In The Footsteps of Henry George

The Philadelphia Story

Edward J. Dodson

[A booklet prepared for distribution at the 2005 Council of Georgist Organizations conference, held at the Warwick Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 3-7 August, 2005]

Although Henry George was born here in Philadelphia, and the small house in which he first lived now serves as the Philadelphia extension of the Henry George School, George never returned to Philadelphia to live as an adult. When he brought his wife and children East from California in 1881, they established their residence in the Ft. Washington area of New York City. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

George did attract some converts to his views from his home town. One, W.J. Atkinson, made a $500 contribution in 1887 to fund a broad distribution of The Standard during the presidential campaign. There was also Horace Traubel, editor of the Conservator, who helped to organize the Single Tax Club during the late 1880s.

Horace Traubel - 1905

During this same period, Joseph Fels became a trustee of the Ethical Society, and in 1890 took on the duties of Program Chairman. He arranged for the Young People's Section to hold its meetings and classes at the Philadelphia Single Tax Club.

Joseph Fels

One of the guest speakers not long thereafter was G.G. Steven, who spoke on Henry George. Eventually, the membership of the Ethical Society experienced a split over efforts by Fels to have Traubel's newspaper endorsed nationally by the Chicago Congress and Convention of Ethical Societies. Fels, Traubel and others withdrew from the Ethical Society as a result, charging the organization "did not stand for democracy and freedom, but for provincialism and exclusion." They formed a new organization, the Fellowship for Ethical Research, and began meeting weekly at the Single Tax Club.

Early in 1895, the members of the Philadelphia Single Tax Society decided to concentrate their efforts to get the Single Tax adopted by one state. Delaware was chosen for the campaign, and in mid-June they held a number of outside meetings in the City of Wilmington and other Delaware towns. A National Committee appointed Philadelphian A. H. Stephenson to oversee the campaign, along with Jackson H. Ralston (a Maryland resident), and Harold Sudell, of New Castle, Delaware. Frank Stephens (a few years later one of the co-founders of Arden) arranged the meetings.

Frank Stephens

Another Philadelphian who participated in the campaign was Haines D. Albright. Still active into the twentieth century, in 1926 he was a delegate to the Henry George Congress held in Philadelphia.

In the Fall of 1895, a number of meetings were held in the Wilmington Opera House, the first of which was addressed by Henry George. Despite the effort, the campaign failed to gain voter support and the effort in Delaware dissipated.

The nation was already in the midst of a serious industrial depression. With large numbers of workers idle in 1897, Fels helped to launch a "vacant-lots cultivation movement" in Philadelphia. The program had been introduced in Detroit, Michigan a few years earlier, with considerable success.

The Single Tax Society in Philadelphia survived the death of Henry George to continue working for the cause George championed. It is likely that Joseph Fels was in attendance when in April of 1901, the organization hosted the troublesome anarchist Emma Goldman. She had come to Philadelphia to speak at the Social Science Club on North Broad Street, but was prevented from speaking by a strong police presence.

Emma Goldman

A few days later, she delivered a speech in secret to some two hundred people at a meeting of the Single Tax Society in the Mercantile Library Hall, 10th and Chestnut Streets.

Philadelphia Mercantile Hall

Soon thereafter, Joseph and Mary Fels departed for England. Their home at 3640 Chestnut Street was made available to Earl Barnes, a lecturer with the American Society for the Extension of University Teaching. Fels spent very little time in Philadelphia after 1901, returning only occasionally to deal with business matters.

Philadelphia also provided a temporary way-station for one of Fairhope's more eclectic residents, Wharton Esherick. After graduating from the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, Esherick - an admirer of Thoreau - purchased an abandoned farmstead outside of Philadelphia, at Paoli. Then, after several rough years trying to survive on the land, he and his wife left Paoli in 1919 and headed for Fairhope, where he assumed the position of an art teacher at the School of Organic Education.

Wharton Esherick

For reasons we have not been able to uncover, he stayed in Fairhope for less than two years. He returned to his Paoli home and immersed himself into wood carving, earning a reputation as the "dean of American craftsmen." Warned that a quarry company was interested in purchasing land adjacent to his own, he borrowed heavily to acquire twelve additional acres of land, ensuring "the tranquility of his physical surroundings." Esherick was also very much involved in Will Price's design of the rustic community of Rose Valley, in suburban Philadelphia, especially the Hedgerow Theater.

