Philadelphia Freedom

Contributed by guest blogger Katie Morgan, '16

On November 7 and 8, our tenth grade class traveled from Ross to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to explore the effects of the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment, a major component of the tenth grade curriculum, on American history. Upon arriving in the city, we walked to the City Tavern, an 18th-century-themed restaurant, for lunch. We were served historic food by waiters in authentic 1700s dress and had the opportunity to learn about the history of the establishment. Originally constructed in 1772, the tavern served as the unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Congress in 1774. In 1834, City Tavern was partially destroyed by a fire and was reconstructed in 1948 as part of Independence National Historical Park in downtown Philadelphia. 

After lunch, we walked to Independence Hall to tour the historic site where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed, and continue on to visit the nearby Liberty Bell. These documents were reflective of Enlightenment ideas. The Declaration of Independence was heavily based on philosopher John Locke’s concept of human rights to life, liberty, and property (in the Declaration, changed to “the pursuit of happiness”). We ate dinner on South Street, famous for its more than 100 restaurants, and spent the night at a local hotel.

Friday morning started with a trip to The Franklin Institute, a science museum, where we saw a variety of exhibits, including an eight-foot-tall, walkthrough model of a human heart, an extensive display of aviation history and mechanics, and an electricity exhibit. In the electricity exhibit, we had the chance to play with a Van de Graaff generator to see how electricity can flow through the human body. The exhibit also included an art installation called “Electrical Signals,” which consisted of a wall of red lights that flashed and changed when it detected cell-phone signals nearby. We ended our science museum visit with a look at the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, a 20-foot marble statue of Benjamin Franklin commemorating Philadelphia’s most famous citizen—who was also a great Enlightenment thinker.

We continued our exploration of this historic city with a visit to Eastern State Penitentiary, a revolutionary 19th-century prison. Eastern State perfected the system of solitary confinement as a means of reform rather than punishment for prisoners. The idea of attempting to correct behavior rather than punishing people complied with Enlightenment thinking. Each prisoner was kept in a small room with only a bed, a chair, and a nightstand; there was also a small exercise yard outside. Prisoners were forbidden to speak to each other or themselves and were not allowed to have any outside visitors. The idea of separate incarceration was later abandoned, however, as the number of prisoners grew too large for the institution to handle. Guides explained the innovative design of the penitentiary, which consisted of a wagon wheel shape so that one guard could see all of the cells from a central point in the prison. Eastern State held such famous prisoners as Al Capone, whose cell we visited as our last stop. The cell of the notorious mobster was elaborately furnished, with nice chairs, tables, and even a radio.

In our future studies, we will be focusing on the American Revolution and its roots in the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Benjamin Franklin. This trip gave us an extensive insight into the culture and customs of the time period and helped us establish a point of view for our upcoming lessons.