Seamen’s Church Institute

Seamen’s Church Institute records, 1828–2000.
149 boxes, 30 volumes, plus 6 oversize folders, and 1 film case (55 linear feet).
Abstract

The Seamen’s Church Institute Records document the business activities of the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) in Philadelphia from 1919 to 2000. The collection boasts a wide breadth of textual documentation that includes meeting minutes, publications and ephemera, financial records, correspondence and subject files, seamen’s records and study materials for seamen’s licensing exams. In addition, there are small numbers of photographs, multimedia and blueprints. Together, the records offer a complete representation of the agency and its affiliates from its founding to the late 1990s. The collection also houses records created by SCI’s predecessors, the Churchmen’s Missionary Association for Seamen and the Pennsylvania Seamen’s Friend Society, from 1843 to 1923. Two additional Philadelphia-based seamen’s organizations represented are Maskline Clark Mariner’s Home and the Norwegian Seamen’s Church.

About Seamen’s Church Institute

Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) was founded in Philadelphia in 1919 to care for the moral, spiritual, mental and bodily welfare of seamen, and to generally better the conditions surrounding and affecting “men of the sea.” It joined ranks with similar local organizations that had established a long tradition assisting the merchant marine, going back to the first decade of the nineteenth century when the Bible Society of Philadelphia singled out seamen as important beneficiaries of their work. Over one hundred years later, and in a considerably more ambitious manner than this earliest precursor, SCI set to work providing clean and affordable housing, affordable food, morally sound entertainment, banking, religious services and employment assistance to seamen while in the Port of Philadelphia.
The institution’s establishment was appropriately timed, coinciding with a municipally funded overhaul of port facilities along Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront. Improvements boosted business and by the early 1920s the newly instituted Department of Wharves, Docks and Ferries boasted of Philadelphia’s resurgence as a leading center of maritime commerce. The Department claimed that the City’s port ranked second in the Nation in terms of volume, handling $742 million worth of imported and exported goods in 1920 alone. An enterprise such as SCI’s complemented the municipality’s work and, as a result, the institution’s early plans to construct a hotel for seamen were warmly greeted by civic, corporate and private supporters.
SCI filled a growing void in Philadelphia. Newly booming maritime business brought greater numbers of seamen into the city, and existing agencies proved inadequate to service the increasing population’s needs. In 1919, according to SCI publication “The Crow’s Nest,” four other seamen’s organizations existed city-wide. All were small operations, typically with religious or ethnic affiliations. In contrast, SCI was larger and was created to service all seamen regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. Its founders hoped to consolidate the efforts of seamen’s social agencies in Philadelphia and, to this end, amalgamated two of the other four organizations: Pennsylvania Seamen’s Friend Society and Churchman’s Missionary Association for Seamen. This centralizing effort benefited all three agencies. The merge advanced SCI’s fundraising campaign to build a seamen’s hotel, through the acquisition of real estate and monetary funds, and the hotel, in turn, provided better accommodations for the other organizations’ constituencies. In addition to financial benefit, the newly partnered associations contributed their rich histories and longstanding ties to the port. For example, the Churchman’s Missionary Association, founded in 1847, operated the famous “Floating Church of the Redeemer” on the Delaware River in the 1850s. Over time, it also maintained multiple locations along the waterfront. Its northernmost post on Cambria Street became the Port Richmond Branch of SCI. The Pennsylvania Seamen’s Friend Society, which was founded in 1843, operated a small boarding house near the corner of Pine and Front Streets.
In addition to uniting existing agencies, SCI enabled the establishment of a new organization for seamen. The Maskline Clark Mariner’s Home was founded in 1927 in a wing of SCI’s new hotel building. It was the product of a $100,000 sum bequeathed by Maskline Clark in 1905 to establish a retirement home for seamen and SCI’s ongoing fundraising campaign to continue work on the hotel building that inspired the partnership. $100,000 was, by the 1920s, considered inadequate to fulfill the last wish of Clark by itself, but it substantially advanced SCI’s cause. Because Clark’s bequest was always intended to help seamen, this joint venture satisfied both organizations’ needs.
The hotel that housed SCI and its affiliates opened in 1925 after six years of fundraising and construction. It was built a mere two blocks from the Delaware River waterfront to provide clean and affordable lodging for seamen as well as other amenities including a restaurant, bank and library. Operations remained at this location until 1957 when SCI, having sold the Walnut Street hotel to the National Park Service, moved to a hotel at 1222 Locust Street in downtown Philadelphia. SCI relocated its headquarters again, in 1974, to an old bank building at 249 Arch Street. Approximately three blocks from the Delaware River, the move accomplished an institutional desire to physically reconnect itself with the Port. Drastic changes in the shipping industries as a result of new technologies had changed seamen’s needs while on shore, forcing SCI to evolve as well. Most notably, due to shorter port layovers, the demand for overnight accommodations was reduced. By the mid 1970s, rather than a place to sleep, seamen required a venue near the wharfs for a few hours of quiet recreation, companionship, and spiritual and moral support. Though this need was satisfied prior to the purchase of the Arch Street building by the “International Seamen’s Club,” a venue that was operated in a trailer erected on the waterfront in the late 1960s, it became apparent that the Locust Street hotel was financially impractical. SCI moved one last time in the 1990s to 475 North Fifth Street where it continued to offer recreation and various support services to the members of the merchant marine into the twenty first century.
Since its founding, five men have led SCI in its mission to support seamen. Reverend Percy Stockman was the organization’s first leader, fulfilling the dual role of Superintendent and Chaplain from 1919 to 1956. After his retirement he continued as Superintendent and Chaplain Emeritus until his death in 1968, working closely with his successor Reverend James McElroy. McElroy managed the organization from 1956 to 1973. That year Reverend Robert Peoples, who already had charge of SCI’s International Seamen’s Club, took the reins. Peoples held the directorship until 1985, when Father Neale Secor became director. In 1997, Father James Von Dreele took over management of the organization and its continuous efforts to serve the merchant marine.

