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Brief Biographical / Historical Sketch


The Franklin Literary Society served as a forum for lectures and debate among its members, as each week a member or guest lecturer read an original paper, which was then discussed. The Pittsburgh Chapter, initially organized by Thomas H. Davis in August of 1868, underwent a rebirth after the turn of the century. In 1906, former members of the group revived the Franklin and began holding meetings until the chapter formally dissolved in 1922.

From 1911 onward Franklin meetings were held at the chapter's headquarters in the Frick Building. The typical format of meetings consisted of presentations by members or outside lecturers of interest, followed by discussion. Topics of discussion were diverse in nature, including: the guarantee of bank deposits; a study of American military tactics; Aaron Burr; birth control; and the legal status of a married woman in Pennsylvania, among others. The Franklin also hosted speakers, such as a Mr. Bregg, drama critic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, who, in February of 1918, spoke about "the influence of the present war on the Theatre." Dr. Z. T. Miller, a homoeopathist, lectured on the question of anti-vaccination.

One notable Franklin member, John A. Brashear, is renowned for inventing optical lenses for telescopes and directed the Allegheny Observatory from 1898 to 1900. Martin B. Leisser, an art teacher and painter and an active member of the group, founded the Pittsburgh Art Society. His friendship with Andrew Carnegie influenced the opening of an art school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. O.A. Peterson, a scientist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, also held membership in the Pittsburgh Chapter. In 1893, Peterson unearthed the remains of dinosaurs in the Uinta Basin, south of the present-day Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. He went on to discover deposits of Miocene mammals in 1905 in what is now the Agate Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska.

The diverse professions and accomplishments of the aforementioned individuals offer a glimpse at the breadth of knowledge and achievement found among the members of the Franklin Literary Society.