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Sara Yorke Stevenson papers

1162

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Repository:
University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
Creator:
Stevenson, Sara Yorke, 1847-1921
Title:
Sara Yorke Stevenson papers
Date [bulk]:
1898-1905
Date [inclusive]:
1890-1905
Call Number:
1162
Extent:
0.2 linear foot ()
Language:
English
Abstract:
Sara Yorke Stevenson, the first curator of the Egyptian section of the Free Museum of Science and Art, was a vital force in the creation and success of the museum. Along with William Pepper, Stevenson worked tirelessly through the Department of Archaeology and Paleontology and the American Exploration Society to gain subscriptions, build the Museum and acquire a collection of antiquities. In addition to being the first curator of the Egyptian Section, Stevenson was the Secretary of both the Board of Managers and the American Exploration Society. She served as President of the Board from 1904 to 1905. While Stevenson was performing the dual role of Secretary of the Board of Managers and Curator, the museum relied on the London-based Egypt Exploration Fund to provide a share of the findings of archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie to the museum. Stevenson cultivated a relationship with Flinders Petrie and well connected Egyptians such as Yacoub Artin Pasha. Mrs Stevenson traveled to Egypt in 1898 cementing connections and investigating other possible sites for exploration. The Sara Yorke Stevenson papers consist of seven folders in one archival box of correspondence, family history, writings and lectures.
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Biography/History

Sara Yorke Stevenson was born in Paris, the daughter of Edward and Sarah Hanna Yorke, natives of Louisiana. When Sara was ten years old, her parents returned to North America. Sara begged to be sent back to Paris to attend boarding school there and her parents agreed. In Paris, Sara came in contact with antiquarians and scholars who influenced her intellectual curiosity. Sara joined her parents in Mexico at the age of fifteen following the violent death of her brother. The family remained in Mexico for another five years living through the turmoil of the French intervention. At age twenty-one, Sara came to Philadelphia to live with elderly relatives. Within two years, Sara married Philadelphia attorney Cornelius Stevenson. They had one son. Sara also was quick to became a member of the Furness-Mitchell coterie of intellectuals of social standing in the city. The Mitchell-Furness group, whose numbers never exceeded eighteen, explored the new field of anthropology among other intellectual topics. Forward-thinking, the group was willing to accept female members. Sara Yorke Stevenson possessed a wide classical education and fit in well with this distinguished group. She became an "armchair archaeologist/anthropologist" who analyzed the field work of others and gave lectures on archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Among her many talents were administration and persuasion.

Stevenson's involvement with the organizations that led to the founding of the University Museum began in 1887 when a group of wealthy Philadelphians, including members of the Mitchell-Furness group, proposed to underwrite an expedition to Babylon. William Pepper, a provost at the University and also a Mitchell-Furness member supported the expedition and wanted the artifacts to become the possession of the University. Stevenson and Dr. Pepper became allies, friends and partners in the quest to establish a museum devoted to archaeology. In 1888, they formed the independent University Archaeological Association, followed in 1889 by the quasi-official Department of Archaeology and Paleontology, which functioned as an independent museum.

Sara Yorke Stevenson served as curator of the Egyptian section of the museum as well as the secretary of the Board of Managers, its governing body. She was instrumental in giving support through the American Exploration Society to W.M. Flinders Petrie who, in turn, provided many artifacts to the museum.

Stevenson served as President of the Board of Managers of the Museum from 1904 to 1905. She resigned as a result of a controversy regarding the scholarship of Herman V. Hilprecht and an attempt by the University to force its decision in the controversy on the Museum. She did not stop working in the fields she loved after her resignation. Stevenson belonged to many civic associations founding the Civic Club of Philadelphia with Mary Channing Wister. She taught the first course on Museology at the School of Industrial Arts and was a curator at the Philadelphia Museum, which later became the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Public Ledger, one of the oldest newspapers in Philadelphia profited from her resignation from the museum. Stevenson served as Literary editor and columnist, supporting women's suffrage and economic and social causes of the day. Her reputation grew to an international level with her activities on the French War Relief Commission after World War I. She was presented with the Legion of Honor by the French government for her contributions.

The materials in this collection were found in the Philadelphia home of the daughters of William Rotch Wister, a Penn alumnus, lawyer and businessman. His daughters, Mary Channing Wister and Frances Anne Wister were important figures in the intellectual and cultural life of Philadelphia. Mary, co-founded the Civic Club of Philadelphia with Sara Yorke Stevenson and Frances carried on her sister's work in the club after Mary's death. Both women were members of the Philadelphia Board of Education. Frances was one of the founders of the Philadelphia Orchestra and founded the Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, a group that saved many historic buildings, especially in the Germantown area of Philadelphia.

