Skip to main content

Drexel family collection

 Collection — Box: OV1
Identifier: MC-00-001

Scope and content note

The collection contains items created by and related to the Drexel family found in the Drexel University Archives in 2005. The provenance for most of the items has been lost. The majority of the collection contains newspaper clippings and scrapbooks related to the Drexel family in the twentieth century. Among the items dating from the nineteenth century items are the family bible, memorial books for A.J. Drexel's wife and brother; a diary kept by Francis Martin Drexel while traveling in South America; three letters by A.J. Drexel (one of which was written on the day of his death); and a cash book, believed to be related to F.M. Drexel, from 1830 and 1831.

Series I (1883-1990) is composed of twelve scrapbooks about the lives and activities of the extended Drexel family, as well as a preliminary index of the scrapbooks available in the University Archives. The first scrapbook contains obituaries of A.J. Drexel from 1893. Series II Name/subject files (1826-1991) is chiefly comprised of newspaper clippings with some ephemera and correspondence also included. Series III Diaries and memoirs (1826-1917) includes accounts of Francis Martin Drexel’s travels, as well as A.J. Drexel Paul’s memoir about the yacht Alcedo, owned by George Childs Drexel. The correspondence in Series IV (1862-1928) contains letters written by Anthony J. Drexel and Ulysses S. Grant. Series V Publications and printed matter covers a broad period, 1829 to 1990, and contains published and printed materials related to Drexel family biography, genealogy, business, and philanthropy.

Series VI Legal and financial records (1830-1951) includes a variety of documents from both the business and personal properties of the family, including copies of business agreements between the Drexels and Morgans as well as detailed inventories of and clippings about George W. Childs Drexel's Wootton estate. There are several photographs of the buildings from the appraisal of the property in 1949. There are estate records of Anthony J. Drexel, George W. Childs Drexel, and Mary S. Irick Drexel. The majority of material in Series VII Genealogical material was printed for the family reunion at the 100th anniversary celebration of the University in 1991. The next three series are chiefly comprised of photographs of Drexel estates, individual family members, and large format portraits respectively. The limited number of photographs in the collection likely came from the museum where the paintings and some of the original prints remain.

Original order has been maintained where apparent; otherwise the collection has been arranged at the archivist's discretion. The pages of scrapbooks have been removed from binding and individual pages placed in folders.


  • 1826-1996


Access restrictions

Portions of the collection are restricted. See series descriptions for further details.

Usage restrictions

Consult archivist regarding copyright restrictions.

Biographical note

Francis Martin Drexel was born at Dornbirn, Tyrol, Austria near the Swiss border in 1792. He was the son of a merchant, Francis Joseph Drexel, and apprenticed with a local painter after attending school in Milan. Fleeing from a conscription measure imposed by the French government on Tyrol after a revolt, Drexel wandered through Switzerland, Germany, and France working as an itinerant laborer and part-time portrait painter.

In 1817, Drexel moved to the United States and established himself as an artist in Philadelphia. He met Katherine Hookey (1795-1870), the fourth daughter of Anthony Hookey and Ann Mary (Malsberger) Hookey. The Hookeys were an established family in Philadelphia with English Quaker and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry. Katherine and Francis married in 1821. In 1826, Francis Drexel left his family in Philadelphia and spent four years touring South America as a portrait painter. While traveling abroad, Drexel learned the nuances of currency exchange - a skill he would later use to earn a great fortune when he returned to the United States in 1830. After a number of years experimenting in business while maintaining his career as an artist, Drexel finally made a permanent career change. In 1837, Drexel opened a brokerage house in Philadelphia called Drexel and Company. Amidst the turmoil created by the end of the Second Bank of the United States, unpredictable currency system, and opportunities created by the gold rush, Drexel thrived.

Francis and Katherine Drexel had six children: Mary Johanna (1821 or 1822-1873), Francis Anthony (1824-1885), Anthony Joseph (1826-1893), Joseph Wilhelm (or “William”) (1831-1888), Heloise (1837-1895), and Caroline (1838-1911). The three sons were brought into the family business in their early teens, and by the time Francis A. and Anthony J. were made partners, the rebranded firm Drexel & Co. was operating as a private bank in Philadelphia’s 3rd Street financial district. Because the United States lacked a national bank, private banks accumulated wealth by investing in new industries and the sale of war bonds. Drexel & Co. was heavily involved in financing the Mexican American War, the American Civil War, and the burgeoning railroad industry. After Francis Martin Drexel’s death in 1863, Francis A. Drexel was named senior partner yet preferred to manage internal operations of the business, while Anthony J. sought out clients and partnerships as director. Joseph W. served as a partner and representative of Drexel & Co. in Chicago, Germany, Paris, and in New York. Anthony J. Drexel mentored and partnered with J.P. Morgan and began one of the most powerful banking interests in the world in Drexel, Morgan & Co. By the end of the nineteenth century, Anthony Drexel and his brothers had significantly increased the wealth of an already lucrative banking firm.

The children of Anthony Joseph Drexel and Ellen Bicking Rosét (1832-1891) married into other prominent Philadelphia families. Their eldest daughter Emilie Taylor Drexel (1851-1883) married Edward Biddle III (1851-1933), while Frances Katherine Drexel (1852-1892) married James W. Paul, Jr. (1851-1908). Sarah Rozet Drexel (1860-1929) married John Ruckman Fell (1858-1895) in 1879 and Alexander Van Rensselaer (1850-1933) in 1898, after Fell’s death. John Rozet Drexel (1863-1935) married Alice Gordon Troth (1865-1947), Anthony J. Drexel, Jr. (1864-1934) married Margarita Armstrong (1869-1948), and George W.C. Drexel (1868-1944) married Mary S. Irick (1864-1948).

