From 1947 to 1949, one of the most ambitious traveling exhibitions ever mounted toured the United States. Aimed at promoting "a greater appreciation of the blessings of American heritage" the Freedom Train brought 126 of the nation's most iconic documents -from Columbus to the Bill of Rights to the World War II surrender - to 3.5 million people across America. The goal was to promote pride in America and her political and economic systems, and to encourage civic participation. While the train's goals were to promote unity and showcase "the development of American democracy as the fullest expression of individual freedom, human rights, and the dignity of man," it also raised questions about the nature and limits of that freedom. The train's route through segregated America stirred controversy over whether an exhibit dedicated to freedom could allow segregated visitation and Langston Hughes penned a strongly worded poem, "Freedom Train," insisting that it could not. Ultimately a policy of desegregated visitation was adopted and stops were cancelled in Memphis and Birmingham when they refused to comply. The Rosenbach's exhibition will reunite selected documents from the original Freedom Train, including the Bay Psalm Book, "Common Sense," and Lincoln's Baltimore Address, and will explore the image of America the train strove to provide and the questions it raised about interpreting history and promoting freedom.
The Rosenbach welcomes back preeminent architectural writer Witold Rybczynski on the occasion of his new collection, a history of the chair from the folding stools of pharaonic Egypt to the ubiquitous stackable monobloc chairs of today. He reveals the history of chairs to be a history of everyday human life; different ways of sitting shed light on social manners, attitudes, and tastes. Witold Rybczynski is Emeritus Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written for the Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and the New York Times, and has been architecture critic for Saturday Night, Wigwag, and Slate. Following his talk, Rybczynski will sign copies of his book, which will be available for sale through the Rosenbach shop.