This is a study of the adoption and use of academic dress at the University of Pennsylvania and its predecessor institutions, the College of Philadelphia and University of the State of Pennsylvania from approximately 1750–1830. Despite early interest of the College’s founder, Benjamin Franklin, to use academic dress to monitor student activities outside college bounds, there was soon contentious debate between the institution’s founding senior academics about whether academic dress should be used at all. By sheer force of will of its leading proponent, academic dress came into use at public ceremonies. These public ceremonies became a model for public political expression outside the academic context, eventually transforming the gown’s connection to European aristocratic institutions into the garment of scholar-artisans in a democratic republic. This close association between academic and civic ceremonial helped shape discussions in the next generation about greater distinction in academic gowns that foreshadow the development of the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume at the end of the nineteenth century. Throughout this history filled with well-known leaders of the American War of Independence, we also glimpse hidden figures within the pattern of academic dress at Philadelphia: the largely anonymous women who made and repaired academic gowns.

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New Prairie Press

Available for download on Friday, October 20, 2023



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