A Few of Our Favorite Things, Part Three: William Jennings’s Ralph, Sara, and Bill Jennings at Fern Rock Camp

How does one pick a favorite from a collection of nearly 100,000 graphic items? (I refused to even consider selecting a favorite from our book, manuscript, or art and artifact collections in order to make the task at least a little bit more manageable.) What I chose is not one of our more monetarily valuable pieces, nor is it particularly historically significant. I chose my item for the emotional response it elicits from me every time I look at it.
William Jennings. Ralph, Sara, and Bill Jennings at Fern Rock Camp, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1912.

William Jennings. Ralph, Sara, and Bill Jennings at Fern Rock Camp, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1912.

This photograph makes me happy and brings a smile to my face whenever I see it. When looking at the photograph, I can feel the grass underneath the children’s bare feet, sense the warm sun on their faces, and hear the high pitched giggles and screams that all happy, excited little ones make when they are having a really good time. The Jennings children are completely unselfconscious around the camera and their joy of running in carefree abandon through the field on a sunny day radiates from this image.


Taken by the children’s father Philadelphia photographer William Nicholson Jennings (1860-1946), this photograph came into the Library Company’s collection in 2010, purchased from an auction house that was selling material consigned by the family. We already had a large collection of the commercial work Jennings had produced during his long photographic career, but this acquisition brought us more personal material. The Jennings family, concerned about the health of their young children particularly their prematurely born twins, Sara and Bill, established a vacation campsite, Fern Bank Camp, along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia’s Roxborough neighborhood. The children spent their summer days fishing, making small boats to sail in the creek, and exploring the wooded area while the adults found respite swinging in hammocks and entertaining friends. If this photograph represents how the Jennings children felt about their time at their family camp, we can be sure they had many joyous childhood memories of summers along the Wissahickon.


Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs


The Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107
TEL 215-546-3181 FAX 215-546-5167
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