Hence, it was an easy target.”

For Greenspan, this decision was emblematic of what happens when there are no women at the table when decisions are made. After I read this op-ed, I was compelled to see if this still an issue for Temple today. I was not at all surprised when I saw that Temple has only ever had one female president. Or that out of the 34 members on the Board of Trustees, only 5 are women and of the 28 university officers and college deans, again, only 5 are women.*

It is impossible to gauge how Temple’s gender imbalance at the highest levels of leadership has affected university decisions since the closure of the daycare. However, we do know that Temple has not opened a new daycare facility and working mothers and fathers still do not have an on-campus childcare option.

As Dr. Greenspan predicted, the bitterness and hurt over the daycare closure has lasted for a long time. As I write this, however, it is not just learning about the daycare closure that has left me bitter, because the daycare was not the only thing that closed that day in 1995. For the last 23 years, the house at 1500 N. Broad has sat idle, empty, and is slowly rotting away.

Before this project began, I probably would not have thought twice about 1500 N. Broad when I walked by it. But now, I see it as a gendered symbol of university priorities and the power and persistence of male-dominated power structures. It stands as a phyiscal reminder of a past that I believe, and as Greenspan argued is, “not something Temple University wants to be remembered for.”

Greenspan, Gail. “Temple day-care closure tied to gender.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1995.


*Temple University Fact Book (2017-2018),