Arts and Humanities
Philadelphia is a vibrant city full of art, music, and history, and the Drexel family contributed to that quality in a variety of ways. From founding entities specifically dedicated to the conservation of art, to helping draft legislation that gives money specifically to arts and humanities programs, various Drexels ensured that their privilege would benefit the arts and humanities both in their home city and the nation.
Politics in Art
Livingston Biddle, Jr. was perhaps the most politically active in this area. He drafted arts legislation to establish the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1963-64 while working for Senator Claiborne Pell. He was then Deputy to the 1st Chairman to the endowment in 1966-67 after it was passed in 1965. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed Biddle as chairman, a position he held until 1981. The endowment provides grants to keep arts and humanities programs active in communities nationwide. More information about the NEA can be found on their website and Biddle's papers are held by the Archives of American Art.
The Drexel family was instrumental in ensuring that public art would become a popular part of Philadelphia's culture and tourism.
Anthony J. Drexel was the first president of the Fairmount Park Association, which was the first private, non-profit organization dedicated to public art and public planning in the United States. The association, which is now the Association for Public Art (aPA), has loaned Drexel University a statue of him indefinitely. It can be found on campus at Market Street and 33rd. More information about aPA can be found at their website.
The Drexels were not just patrons of art: the family includes musicians and painters. Francis Martin Drexel was a professional painter before his brokerage firm became a full-time enterprise, and many of his portraits can be found in the Drexel Collection as well. Discover his paintings and read about his life in his own words. Francis is often credited with instilling in his children an appreciation for music, literature, and art. His granddaughter, Frances Drexel Paul, was a talented artist, and one of her landscapes is held in the Drexel Collection.
Anthony's brother, Joseph Wilhelm Drexel, was an early Trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, founded in 1870. Joseph donated Egyptian sculpture, pottery, and artifacts to the Met's collection during his time on the Board and after his death.
One Drexel, Cordelia Frances Biddle, actually worked as an actress, in New York and on tour. She appeared on stage, directed by Jerry Zaks in Albert Innaurato’s Gemini, and on the daytime drama, One Life to Live.
Another Drexel involved with theatre was Joseph Wilhelm Drexel. He was a director of the Met Opera House and a president of the New York Philharmonic Society. He had a love of music that fed into the opera easily and with passion. The Drexels were also regularly involved in the music scene of the Northeastern part of the country.
Joseph Drexel also founded the Met’s musical instrument collection, now known as the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments. He added 44 instruments from a variety of countries, then Mrs. Crosby Brown donated the largest amount of money in the department's history, thus earning name rights.
Education was very important to the Drexel family, and has consistently been an important aspect of their philanthropic activities. Most notably in the Drexel family, Anthony J. Drexel founded the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry in 1891. He used three million dollars to found the university with a vision driven toward inclusion. He envisioned an institute that would prepare students for careers in new industries and make no written restrictions on religion, gender, or socioeconomic status, which was ground-breaking in the late 19th century.
Many family members have been involved in the administration and fundraising for Drexel Univesity over its 130 year history. The Drexel Museum, today called the Drexel Collection, was an important part of the plans for the Institute, and the foundation of its collection is the private collections of A.J. Drexel, George W. Childs, and Drexel's brother-in-law John D. Lankenau. Read more about and explore the items in the Drexel Collection.
Joseph W. Drexel was a founding trustee for the American Museum of Natural History and a trustee of the U.S. Academy of Natural Sciences.
Cordelia Frances Biddle currently teaches creative writing at Drexel University, and won the Honors College Teaching Excellence Prize in 2012. She previously taught in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts and Temple University, as well as one-day seminars with Mystery Writers of America.
Joseph Wilhelm Drexel had such a large collection of literature, 5,000 to 6,000 books, that after his death it was donated to the Lenox Library, which was later consolidated with other libraries to create the New York Public Library System. Many of these items were musical manuscripts, as he was a enamored with music.
A number of family members are published authors. Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, Lady Decies, wrote a sensational tell-all about her marriage to Harry Smyes Lehr, considered the court jester to American high society, called "King Lehr" and the Gilded Age (1935). Cordelia Drexel Biddle wrote the book My Philadelphia Father (1955) with Michael Crichton about her father Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Sr. Biddle himself wrote a number of books, including The Madeira Islands (1896) and perhaps most notably Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat (1937) detailing the techniques Biddle used in training U.S. Marines.
Besides his work in arts administration, Livingston Ludlow Biddle, Jr. wrote four novels set in Philadelphia between 1950 and 1961, as well as Our Government and the Arts: A Perspective from the Inside, a history of the NEA published in 1988.
Cordelia Frances Biddle has also written many books, both fiction and non-fiction. She has written the “Crossword Mystery” Series with her now ex-husband, Steve Zettler, under the joint pseudonym Nero Blanc. Her nonfiction works are Biddle, Jackson, and a Nation in Turmoil and Saint Katharine: The Life of Katharine Drexel, and her fiction, Sins of Commission, The Actress, Without Fear, Deception’s Daughter, and The Conjurer. The novels are set during the early Victorian era in Philadelphia and explore women’s issues, and the chasm between wealth and poverty. A prior novel, Beneath the Wind, examined colonialism during the Edwardian Age. More information can be found on her website.