The Pennsylvania Historical Marker program has been in existence for more than 100 years. There are currently over 2,500 historical markers in the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission’s (PHMC) inventory. Over 125 of the markers in that inventory are bronze plaques installed by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (PHC), PHMC’s predecessor, between 1913 and 1933.
PHMC’s Historical Marker Program
Since its inception in 1913, the program has grown along with PHMC to be more inclusive, accountable, and public focused to celebrate a broader understanding of Pennsylvania’s history, places, and people.
Whereas the first subjects marked often focused on colonial-era personalities, buildings, and settlement, subjects today range from popular culture to international firsts to remarkable achievements by Pennsylvanians of all races, religions, gender, and sexual orientation from prehistory through the 20th century.
Over the last century, the historical marker program has evolved as our understanding of Pennsylvania’s history and the interpretation of Pennsylvania’s history has changed to recognize the value of all stories.
Plan to Evaluate Historical Markers
The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) recognizes that some of the plaques the agency inherited from its predecessor and some early blue and gold markers may lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate. These plaques and markers are products of their time and were erected when such cultural references were considered acceptable.
PHMC is developing a plan, outlined below, to address plaques and markers that lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate. Information about PA SHPO’s Proactive Marker Initiative to expand the relevancy of this program is also provided.
In 2019, PHMC started a systematic review of the texts for both PHC’s plaques and PHMC’s aluminum markers. This was started in response to several public requests to remove offensive markers and as part of the agency’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA).
This review and any subsequent action will take time. The steps below outline PHMC’s plan to evaluate plaques and markers.These steps may change; this blog post will be updated to reflect any changes and other critical information.
Identification and Review of Priority Markers
At the request of the public and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the 1930 plaque for Forbes Road in Point State Park, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County was removed in July 2020.
PHMC has also identified approximately ten plaques and markers based on public interest and feedback for priority review.
PHMC is working with local partners and interested parties to identify the best course of action for addressing plaques and markers that lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate. PHMC will not be removing monuments or plaques that are not the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Internal Review of Markers & Recommendations
PHMC staff are currently evaluating approximately 400 plaques and markers identified for review. These plaques and markers may lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate.
Beginning in July 2020, PHMC staff will review all plaque and historical marker texts for appropriate and respectful language and sensitive treatment of challenging subject matter.
At the conclusion of both reviews, PHMC staff will prepare recommendations for commission approval.
Advisory Panel Review of Markers & Recommendations
PHMC is assembling a group of external advisors to review plaques and historical markers that lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate. These advisors will be members of the communities represented in the plaques and historical markers, e.g. a Native American tribe, as well as subject matter experts.
This group will be asked to develop a series of recommendations for addressing plaques and markers that lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate.
Procedures for Retiring or Removing Historical Markers
PHMC will be revisiting its current procedures for retiring or removing plaques and historical markers. The procedures will be updated to reflect Commission policy or statements and best practices gleaned from similar marker programs in other states.
Please note that any removal, replacement or retirement of a marker or plaque would be done in consultation with subject matter experts, local communities and interested parties.
Historical Marker Policy
PHMC Commissioners and staff will draft a historical marker policy for Commission consideration and vote that addresses the philosophy and procedures for identifying, revisiting, and addressing plaques and markersthat lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate.
Addressing Plaques and Markers
PHMC is committed to addressing plaques and historical markers that lack historical context, contain inaccuracies, or references that could be perceived as inappropriate, as funding and resources allow. While this will ultimately be based on Commission policy, some of the options that may be considered include:
- Retiring or removing plaques or historical markers.
- Replacing existing markers with new markers that have updated text.
- Updating historical marker webpages with new procedures and panel recommendations and sharing this information through the pahistoricpreservation.com blog and PA SHPO e-news.
- Updating historical marker search database entries with corrected text.
- Providing additional in situ or online historic context about marker subject, language, and/or sponsor.
Proactive Historical Markers Initiative
In 2018, PA SHPO, began the Proactive Marker Initiative as part of PHMC’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA).
PHMC is working with partners across the commonwealth to encourage marker nominations for underrepresented subjects and places. Financial support from PHMC may be available for subjects related to archaeology, women’s, Hispanic, Latinx, and Asian American history, as well as Black and LGBTQ+ history in counties other than Philadelphia.
Nominations for approved subjects in the following counties are especially encouraged and may also receive financial support from PHMC: Armstrong, Cameron, Carbon, Clarion, Clinton, Columbia, Elk, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Jefferson, Juniata, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming.
Historical markers supported by the PA SHPO to date as part of the proactive historical marker initiative are:
- Pandenarium (Springfield Township, Mercer County)
- William J. Murtagh (Philadelphia)
- Gloria Casarez (Philadelphia)
- Fighter’s Heaven (Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County)
- Frances Dorrance (Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County)
- Parker’s Landing Petroglyphs (Parker, Clarion County)
- Sylvania Electric Products (Emporium, Cameron County)
- Cynthia Catlin Miller (Sugar Grove, Warren County)
- Lemoyne Archaeological Site (Lemoyne, Cumberland County)
- Berwyn School Fight (Berwyn, Chester County)
If you are interested in nominating a subject for a Pennsylvania historical marker that falls into an unrepresented or underrepresented theme or geographic area, please contact Karen Galle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-705-4266.
For more about the history of Pennsylvania’s historical marker program, visit A Century of Marking History: 100 Years of the PA Historical Marker Program.