The History of Glen Foerd
Many of Philadelphia’s first families built their country estates on the banks of the Delaware River. They came by ferry, carriage, and later train, to escape the heat of summers in the city. It was at these grand estates they entertained some of the most prominent figures in the history of our nation. Glen Foerd is the only Delaware River estate located in Philadelphia, which is open to the public. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Servants and Leather Workers
Arthur and Mary Laws
Glen Foerd is much more than a story of the lives of one of Philadelphia’s elite families. Both servants and factory workers were essential to the operation of the estate. Leather workers, estate employees, and the wealthy estate residents comprised a complex, interdependent system that is the essence of the Glen Foerd story. While servants and factory workers were often exploited, they likely held out hope for a better life for their children. Despite the exhausting work and long hours, many people found their living standard better than the one they may have left behind.
A story of one of the servants offers a glimpse into life at Glen Foerd. Elizabeth “May” Prettyman came to Glen Foerd as an unmarried teacher. She started teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Delaware. Her life on the estate was a vast improvement from her earlier position. She lived on the mansion’s third floor, by the children’s bedrooms. Her suite included a bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. While at Glen Foerd, she met and fell in love with Glen Foerd’s gardener, Joseph McGowen. The relationship must have caused a stir. Not only was it considered improper for servants of the same employer to have romantic relationships, but Joseph was many years May’s junior. The relationship, and subsequent marriage, ended May’s employment at Glen Foerd. May left Glen Foerd with $10,000 in the bank. With her savings, she purchased a duplex in northeast Philadelphia for $1,200. Joseph and May had two children and lived at the same address throughout their married lives.
We are just beginning to research the estate employees and Foerderer’s leather factory workers. Ongoing research will help to reinterpret Glen Foerd so its story reflects the complex system which existed between the Macalesters, Foerderers and their employees. Read about the butler, Arthur Laws.
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