The departure of Joseph Fels from Philadelphia left the local Single Taxers without a leader prominent in the community and able to bring influential civic leaders to the table. This did not deter them from trying. One example: the founding of the Single Tax Party in 1915 was inaugurated in Philadelphia.

A local physician attached to the municipal court, Louis Robinson, was also active during this period. In 1919 he delivered a speech at the Friends Meeting House on "The Single Tax and the Just Distribution of Wealth."

When Single Taxers reorganized for their next national political campaign in 1924, forming the Commonwealth Land Party, the party called upon Julian Hickok, who had moved to Philadelphia in 1916 to work as a mechanical engineer for Westinghouse Corporation, to run as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Then, in 1926, he campaigned for the Office of Governor of Pennsylvania, joined on the ticket by Ardmore resident, Lewis D. Ryan, running for lieutenant-governor.

Julian Hickok

Francis Neilson, prominent in the Georgist movement his entire adult life, noted in his autobiography that the Henry George School was one of the rare places where people of all races, religions and economic standing were welcomed without prejudice. Yet, early on, very few African-Americans were active in the Single Tax movement. Philadelphian Frank Farrell was an exception, although we have not been able to uncover any details on his background or involvement.

As mentioned above, the Georgists held the annual Congress here in 1926. Additional delegates from Philadelphia were the Rev. Frank A. Brown, the pioneer suffragist Mrs. E.C. Evans, George W. Deforest (of Swarthmore), L.W. Garratt (of Wayne), Alice H. and Nora E. Garrod (of West Chester), John Goldsmith, George H. Hallett Jr., George Haug, Henry W. Hetzel, Julian P. Hickok, W.J. Morphy, William J. Schaeffer, Charles J. Schoales, Henry b. Tawressey and Thomas W. Swan. Mr. Swan was the only African-American delegate at the Congress. Addressing the Congress, he let everyone know that Frank Farrell was alive and well, still living in Philadelphia.

A keynote speaker at the Congress was the daughter of Lucius F.C. Garvin, who served two terms as Governor of Rhode Island. Miss Garvin, a resident of Arden, Delaware, delivered a talk on free trade.

A resident of Montgomery County, E.M. Mehl, remained active in the Commonwealth Land Party and was referred to at the time as "one of the oldest and best known of the old-time Henry George campaigners."


The 1920s represented the height of the political campaigns for the Single Tax. The Depression years seemed to demand much more than a restructuring of how government raises its revenue. And, here as elsewhere, the full employment war years diverted the national attention away from long-standing domestic issues.

After 1945, the Georgist movement started to rebuild. The programs of the Henry George Schools were expanded into many cities across the United States, and the number of new converts encouraged many of those who remained from the pre-war days. Yet, the success stories where slow in coming. Even in Pittsburgh, the efforts to raise more of the city's revenue from the taxation of land values awaited the decline of the steel industry and an escalating financial crisis during the 1970s.

One of the most vigorous campaigners for land value taxation during the two decades following the Second World War was the Rev. W. Wylie Young, who died in 2002 at the age of 103. Wylie lived in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania for many years. His 1976 booklet, Antidote for Madness, profoundly makes the case for land value taxation. Those of us who knew him, remember him fondly for his energy and commitment.

During the 1950s, a Philadelphia Georgist named John D. Auld initiated an effort to sell Georgist books to what he called "tax-ridden" groups. He also proposed to the Pennsylvania and New Jersey state legislatures that a tax on land values be implemented to pay for highway construction.

Another life-long Philadelphian who argued the case for land value taxation is David Zwanetz, an attorney and long-time member of the City's Board of Revision of Taxes.

By the early 1980s, the efforts of local Georgists in Philadelphia seemed to be yielding very positive results. A few members of City Council expressed interest in sponsoring enabling legislation, and Councilman James Tayoun organized hearings on the subject. Many local Georgists as well as others testified on behalf of a proposed bill. Phil Finkelstein, at the time Director of the Henry George School in New York - and a former deputy mayor of the City of New York - delivered a stirring address to the council members that is still worth the time to read today. Soon thereafter, however, Jim Tayoun was forced to leave City Council, and momentum for the legislation dissipated.

