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Octavia Hill Association (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records

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Collection Summary


Octavia Hill Association (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records



Collection ID



Octavia Hill Association (Philadelphia, Pa.)


8.25 linear feet (12 boxes)         


Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries


Materials in English.


Detailed Collection Information

Historical Note

The Octavia Hill Association was incorporated in 1896 to improve working class housing conditions through the sympathetic management of dwellings which it purchased and renovated. The Association's activities were modeled after the work in London of Octavia Hill, with whom one of its founders, Helen Parrish, had studied. The founders wished to demonstrate that the housing business and charitable works could be combined. They wanted to manage clean, sanitary, safe houses for their African American and immigrant tenants and make a profit at the same time, their motto being "Philanthropy and Four Per Cent."

The Association bought rundown properties, usually row houses, improved them and rented them to persons they thought could maintain them. It also rented houses for other owners, and eventually built a limited number of houses under the aegis of the Model Homes Company. By 1916 the Association owned or managed over 400 houses. This amount remained relatively stable for several decades and then began a long decline after World War II. The Octavia Hill Association's major period as a growing and pioneering reform organization ended in the 1920s, largely as a result of financial pressures (the stockholders wanted their 4% return) and changes in the housing market.

A key feature of the Association's work from the beginning was the "Friendly Rent Collector" who was to insure regular payments, inspect the premises, and instruct the tenants in cleanliness, sanitation and good housekeeping. In its early years the Association's efforts led to block cleanups, new kindergartens and new playgrounds in the area of its most intensive work, the old Southwark black and immigrant neighborhood stretching from Lombard Street to Washington Avenue, and 7th Street to Front Street. It also held properties in Germantown, Kensington and Manayunk. The Association worked with neighborhood agencies, lobbied in Harrisburg for various housing bills, and participated in the drafting of the Philadelphia Housing Code (passed in 1913). In 1909 it took the initiative in organizing the Philadelphia Housing Association.

Description of Collection

These records contain the personal diaries, correspondence, and notes of Helen Parrish (1888-1943), as well as reports, legislative files, correspondence, publications, and clippings of the Octavia Hill Association (1880-1970). Also included are glass lantern slides, negatives, and photographic reprints relating to the Association's properties and community activities, and depicting housing interiors and exteriors before and after renovations, court yards, and street scenes around Philadelphia. 

Organization and Arrangement

The collection is arranged into 5 series as follows:

Series 1: Helen Parrish Papers, 1888-1943 (URB 46)
Series 2: Octavia Hill Association Records, 1880-1970 (URB 46)
Series 3: Lantern Slide Images, circa 1903-1917 (PC-10)
        Series 3.1: Lantern Slides, circa 1903-1917
        Series 3.2: Prints and Negatives from Lantern Slides, circa 1903-1917
Series 4: Glass Negatives, undated (PC-13)
Series 5: Prints from Glass Negatives, undated (PC-12)

Patron Information

Alternate Form Available

A selection of photographs from this collection have been digitized and are available online on the Temple University Digital Collections website.

The diaries of Helen Parrish from Series 1: Helen Parrish Papers, 1888-1943 (URB 46) have also been digitized and are available online.

Other Finding Aids and Indices

To assist researchers the Special Collections Research Center has prepared the Housing Association of Delaware Valley and Octavia Hill Association Photograph Collections Streets and Other Locations Index. This index provides access to identified photographs by Philadelphia street name or number, Philadelphia non-street locations, and non-Philadelphia locations. Other indexes to the Numbered Housing Association Collection are available by subject, date, and zip code. These indexes are available in print format in the SCRC reading room.

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Temple University’s online library catalog: http://diamond.temple.edu/record=b1639964~S14

Research Access

Collection is open for research. 

Collections Stored Off-Site

This collection may be housed off-site at the Library Depository, and require up to two business days to retrieve. Please review the finding aid and be prepared to identify specific materials to be retrieved. Contact the Special Collections Research Center in advance of your visit, so that materials may be relocated to the reading room for research.

Technical Access

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy. Certain digital files may also be inaccessible. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Publication and Copyright Information

The Octavia Hill Association (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records are on deposit with the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries. Temple University holds literary rights only for material created by university employees and to material given to the university with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for determining the identity of rights holders and obtaining their permission for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Preferred Citation

[Description and date of item], [Box/folder number], Octavia Hill Association (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records, SCRC 29, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Related Material

Housing Association of Delaware Valley Records, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information

Placed on deposit through the Octavia Hill Association, by William Jeanes, Executive Director, January 9, 1975, Accession 203.           

