The Berean Institute (1904-2012)
The Berean Institute, originally the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School, was a school that offered trade and technical classes to the African American community of North Philadelphia. The Berean Institute was founded by Rev. Matthew Anderson in 1899 and officially opened its doors in 1904. The Berean Institute grew quickly and eventually offered classes in sewing, typewriting, carpentry, electrical work, cooking and other trades. The Berean Institute served the community for over 100 years, until it closed its doors in 2012. Today the Philadelphia Technical Training Institute operates a technical and trade school on the site.
Sketch of original Berean Institute site
Photographs of several classes at the Berean Institute (1912)
Photograph of the Berean Institute buildings
Photographs of Campus Building Interiors (1912)
Photograph of the Berean Institute (2008)
"Applications for admission to Girard College are completed by women, accompanied by their fatherless sons, in the Berean Institute," Photo by Dominic Pasquarella for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1968
Berean Institute Historical Marker
Backstory and Context
The Berean Manual Training and Industrial School, later known as the Berean Institute, was a trade school located at 1901 W. Girard Ave. The Berean school opened as a small night school in 1899 to further the educational goals of the local African American community and eventually grew to include several surrounding buildings to accommodate increased enrollment and course offerings. The Berean Manual Training and Industrial School had its roots in a network of community institutions connected to the Berean Presbyterian Church founded by Rev. Matthew Anderson, which is still located on N. Broad Street.
Rev. Anderson was born in 1848, in a small town in Northern Pennsylvania. He attended Iberia school and Oberlin college before going on to the Theological Seminary at Princeton in 1874, where he was the first African American to live on campus. Rev. Anderson graduated from Princeton in 1877 and went on to study at Yale until 1879.
Rev. Anderson began the Berean network of community institutions in 1880 as the founding pastor of Berean Presbyterian Church. A few years later, in 1888, Rev. Anderson founded the Berean Building and Loan Association, which helped hundreds of members of the local African American community purchase their own homes. Rev. Anderson may have chosen the name "Berean" as references to the biblical city of Berea and the town of Berea in Ohio, where he visited while studying at nearby Oberlin college.
The Berean school was part of an explosion of technical and trade schools that sprung up in America during the second half of the 19th century. Although there were thousands of such trade and technical schools around the country when the Berean school was founded, only a dozen or so accepted African American students. The seed of the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School was planted in 1887 when a single teacher gave a course on chair caning. Two years later, the school officially opened with twenty-five students and four teachers. Originally intended to provide evening classes in English literacy, math, sewing, dressmaking and cooking, the Berean Institute quickly evolved to add instruction in other fields such as carpentry, practical electricity, typewriting and bookkeeping.
The Berean school continued to grow through the first half of the 20th century, outgrowing its original facilities, which would be demolished in 1967 along with several nearby buildings to make space for a new $4 million facility. Construction of the new Berean school began in late 1968. The Berean school continued its activism and mission to further the education of African Americans in Philadelphia, even beyond the Berean itself, and in the summer of 1968 it hosted an event where at least 620 African American students would apply to nearby Girard College, which had just been desegregated and was admitting its first non-white students that fall.
By the 2000s the Berean school fell on hard times and it lost its accreditation and state funding in 2008 due to low enrollment. After several years of unsuccessful reforms and fundraising efforts, the Berean school closed in 2012. The facility was purchased in 2015 by the Philadelphia Technical Training Institute, which operates as a technical and trade school today.
Anderson, Matthew. The Berean School of Philadelphia and the Industrial Efficiency of the Negro. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, ser. Industrial Education, vol. 33, no. 1. 111 - 118. Published January 1909.
Anderson, Matthew. Presbyterianism: its Relation to the Negro. Philadelphia: J.M. White, 1897.
American federation of labor. Committee on industrial education. Winslow, Charles Henry. Industrial education. Report of Committee on industrial education of the American federation of labor.. Washington Govt. print. off., 1912.
Russ, Valerie. "Fight over North Philly's Berean Institute heats up." The Philadelphia Inquirer August 30th, 2012.
Russ, Valeria. "Is this the end for Berean Institute?" The Philadelphia Inquirer July 15, 2008.
DiStefano, Joseph N. "Nonprofit wants to buy Berean Institute." The Philadelphia Inquirer March 11, 2015
Brunt, Bayard. "Girard Forms Are Prepared By Negroes." Philadelphia Evening Bulletin June 16th, 1968.
Berean Manual Training and Industrial School scrapbook. 1946. Presbyterian Historical Society.
Presbyterian Historical Society, https://digital.history.pcusa.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A4325?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=f624d49a088ad64209eb&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=0#page/8/mode/1up
Presbyterian Historical Society, https://digital.history.pcusa.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A4325?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=f624d49a088ad64209eb&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=0#page/4/mode/1up
Presbyterian Historical Society, https://digital.history.pcusa.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A4325?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=f624d49a088ad64209eb&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=0#page/6/mode/1up
Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.https://digital.library.temple.edu/digital/collection/p15037coll3/id/4847/rec/31