West Philadelphia Collaborative History is a project sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, in conjunction with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. The core of the project is a website with resources on the history of 20th- and 21st-century West Philadelphia. Augmenting the site will be a series of programs to encourage community collaboration and to support educators seeking to use local history in the classroom. The project is co-developed with leading West Philadelphia community activists and will incorporate participation and input from West Philadelphia residents, organizations, teachers, and students. The site was constructed thanks to a generous donation from Ruth Moorman and Sheldon Simon.

About this website

A work in continuous progress, our website provides opportunities and resources for anyone interested in exploring the stories of West Philadelphia over the past century. Among other features, it provides historical narratives, data summaries, interviews, photographs, and other resources contributed by community members. Our starting point is 1907, the year that introduced the Market Street Elevated rapid transit line (“The El”), which spurred expansive population growth and transformed West Philadelphia from a “streetcar suburb” to a major urban district with a population greater than 300,000 residents.

Among the major developments to be examined: 

  • Ethnic shifts and attendant cultural conflicts as varied groups took up residence in the area.
  • Emergence of West Philadelphia as a terminus for the Great Migration of African Americans moving north between 1920 and 1970; emergence of ethnic-community cultures across the 20th century, replete with multiple denominations of churches, benevolent and political associations, community development organizations, and arts and cultural groups and venues.
  • Growth and expansion of educational institutions: public schools (especially high schools) and private universities.
  • Growth and expansion of hospitals, health systems, and public and private social services.
  • Impacts of the post-World War II “urban crisis” and problems of West Philadelphia neighborhoods—conditions stemming historically from racial discrimination and poverty; effects of urban renewal programs; and neighborhood and area-wide organizing efforts to ameliorate the urban crisis.
  • Rise of corporate redevelopment and the expanding footprint of anchor institutions.