As the fortunes of this city worsened, other Pennsylvania communities - Harrisburg, in particular, were moving forward, thanks to the hard work of Steve Cord, Hanno Beck and, in more recent years, Josh Vincent.

Steven Cord

Josh Vincent

Here, in Philadelphia, we kept the faith and continued to put our ideas before elected officials and other civic leaders.

Today, we are able to count Josh Vincent as a Philadelphian. And, having the Henry George Foundation of America headquartered here, we Philadelphia Georgists believe, is helping to bring this city closer to adopting the Georgist tax shift than ever before. Our efforts gained tremendous momentum when Jonathan Saidel hired Bruno Moser in 2001 to work in the Office of the Controller on the study that analyzed what changes the City needs to make in how it raises its revenue. We put together two programs on land value taxation hosted at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia that were well-attended and received some media coverage.

Bruno Moser - Back in Switzerland


Henry George's birthplace was acquired in 1926 by the Henry George Foundation of America and provided rental income to the Foundation until 1957, when the building was purchased with donations from many Georgists by the Henry George School to give the extension a permanent location.

Henry George Birthplace - 1958

The extension had been established in 1935 (just three years after the school was founded in New York). Julian Hickok was instrumental in getting the extension up and running during the early years, and, as indicated above, he was deeply committed to the political effort as well. Well into his 80s, Hickok ran as a Republican candidate in 1971 for a seat on the Philadelphia City Council.

In terms of life-long service, Lu Cipolloni has few equals. She completed her Henry George course work in 1937, and has since then served as registrar, provided administrative support and, when called upon, taught classes, under eight different extension directors.

Julian Hickok turned over the director's role in 1940 to Edwin S. Ross, who came to Philadelphia from New York City. When war broke out, however, Ross resigned to enter the military. Joseph Stockman, something of a scholar on Chinese history and culture, succeeded him as extension director, remaining until ill health required him to step down in the early 1960s. George Collins, who was teaching at the school in New York, then came to Philadelphia to take over.

One of the teachers at the school during the early 1950s was Jacob Thomas Ames. After completing the courses, he helped to improve the quality of the school's promotional materials.

Then, there is Olive M. Moore, active in the movement during the 1950s and 1960s, and teaching briefly in 1962. Olive attended the conferences at Baldwin-Wallace College in 1955, at Rutgers University in 1959 and in Detroit, Michigan in 1960. She eventually relocated to Florida; then, in 1979 the Georgist Journal printed her report on a trip to the Panama Canal zone.

Richard Biddle completed the school's program in the late 1970s and began teaching in 1979. Just a year later, in 1980, he was interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer on land value taxation in connection with his campaign for a seat on City Council. Richard was instrumental in organizing with other Georgists the Incentive Tax League of Delaware Valley. With but a few lapses, he has continued to teach over the years; and, since 2004, he has served as Acting Director of the school's extension here in Philadelphia, taking over for Dan Sullivan, who returned to Pittsburgh to pursue other opportunities after a year as extension director.

Mike Curtis, who comes by his Georgist commitment thru family ties, became involved with the school at the beginning of the 1970s. For much of the decade and through the 1980s, he devoted his spare time to teaching Henry George's political economy to inmates of the Smyrna, Delaware prison system and to residents of Arden and the surrounding communities. Then, in 1989, Mike was appointed extension director here in Philadelphia after George Collins left to take on the director's position in New York.

George Collins

Lu Cipolloni

It was also in the 1970s that Kris Feder - today on the economics faculty at Bard College in New York - completed the school's program and volunteered as a teacher. Kris taught from 1978 until 1980, leaving to pursue, first, a B.A. degree in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, then a Ph.D. in economics at Temple University.

Kris Feder

Jake Himmelstein came to the school in 1967 and joined the faculty after completing the program. In 1980, he was elected to the school's board of trustees in New York. Jake also ran for public office in his home community on a platform that prominently included the taxation of land values.

It was also during the 1970s that Don Hurford began to teach at the school and become actively involved in the advocacy work of the Incentive Tax League. Another Philadelphian, Patricia Lowe, also began her long-time association with the school and the drive to get Philadelphia into the ranks of the two-rate cities.

