Like Kosciuszko, Stephen Girard is another early American hero who is unfamiliar to most Philadelphians – recognized only by his namesake road, Girard Avenue, a main thoroughfare through Center City and past the zoo. Born in Bordeaux, France, Girard took to the sea and eventually became a captain, working the trade routes between New Orleans and Haiti. He ended up in Philadelphia by accident, having put into port for water while trying to avoid a British warship. Girard decided to settle down and became a merchant – one of the first Americans to trade with China. Upon his death in 1831, Girard was the richest man in America. The murals in the beautiful Victorian library at Girard College highlight his many contributions:
In addition to leaving his fortune to establish Girard College, he also left all of his belongings to the College, making the Stephen Girard collection one of the most complete collections of early 19th century Americana. The collection includes everything that was in his home upon his death – his extensive correspondence, business and personal paperwork, furniture, clothing, sliver, etc..
Every Thursday, the college offers free tours of the collection and the original 1848 building that originally held the college’s classrooms.
In the 1950’s, the college became a focal point for the civil rights movement in Philadelphia (Martin Luther King Jr. lent his support with a visit and speech – the museum has video of part of his speech). The college has some interesting displays highlighting the protests and court cases that eventually led to desegregation in 1968.
The school is still active today, continuing to offer full scholarships (funded 90% by the Girard endowment) to under-served populations (including girls).
Tobey says: I actually really enjoyed this. The Martin Luther King video was cool.