The Philadelphia Society, for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons

face of a prisoner

The Philadelphia Society for alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons was not the first Philadelphia society concerned with prisoners. Beginning before the American Revolutionary War, Richard Wistar had organized efforts to provide soup to starving inmates of Philadelphia prisons. On Feb. 7, 1776, the Philadelphia Society for Assisting Distressed Prisoners was founded. It provided for a wheelbarrow that went from house to house daily to collect food for prisoners. It also carefully managed and allocated the collected food.^ This Society disbanded when the British army occupied Philadelphia in Sept., 1777.

In 1787, leading members of Philadelphia society founded The Philadelphia Society, for alleviating the miseries of prisons. Founding members adopted a constitution on May 8. The comma following “Philadelphia Society” in the Society’s full name exists in the first printing of the Society’s Constitution in 1787.^ The comma punctuates the Philadelphia Society as an indication of social status. Subsequent printings of the Society’s full name don’t include the comma.

The punctuation of the Society’s name in the first printing of its constitution probably reflects the view of the Constitution’s unnamed printer. Punctuation was ad hoc and often left to the printer in the eighteenth century. Francis Bailey, who first printed the Articles of Confederation in 1787 for the American colonial states, was among the Society’s members. He may have printed the Society’s Constitution.

The Philadelphia Society was incorporated in 1833. When the Act of Incorporation and Constitution were printed in 1835, the Constitution was considerably different from the founding Constitution of 1787. The Constitution probably was revised in the late 1820s or early 1830s in conjunction with the opening of the Eastern State Penitentiary and the incorporation of the Society.

The Philadelphia Society changed its name to the Pennsylvania Prison Society in 1887. The Pennsylvania Prison Society serves today as “a social justice organization that advocates on behalf of prisoners, formerly incarcerated individuals and their families.”

The Philadelphia Society founded the Pennsylvania Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy in 1845. That journal is also known as just the Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy. In 1921, this journal became The Prison Journal. The Prison Journal has continued in print.

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