Free Library in Philadelphia Features Church Exhibit

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor

  • 29 November 2016

"An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism," an exhibit at the Free Library in Philadelphia, runs through February 6, 2017.  Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Article Highlights

  • “An American-Born Faith” exhibit about the Church and its history is the result of curiosity surrounding the new temple.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

The banners promoting the exhibit hang prominently outside the Free Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism,” they read, advertising an exhibit about the Church and its history.

Allison Freyermuth, head of the rare book department of the Free Library and co-curator of the exhibit, said An American-Born Faith is the result of local interest in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, dedicated on September 18 and located just east of the Free Library.

“We knew people would be very curious” about the temple and Mormonism, she said, calling the temple a “new neighbor” of the library.

An American-Born Faith explores “historic Mormon material” from the 19th and early 20th centuries from the Free Library collection and the Rosenbach collection, which includes rare books and manuscripts and is housed in Philadelphia’s historic district.

Jonathan H. Stephenson, chair of the Philadelphia Temple historical subcommittee, said committee members worked with the Free Library on the details of the exhibit. “Free Library staff invited suggestions from the Church” for exhibit layout and verbiage, he said.

The Free Library of Philadelphia was founded in 1891 as the city’s first public library system. The rare book department of the Free Library is among the largest of American public libraries.

Many people, Ms. Freyermuth said, toured the exhibit after visiting the temple open house. “We have had Mormons and non-Mormons very interested in [the exhibit].”

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple on Sunday, September 18, 2016. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

The exhibit, co-curated by Kathy Haas, will remain open through February 6. Highlights of the exhibit include early copies of the Book of Mormon; texts printed in Deseret, a Mormon phonetic alphabet; 19th-century travelers’ descriptions of Church settlements; and publications documenting the range of Americans’ reactions to the new faith.

Ms. Freyermuth said many visitors are interested in the section of the exhibit that highlights the Deseret alphabet. The phonetic alphabet was created “to help foreign-born converts learn English.”

She has also enjoyed hearing the family history stories of visitors—whose ancestors were drawn to the United States after joining the Church.

Free Library curators say a new exhibit featuring Latter-day Saint materials is the result of local interest in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

The Story of the Book of Mormon by George Reynolds, published in 1923, is part of a Church-themed exhibit in Philadelphia. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

A page from the Deseret News, published on Wednesday, August 10, 1859, is part of an exhibit at the Free Library. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism, an exhibit at the Free Library in Philadelphia, runs through February 6, 2017. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism, an exhibit at the Free Library in Philadelphia, runs through February 6, 2017. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism, an exhibit at the Free Library in Philadelphia, runs through February 6, 2017. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism, an exhibit at the Free Library in Philadelphia, runs through February 6, 2017. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.