Curator’s Favorite: Tagged!

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Curator’s Favorite: Tagged!


Even today, despite the lure of PlayStations, the internet, and social media, most children have played in a public playground. Iconic sites of youth, playgrounds did not become common until the 20th century with the success of the playground movement during the Progressive Era. This piece of ephemera, a tag from that period of reform, also serves as a symbol of childhood.

Playground Association of Philadelphia. Tag Day May 20th 1908. I am tagged to help the children of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: E. A. Wright, [1908]

Playground Association of Philadelphia. Tag Day May 20th 1908. I am tagged to help the children of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: E. A. Wright, [1908]

Playground Association of Philadelphia. Tag Day May 20th 1908. I am tagged to help the children of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: E. A. Wright, [1908]

Playground Association of Philadelphia. Tag Day May 20th 1908. I am tagged to help the children of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: E. A. Wright, [1908]

Supported by social reformers, educators, and psychologists, playgrounds were opened in a number of major cities, including Philadelphia, during the 1890s. Advocates promoted playgrounds as spaces for supervised play that would strengthen the physical, moral, and mental character of children, while keeping them off the streets and away from a life of crime. Often established by philanthropists and private groups, like civic clubs, playgrounds began to receive increasing municipal support at the turn of the 20th century. And Philadelphia was no exception.

Otto T. Mallery, an economist and figure in the national playground movement took the lead in the city and in 1907 the Playgrounds Association of Philadelphia was founded under his guidance. Privately supported and working in concert with the Board of Education, the association strove through meetings and fundraising events to develop a system of playgrounds for the city. One fundraiser was “Tag Day – May 20, 1908” represented by the tag shown printed by local stationery printers E. A. Wright.  Proclaimed to be “a red letter day in the history of [the] municipality” by Mayor John E. Reyburn, “Tag Day” relied on a game that had become a fundraising trend for the year. To be “tagged,” adults (typically men) donated nickels and dimes to “official” collectors  ­–  school children  –  throughout a city or town.

In exchange for donations to the Playgrounds Association, Philadelphia donors received the wearable green tag. The trinket symbolized their support and prevented further solicitations.  Over 10, 000 children participated and over $25,000 was raised. By that fall, five playgrounds received aid.  However, despite this success, a shadow hung over the event. Reports quickly confirmed that some children, particularly newspaper boys, used the fundraiser for their own personal gain by reselling tags at a higher price than “purchased.” As a consequence, in 1909 during discussions for another “Tag Day,” the tags were to include their cost, “collectors” were to wear badges, and the Board of Education refused to participate.

By all accounts, it appears the 1908 “Tag Day” was the only to occur. By 1912 the city created the Board of Recreation (which later became the Department of Recreation in 1951) to oversee the development of city playgrounds.  Although playgrounds are the lasting public reminder of this Progressive Era movement, occasionally more ephemeral materials from a campaign, like this little tag, also remain as a testament to our ever-changing societal values about children.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs

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