Changing Landscapes People and Places in the Mill Creek Valley Lower Merion c.1870-c.1920


Elite Societies of Philadelphia


Union League.jpg

Union League of Philadelphia

Socializing was an important part of life in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, especially among the wealthy classes. This socializing occurred either at parties in the homes of the elite or at the clubhouses of prestigious clubs of which these people were members. Effingham Morris was a prominent member of the Union League of Philadelphia and the University Club of Philadelphia, and he served in some sort of officer position in both clubs. Being a member of either of these clubs as also a symbol of status, and this is a good example of class division.

The Union League of Philadelphia was established in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the policies of President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the American Civil War.[1] This was one of many Union Leagues in other northern cities such as New York, Boston, and Chicago. The early days are often described as “the days of stress and gloom” due to the looming war going on outside of the club.[2] A smaller and independent predecessor to the Union League was the Union Club, which modeled itself after the “Wistar Party.”[3] This idea originated in 1798 with Dr. Casper Wistar hosting Saturday evening gatherings for the gentlemen of society, and regular attendees chose to continue holding these gatherings even after Wistar’s death in 1818.[4] It was decided that members of the League would meet on Saturday evenings at the homes of various members.[5] The merge between the Union League and the Union Club occurred in 1865, and this was also the same year the clubhouse was completed, which is located on Broad Street.[6]

The first president of the Union League was William Morris Meredith, who was elected in 1863.[7] The club began with a membership of about 60 to 70 people, and it continued to grow to 968 names on the membership roll by the end of its first year.[8] The Union League opened with the intent to “open a home for loyalty” to the Union during this time of division in the country.[9] There was also opposition to the creation of this club. These included a daily newspaper founded in 1863 called The Age and the declaration of the Enrollment Act of March being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.[10] However, the Union League did things for the war effort, and there were outside organizations created by members such as the Soldiers’ Claim and Pension Agency and the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Troops.[11] The League also provided help to other organizations including the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission, allowing clergy holding loyal principles to be given privileges of the League.[12]

The Union League was founded by Philadelphia’s elite, so it is unsurprising that some of the most prominent families in the city became members of the club. With the Morris family being included among those most prominent, other big families that were members included the Lippincott, the Coxe, and the Wharton families.[13] The Buckley family, the family of Effingham Morris’s mother Annie, also had good standing with the club. There were also people in Lower Merion, such as William Scott and Humphreys, who were members of the Union League.[14]

The University Club of Philadelphia was another elite society of which Effingham Morris pledged membership. According to the club charter, the purpose of the club was “to promote intercourse and friendship among University and College graduates” as well as to “advance the interests of liberal education.”[15] Looking at the membership lists, a large portion of the members, including Effingham Morris, are graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the Ivy League.[16] Those members who did not attend this university attended other very prestigious universities and colleges in the northeastern region of the United States. Some of these include Princeton University, Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Haverford College, Lafayette College, and Harvard University.[17] There are also members who serve in the United States Army and United States Navy in the University Club.[18]

It is interesting to see how Philadelphia’s elite are educated at some of the finest universities and colleges in the U.S. as well as many of these people come from Protestant, Episcopal, and even Quaker faiths. The laborers serving in many of the homes of the elite are Irish Catholic, continuing this tradition of Protestant ascendency that is seen in the British Isles. Many of these people also come from families that have been in the Philadelphia area for generations, Effingham Morris included among this group. Perhaps what allows these people to be part of the elite is the established presence of their families, some of which date back to the days of colonial Pennsylvania. There is definitely a division among classes in Philadelphia as well as its surrounding areas, such as the Mill Creek Valley in Lower Merion, and there was also class division within the homes of the elite between themselves and their servants.

Many of the people who owned property in the Mill Creek Valley area of Lower Merion can be considered among the social elites, and some were also members of clubs like the Union League and the University Club. Many of these people also hired servants within their households, showing that class division does not just occur within towns and cities, but it also occurs within homes. This intra-household division remains until at least the 1930s, but the Great Depression was probably a contributing factor in the decline for the need of household servants.

[1] Union League of Philadelphia. Chronicle of the Union League of Philadelphia. Philadelphia. 1902. Web.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] University Club of Philadelphia. Officers, Members, Charter, By-Laws, and Rules of the University Club of Philadelphia. Philadelphia. 1903. Web.

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

"The men and women behind the man who fires the gun count for something in the grand achievement." -Chroncicle of the Union League of Philadelphia


Union League Exterior.jpg

Union League of Philadelphia