Philadelphia Society Linked to John Howard

face of a prisoner

The founders of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons were keenly concerned with its place in elite discourse. The founders were leading members of Philadelphia society — clergy, doctors, printers, writers, merchants, and others.^ Ten days after the Philadelphia Society’s founding in 1787, Benjamin Rush, a founder, attempted to bring its constitution to John Howard’s attention through a letter to one of Howard’s close friends. Howard was at this time a highly celebrated public figure. Rush proceeded with a combination of flattery and self-promotion in his letter to Howard’s friend:

The institution {the Philadelphia Society} has grown out of his excellent history of Prisons {The State of the Prisons}, aided in a small degree by the pamphlet lately published in this city upon the effects of public punishments upon criminals and society {Rush’s own work, Enquiry into the Effects of Public Punishments upon Criminals, and upon Society} …I beg you to show it {the Constitution of the Philadelphia Society} to Mr. Howard (if returned to London), or publish it in some of your periodical papers.^

In a subsequent letter directly to Howard, Rush thanked Howard for “the immense services you have rendered to humanity and science” and invited Howard to visit the U.S.^ A few months later, the President of the Philadelphia Society also wrote to Howard. He enclosed a copy of the Society’s constitution, asked Howard for his thoughts upon it, and praised Howard for his work.^

Howard was impressed with Philadelphia Society. In an edition of his work published in 1789, Howard declared:

Should the plan take place, during my life, of establishing a permanent charity, under some such title as that at Philadelphia, viz. A society for alleviating the miseries of public prisons, and annuities be engrafted thereupon for the abovementioned purpose, I would most readily stand at the bottom of the page as a subscriber of £500; or if such a society shall be constituted within three years after my death, this sum shall be paid out of my estate.^

The Philadelphia Society surely counted this citation as a major success.

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