Scope and Contents

Sara Yorke Stevenson was born in Paris, the daughter of Edward and Sarah Hanna Yorke, natives of Louisiana. When Sara was ten years old, her parents returned to North America. Sara begged to be sent back to Paris to attend boarding school there and her parents agreed. In Paris, Sara came in contact with antiquarians and scholars in the home of her guardians. Sara joined her parents in Mexico at the age of fifteen following the violent death of her brother. The family remained in Mexico for another five years living through the turmoil of the French intervention. At age twenty-one, Sara came to Philadelphia to live with elderly relatives. In just two years, Sara married Philadelphia attorney Cornelius Stevenson. They had one son. Sara also was quick to became a member of the Furness-Mitchell coterie of intellectuals of social standing in the city. The Mitchell-Furness group, whose numbers never exceeded eighteen, explored the new field of anthropology among other intellectual topics. Forward-thinking, the group was willing to accept female members. Sara Yorke Stevenson possessed a wide classical education and fit in well with this distinguished group. She became an "armchair archaeologist/anthropologist" who analyzed the field work of others and gave lectures on archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Among her many talents were administration and persuasion.

Sara Yorke Stevenson, the first curator of the Egyptian section of the Free Museum of Science and Art, was a vital force in the creation and success of the museum. Along with William Pepper, Stevenson worked tirelessly through the Department of Archaeology and Paleontology and the American Exploration Society to gain subscriptions, build the Museum and acquire a collection of antiquities.

In addition to being the first curator of the Egyptian Section, Stevenson was the Secretary of the Board of Managers and of the American Exploration Society. She served as President of the Board from 1904 to 1905.

While Stevenson was performing the dual role of Secretary of the Board of Managers and Curator, the museum relied on the London-based Egypt Exploration Fund to provide a share of the findings of archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie to the museum. Stevenson cultivated a relationship with Flinders Petrie and well connected Egyptians such as Yacoub Artin Pasha. Mrs Stevenson traveled to Egypt in 1898 cementing connections and investigating other possible sites for exploration.

The Sara Yorke Stevenson papers consist of seven folders in one archival box of correspondence, family history, writings and lectures. Much of the material is undated. Many writings are on slips of paper or small tablet pages that are fragile and dirty. The papers were donated after being found in an attic trunk in the former home of the members of the Wister family who were relatives of Sara Yorke Stevenson. The works had apparently been lost for over 50 years.

The correspondence features several letters from Cornelius Stevenson, Sara's husband as well as her lifelong friend Mrs. Edward Wainwright (Agnes Repplier. Other correspondents include Cornelia Frothingham, Talcott Williams and Alice R. Wheeler.

Stevenson's family history is represented by hand-written pieces that are in fragile condition. There is a genealogical chart of "Norman Steele of Carrickenscross", from whom the Yorke family was descended. The Keene family history is a part of a "History of Northumberland County, PA", which mentions Sarah Lukens Keene and Sarah S. Keene, family of Lawrence Keene who may also have been a relative of Mrs. Stevenson. there is additional material on the Keene family as a part of a "History of Northumberland County, PA", which mentions Sarah Lukens Keene and Sarah S. Keene who may also have been relatives of Mrs. Stevenson. The Lukens Family manuscripts (Collection 161) are housed at the University of Delaware.

Among Stevenson's writing is a six page typed letter to Joseph F. Guffey, business executive and Democratic party politician from Pittsburgh who became a U.S. Senator. The letter concerns the controversy about Guffey's views on Mexico and taxes. Other items appear to be drafts of letters and notes, perhaps for a lecture. An undated form letter from the era of William Pepper's presidency invites members of the University Archaeological Association to a meeting.

Stevenson's time as a newspaper columnist is represented by pieces on child development and education. Also from this time are letters between Sara Yorke Stevenson and Hayden Carruth of the editorial department at Woman's Home Companion magazine concerning an article she was writing. In preparation for her class on Museology there are notes and rough drafts. Included are "Lecture on the Earliest Known Egyptian Art" and a typed manuscript on, "The Influence of Archaeological Discovery upon the Thought of the XIX Century." This material is not dated. Several pages, placed in mylar due to their condition, appear to be a lecture on what a museum should be.

The sample documents include accession book entries and sample lists of museum objects by division.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives,  July 2011

Revision Description

 3/22/12

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

For additional information on the Egypt Section, see:

Egypt Section Sara Yorke Stevenson Curatorial papers

For information on the early museum, see:

Board of Managers records

Additional information on Sara Yorke Stevenson may be found in:

Wister Family papers Department of Special Collections LaSalle University

Wister-Butler Family papers Collection 1962 Historical Society of Pennsylvania

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Controlled Access Headings

Form/Genre(s)
  • Correspondence
Personal Name(s)
  • Guffey, Joseph F., 1870-1959
  • Stevenson, Sara Yorke, 1847-1921

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Collection Inventory

Box

Correspondence, 1890-1906 (Bulk, 1898-1906) .

1

Family History.

1

Writings (1 of 2).

1

Writings (2 of 2).

1

Publication, 1910.

1

Lectures.

1

Sample documents.

1