Shareholder Spotlight: Sarah Emlen

Dana Dorman, Individual Giving and Special Events Manager

Receipt for a Library Company share dated 1733

Image: Receipt for a Library Company share, 1733.

Shareholders have always been the backbone of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Starting with the first group of men who formed the library with Benjamin Franklin in 1731, shareholders have provided crucial financial support each year for our mission to “pour forth benefits for the common good.”

We keep careful track of who has owned each historic share. Our list of more than 9,800 shareholders includes signers of the Declaration and Constitution, merchants, doctors, soldiers, scientists, artists, philanthropists, politicians, and much more.

Today, the Library Company has evolved from a lending library into one of the world’s foremost research libraries in early American history, culture, and society. But more than 500 current shareholders are still among the most generous, engaged, and dedicated members of our learning community.

Here is a quick spotlight on just one of the Library Company’s past shareholders:

Share #212

Share #212 was first issued to Sarah Emlen on April 6, 1769. Emlen had previously been a shareholder of the Union Library Company, which merged into the Library Company on this date.

Photograph of handwritten listing for Sarah Emlen in shareholder register

Image: Detail of Sarah Emlen entry in Library Company Chronological Share Register.

The merger added additional books and 276 new shareholders to the Library Company, including our first two women! Susanna Carmalt received share #154, and Emlen received share #212. (The Union Library shareholders were added to the Library Company’s rolls in alphabetical order, so Carmalt is listed earlier than Emlen.)

Women had certainly borrowed books from the Library Company before 1769 using male relatives’ shares, but Carmalt and Emlen are apparently the first to have held Library Company shares in their own names. A third woman, Sarah Wistar, was approved as a new Library Company shareholder just a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, we have found nothing further about Emlen in our shareholder records, at least not yet!

We do know that at least sixteen Emlen family members have been shareholders over the Library Company’s 291-year history. George Emlen Jr., for example, was listed on the Library Company’s Articles of Association as a shareholder in 1742, and is listed as an original member in the Library Company’s charter.

Share #212 next passed to William Tod in 1775, and has been owned by sixteen people total in its 253-year history.

Not yet a shareholder?

Share #212 is currently available. We work hard to match potential shareholders with historic shares that match their interests, and we would love to match you with Sarah Emlen’s share or another option. To learn more, reach out to our Development Office at or 215-546-3181 ext. 142.