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PHS acquires Wanamaker portraits

November 15, 2012
Painting of Mary Wanamaker, oil on linen, 33” x 25”


On October 24, PHS staff added two large paintings of John and Mary Wanamaker to the collection. Bethany Collegiate Presbyterian Church (est. 1858) donated the paintings to PHS.

John Wanamaker (1838-1922), the famous department store magnate, founded the Bethany Sunday School in Philadelphia in 1858, three years before he opened his first clothing store in the city. In 1860, John married one of Bethany’s first teachers, Mary Brown (1839-1920), and the Wanamakers actively engaged in and supported many Presbyterian causes over the next six decades.

John served as the Bethany Sunday School superintendent for most of his adult life, and under his watch, the school became the largest Sunday school in the United States, with over 5,000 pupils by 1900. Bethany “Sabbath Scholars” signed a fourteen-point pledge upon admittance, vowing to “learn my lessons perfectly, repeat them softly, yet distinctly, and improve all my time to the best possible advantage” while giving “my heart wholly to God.” John and Mary also assisted in funding the Presbyterian Hospital and Presbyterian Orphanage in Philadelphia, and they helped tie Bethany to the larger Christian concerns of the day, including the YMCA and the U.S. Christian Commission.

PHS is pleased to preserve these paintings of the Wanamakers and share the legacy of their faith and work.