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Balch Institute for
Ethnic Studies
1300 Locust Street
Center City
Philadelphia, Pa 19107
Cross Street: 13th Street
Hours of Operation
Monday: Closed Tuesday: 12:30 - 5:30 p.m. Wednesday: 12:30 - 8:30 p.m. Thursday: 12:30 - 5:30 p.m. Friday: 10:00 - 5:30 p.m. Please note that entry to the library, photocopy service, and paging all end 45 minutes prior to closing time.

Notice of weather or emergency closings will be posted on the Historical Society's website and on the Society's weather phone line at 215-732-6200 ext. 505.

The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies opened its doors to the public in 1976, the year our nation celebrated its bicentennial birthday. The Institute has its roots in the generosity of Emily Swift Balch, 1835-1917, whose will stipulated that the family estate should be used to establish a library in the Philadelphia area if her sons died without heirs. In accordance with her wishes the library was to be named for the family whose ancestor, John Balch, arrived in America from Somerset, England, in 1658. As of January 2002, the Balch has merged with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

While the former Balch Building at 18th S. 7th Street was sold in early October 2004, the mission and collections of the Balch have been fully integrated into HSP. Materials stemming from the Balch and Balch collections, or relevant to the ethnic and immigrant experience.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is one of the largest family history libraries in the nation, has excellent collections on local and regional history, and offers a manuscript collection renowned for its 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century holdings. With the Balch Institute’s merger into the HSP in 2002 (and those of The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in 2006 through a Strategic Alliance Agreement),  the Society is now also one of the nation’s leading repositories of ethnic and immigrant studies materials. The Society houses some 600,000 books, pamphlets, serials, and microfilm reels; 20 million manuscripts; and over 300,000 graphics items, making it one of the nation’s largest non-governmental repositories of documentary materials.

The Society holds many national treasures, such as the first draft of the United States Constitution, an original printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, and the earliest surviving American photograph. But the true strength of our collection is the overall breadth and depth of materials that together offer a rich, complex portrait of U.S. history and society from the 17th century to the present.

  • Event Rentals: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has several spaces available for rent for meetings, events, cocktail receptions, and other programs. The facility, located at 1300 Locust Street in Philadelphia, is convenient to public transportation and is wheelchair accessible. There are no kitchen facilities on site; however, outside organizations are permitted to bring food and drink or hire a caterer. HSP can provide chairs, tables, tablecloths, and AV equipment if needed. The available spaces include: Second floor conference room: This large conference room can accommodate up to 200 people seated lecture style and 150 seated banquet style.
  • Volunteer: Thank you for your interest in volunteering at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Volunteering your time and talents is a powerful way to change the world and change your life. Add yourself to a growing list of people who care about their communities by volunteering for an organization that supports the community and preserves our history.

    Our list of volunteer opportunities changes frequently. Please visit this site often to find the opportunity/project that suits your interests and schedule. We want your time at the Historical Society to be fulfilling.

  • Education Programs: Welcome to the education section of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's website. Here you will find materials for teachers and students related to Pennsylvania history, including primary sources, lesson plans, readings, online exhibits, information on educators' workshops, and much more.

    You can access materials on:

    Pennsylvania Ethnic History
    Pennsylvania's New Immigrants
    Abolition, Anti-Slavery, and the Underground Railroad
    Philadelphia History
    National History Day

    To sign up for HSP's educator mailing list, click here.


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