Thus, the decade of the 1970s saw the beginning of a small but dedicated group of people coming together with the extension as our base of activities. Hundreds of others had come through the school's courses and seminars and were on the school's mailing list. Many showed up for special events, celebrations and activities.

Ed Dodson found his way to the school in 1980. After completing the three-course program, he joined the school's all-volunteer faculty. He soon began working with Richard Biddle, Jake Himmelstein and others to promote land value taxation through the Incentive Tax League organization. And, with Delaware Georgist Frank Nelson, he became co-editor of the Henry George Foundation's newsletter, Equal Rights - an assignment he has recently taken on anew.

Another Philadelphian who has devoted much of his adult life to the Georgist cause is Ken Ford. After studying history under Steven Cord at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ken returned to Philadelphia in 1984 and enrolled in the school's program. He later joined the faculty and taught consistently for the next fifteen years. In 2001, Ken succeeded Mike Curtis as extension director.


A long period of time passed after the 1926 Henry George Congress before the next gathering occurred in the Philadelphia area. The next opportunity came in 1975, when the Georgist conference was held in the suburban town of Bryn Mawr, at Harcum Junior College.

Three years later, the annual Georgist conference returned to Bryn Mawr, this time on the campus of Bryn Mawr College. The venue was secured thanks to the efforts of Arthur Duddon, a professor of history at the college and author of the book, Joseph Fels and the Single Tax.

Then, on the 150th anniversary of Henry George's birth, the annual Georgist conference in 1989 was held here on the University of Pennsylvania campus. The Council of Georgist Organizations and the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade hosted this conference jointly. Earlier that year, the trustees of the Henry George School approved funding for what amounted to a reconstruction of the Henry George birthplace. The building was approved for historical designation, which required that the work be closely supervised. The morning the conference opened, the building was still a construction site. Our crew of volunteers worked with the contractors that morning in a frenzy to get the birthplace ready for visitors later that day. Henry George's granddaughter, Agnes George deMille, joined a large gathering of conference attendees to walk thru the restored birthplace, while those of us who had been there all morning tried not to collapse from exhaustion.

Henry George Birthplace - 2005


  • Bayo, Al (1970s, 1980s and 1990s)
    Taught the course, "World Perspectives"
  • Blasberg, Nathan (1965)
  • Cooper, Nathan (1950s)
  • Crawford, Don (1979)
  • DeStefano, Nicholas (1967)
  • Douty, Judith (1990s)
  • Edgar, Warren (1950s)
  • Fuiman, Harry (1940 and the 1950s)
  • Gray, Samuel (1985 - 1992)
    Taught the course, "How Wall Street Works"
  • Jasner, Josephine R. (1940s on)
    Assisted in project to organize the school's library
  • Jones, Nelson (1940s and 1950s)
  • Kalmbach, Frank (1950s)
  • Kelley, Cameron (1990s)
  • Koenig, Henry (1966)
  • Lloyd, Mark (1970s)
    Taught the course, "How Wall Street Works"
  • Martines, Humbert (1940s and 1950s)
  • McCaffery, Dennis F. (2004)
  • McMillan, Donald (1967)
  • Moore, Elizabeth A. (1940s on)
    Assisted in project to organize the school's library
  • Murphy, Marcia (1960s and 1970s)
  • Parrilla, Jose (1970s and 1980s)
  • Posmontier, Deborah
  • Raby, Roy (1950s)
  • Roderick, Joseph (1980s and today)
    Returned after too long an absence as a member of the school's faculty
  • Roman, Doug (1980s and 1990s)
    Taught the course, "Money and Banking"
  • Sage, Joan (took the courses in the early 1990s)
    A stalwart supporter who attends most of the school's seminars and discussions
  • Scheerbaum, Charles (1930s and 1940s)
  • Schneider, Ernest (1930s)
  • Urban, John (1950s)
  • Walton, Emma (Dee) (1950s)
  • Wilson, Cecilia (1970s and 1980s)
  • Wood, Jonathan (1960s)
    Developed and taught the course, "How Wall Street Works"
  • Yantis, Stanley (1960)
  • Yeatman, Artie (1970s on)
    Provided funding support for the school's program in Arden, Delaware, the HABS study of the Henry George birthplace (which paved the way for its later restoration)