Anthony and Ellen Drexel were especially close with Francis A. Drexel’s daughters Elizabeth Langstroth Drexel Smith (1855–1890) and Katharine Mary Drexel (1858–1955) when they took the girls into their home after the death of their mother Hannah Langstroth (1826-1858). Francis A. Drexel had a third daughter, Louise Bouvier Drexel Morrell (1863–1945), with Emma Bouvier (1833–1883), his second wife. These family members and the descendants of these family lines are present throughout the material in this collection. Their debuts into society, relationships, travel, deaths, and various accomplishments are documented in contemporary society pages.

Among the wealthiest families in Philadelphia, the Drexels invested heavily in business, philanthropy and property in the region and the greater United States. After living in the Rittenhouse neighborhood for a few years, in 1856 Anthony J. Drexel bought property between 38th and 40th streets on Walnut Street in West Philadelphia. He built a home for his growing family and eventually several other houses for his children and their spouses. The family also stayed in Drexel’s country mansion Runnymede in Lansdowne, Pa. Drexel and his lifelong friend and business partner, George W. Childs, co-owner and publisher of the influential Public Ledger daily newspaper, bought property in Wayne and built up the suburban village. Childs introduced Drexel to Ulysses S. Grant in 1863, and the three remained close acquaintances who had adjacent summer homes in Long Branch, New Jersey. George W. Childs bought a tract of land in Bryn Mawr, about 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and called his new residence Wootton, after the old English for “woodland.” The Queen Ann style mansion was passed to Childs’ godson and namesake, George W.C. Drexel, in 1894 after Childs’ death. When George and Mary S. Irick Drexel died without heirs in 1944 and 1948 respectively, the property and its furnishings were inventoried and sold. Sarah Drexel Fell Van Rensselaer, daughter of Anthony J. and Ellen Rosét, owned two properties of note with her first husband, John R. Fell: a mansion at Camp Hill in Fort Washington and 1801 Walnut Street, on Rittenhouse Square.

Francis Anthony Drexel and his family spent much of the year at a summer mansion estate in Torresdale, northeast of Philadelphia, and extended their philanthropy in Catholic organizations and education in that area. Most notably, in 1888 the St. Francis de Sales Industrial School in Eddington, Pa. was founded and supported by Elizabeth Drexel Smith and Louise Drexel Morrell. Elizabeth, Katharine, and Louise Drexel were heavily influenced by the charitable giving and Catholicism of Emma Bouvier. After traveling with her family and observing the conditions under which impoverished Native and Black communities were forced to live, Katharine Drexel funded Catholic missions and schools in the western and southern United States. After an audience with Pope Leo XIII, Katharine shaped a plan to become a nun and form her own order whose mission would be to serve both populations. In 1891, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People was established with Mother Katharine as its spiritual and financial leader. The temporary headquarters for the order was the Torresdale summer estate, before moving to Cornwells Heights near Eddington. Saint Katharine Drexel was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2000.

Anthony J. Drexel gave to charities and institutions, such as the Church of the Savior, hospitals, and the Fairmount Park Art Association. (He was the Association’s first president.) In the 1860s Drexel began to consider funding a school, and his close relationship with his nieces in later decades influenced his considerations about the focus of such a school. Drexel's intention became to establish a practical vocational school without restrictions based on gender, religion, or social class which students could easily commute to by train. In December 1891, the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry dedicated its Main Building on 32nd and Chestnut Streets. Anthony Drexel died two years later in 1893.

Francis Martin Drexel, Katherine Hookey, and many of their relatives and descendants are buried at the Drexel mausoleum and plots in the Woodlands Cemetery in West Philadelphia, just blocks from where they lived on Walnut Street. Nearly 300 descendants of Anthony J. Drexel attended a family reunion in Philadelphia at the 100th anniversary of Drexel University in 1991.


12.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The Drexel family, children and descendants of Francis M. Drexel (1792-1863) and Catherine Hookey (1795-1870), have been a prominent Philadelphia family since the 1840s. The fortune of the family was built on Francis Drexel's brokerage firm Drexel & Co., whose business and partnerships were further expanded by Drexel's sons including Anthony J. Drexel (1826-1893), the founder of Drexel University. The collection contains correspondence, memoirs, genealogical charts, newsletters, pamphlets, family reunion material, scrapbooks, legal documents, publications, and newspaper clippings. Includes a diary written by Francis Martin Drexel in 1826-1830 and three letters authored by Anthony J. Drexel. The bulk of material dates from the twentieth century and is contained in eleven volumes of scrapbooks that begin with the death of Anthony J. Drexel in 1893.

Arrangement note

Arranged into ten series:

  1. Scrapbooks
  2. Name/subject files
  3. Diaries and memoirs
  4. Correspondence
  5. Publications and printed matter
  6. Legal and financial records
  7. Family reunion material
  8. Genealogical material
  9. Photographs
  10. Oversized items


Found in collection, 2005. Most items are believed to have been transferred from the Drexel University Museum.

Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer transferred from Drexel Collection in 2012.


  • Rottenberg, Dan. The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.


Drexel family collection1826-1996
Kevin Martin
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English6

Repository Details

Part of the Drexel University Archives Repository

W. W. Hagerty Library
3300 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
215.895.2070 (Fax)