Processing Information

Finding aid revised according to contemporary archival standards in April 2013 by Katy Rawdon, Coordinator of Technical Services.

Index Terms

The following headings have been used to index the description of this collection in Temple University’s electronic catalog:

Personal/Family Names:
Hill, Octavia, 1838-1912
Parrish, Helen L., 1859-1942

Corporate Names:

Housing Association of Delaware Valley (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Model Homes Company (Philadelphia, Pa.)
National Housing Association (New York, N.Y.)


African Americans--Housing--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
Housing rehabilitation--PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia
Public housing--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
Social settlements
Tenement houses--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
Working class--Dwellings
Labor movement--Dwellings


Philadelphia (Pa.)

Material Types:


Series 1: Helen Parrish Papers, 1888-1943 (URB 46)

URB 46/I/1 Diaries, 1888

URB 46/I/2 Correspondence with England, 1889-1931
URB 46/I/3-6 General Correspondence, 1896-1943
URB 46/I/7-9 Notes and Speeches, 1899-1942 and undated

Series 2: Octavia Hill Association Records, 1880-1970 (URB 46)

URB 46/II/1-4 Annual Reports, 1897-1970

URB 46/II/5 Legislative File - Tenement House Legislation, 1902-1905
URB 46/II/6 Legislative File - Tenement House Law, 1907

URB 46/II/7 Legislative File - Water Supply Bill, 1911
URB 46/II/8 Legislative File - Fight Against Tenement Law Repeal, 1914-1915
URB 46/II/9 Pamphlets, 1902-1917
URB 46/II/10 Properties, 1897-1924
URB 46/II/11 Publications and Publicity, 1898-1938
URB 46/II/12 Report by Carol Arnovici, 1917
URB 46/II/13-14 Speeches, Conferences, Reports, etc.
URB 46/II/15 Octavia Hill Biographical Material, 1880-1939
URB 46/II/16 Clippings, 1911-1927 and undated

Series 3. Lantern Slide Images, circa 1903-1917 (PC-10)

Subseries 3.1: Lantern Slides, circa 1903-1917

Box 1

1 Ms. Octavia Hill [Portrait]
2 613 Lombard Street, office
3 613-15 Lombard Street
4 Front and League Streets
5-6 League and Water Streets
7 Court Rear, 235 Queen Street
8 Court Rear, 234 Monroe Street
9 1326-28 N. Front Street
10 Rear, 1328 N. Front, Hamilton Court
11 948 N. 3rd Street, plan
12 Court in rear of 948-52 N. 3rd Street
13 Court, N. 3rd Street after improvements
14 Court, other side - before alterations
15 Court, other side - after alterations
16 Rear, 427 Montrose Street
17 Front, 429 Montrose Street
18 Plan of Kensington houses
19 Gaul Street houses, corner Cambria Street
20 2423-29 Cambria Street
21 Rear, 2900 Gaul Street
22 Kitchen or living room, 2900 Gaul
23 Rear of Kensington houses
24 Germantown Yard before improvements
25-28 Germantown before improvements (various views)
29 Germantown yard before improvements
30 Germantown wooden toilets before improvements
31 Germantown after improvements
32 Germantown after improvements. No. 545-47
33 Germantown play shed
34-36 Rear, Front and Pemberton Streets
37 Old Houses, Pemberton Street 1746
38-39 Yard houses, Workman Place
40 Delegates to National Convention in 1912
41 Playshed at Workman Place
42 Goncher Place, Rodman below 6th, 1906
43 Room with quilt over window. 508 S. 7th Street, 1903
44 Lot on which Kensington houses built
45 702-06 Lombard Street
46 Casa Ravello - 7th and Catherine
47 Rear, 1632 Naudain Street
48 17th and Shunk Streets
49 18th and Shunk Streets
50 701-21 N. Marshall Street. [NOT IN SET] 50A Cellar. 508 S. 7th Street, 1903

Subseries 3.2: Prints and Negatives from Lantern Slides, circa 1903-1917

1 box. No inventory available.

Series 4. Glass Negatives, undated (PC-13)

2 boxes. No inventory available.

Series 5. Prints from Glass Negatives, undated (PC-12)

1 box. No inventory available.