About the collection

The Seamen’s Church Institute Records document the business activities of the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) in Philadelphia from 1919 to 2000. The collection boasts a wide breadth of textual documentation that includes meeting minutes, publications and ephemera, financial records, correspondence and subject files, seamen’s records and study materials for seamen’s licensing exams. In addition, there are small numbers of photographs, multimedia and blueprints. Together, the records offer a complete representation of the agency and its affiliates from its founding to the late 1990s. The collection also houses records created by SCI’s predecessors, the Churchmen’s Missionary Association for Seamen and the Pennsylvania Seamen’s Friend Society, from 1843 to 1923. Two additional Philadelphia-based seamen’s organizations represented are Maskline Clark Mariner’s Home and the Norwegian Seamen’s Church.
Three series in the collection are particularly rich in institutional history, and to a lesser extent local and maritime history: Series II Board of Managers Records, Series IV Publications and Printed Materials, and Series VIII Seamen’s Records. The first two series mentioned fully expose the history of SCI and its work in the Port of Philadelphia. Researchers interested in twentieth-century port developments and the evolution of commercial maritime activities will also be well satisfied. In particular, the Board of Managers’ records include annual and general meeting minutes from 1919 to 1983 as well as assorted committee records. Similarly, in the Publications series researchers will find among other items a near complete run of SCI’s newsletter “The Crow’s Nest,” from 1920 to 1985. Both record groups document important events and decisions in SCI’s institutional history, and to varying degrees report on the organization’s day to day operations. In addition, the fact that SCI paid close attention to the ebb and flow of the port community and maritime industries is evidenced in meeting minutes and especially in “The Crow’s Nest.” This publication offers articles on the efforts of city departments and private industry to maintain a healthy port environment. It also touches on the effects that events, such as the Great Depression and World War II, and changes in commercial transport had on the shipping industry and in turn on seamen. “The Crow’s Nest” also chronicles the activities of the merchant marine schoolship “Annapolis.”
The Seamen’s Records series houses significantly different information than the Board of Managers or Publications series. Comprised of multiple card files, the record group documents the individuals who utilized the various services of SCI from 1929 to 1973. The cards are useful individually as genealogical resources and they present a collective biography of seamen in the twentieth century. In addition to perusing the Seamen’s Records, researchers interested in the life and work of the merchant marine may also wish to review the documents that make up Series XII Study Materials. This series houses study guides and other records designed to help seamen prepare for various licensing exams.
The remaining nine series in the collection greatly augment the above described series, with the exception of Series XIII Military Order of the World Wars, which addresses the work of a patriotic organization in the 1960s, rather than SCI. Series V Financial Records and Series VII Correspondence and Subject Files offer the most in terms of abundance of documentation. Among the financial records researchers will be pleased to find year-end audit reports, or annual reports, dating from 1922 to 1999. In the Correspondence and Subject Files researchers will find information on just about any topic related to SCI and its work. Records produced between 1920 and 1940 that are similar in nature to the records housed in the Correspondence and Subject Files are maintained separately in Series VI Early Records.
Please review individual series descriptions and folder lists for more detailed information.

Subjects
  • Sailors
  • Merchant mariners — Missions and charities
  • Women in charitable work
  • Travelers’ aid societies
  • Old age homes — 20th century
  • Occupational training
  • Merchant marine — Vocational guidance
  • Boardinghouses — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Hotels — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Industrial welfare — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Church work with the working class — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Harbors — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Community welfare councils — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Working class — Education
  • Sailors — Religious life
  • Seafaring life
  • Stevedores — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Charities — Philadelphia — Pennsylvania
  • Moral education
  • Professional education
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) — History — 19th century
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) — History — 20th century
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) — Social life and customs — 19th century
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) — Social life and customs — 20th century
  • Seamen’s Church Institute
  • Maskline Clark Mariner’s Home
  • Pennsylvania Seamen’s Friend Society
  • Churchmen’s Missionary Association for Seamen
  • Norwegian Seamen’s Church
  • Military Order of the World Wars
  • Stockman, Percy
  • McElroy, James
  • Peoples, Robert
  • Secor, Neale
  • Von Dreele, James
Types of material
  • Annual reports
  • Correspodence
  • Ephemera
  • Financial records
  • Index files
  • Minutes
  • Newsletters
  • Photographs
Reference files
  • Floating Church of the Redeemer
  • Merchant Marine Traning
  • Seaman’s Church
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