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Richardson Dilworth straddled all of the nuanced corners of Philadelphia’s political and civic worlds. A blue blood, he was a brilliant agitator for political and municipal reform while making room in his government for the ethnic and street-based Democratic political organization. The result was that Dilworth forged a better Philadelphia. His penchant for the fight and his larger-than-life persona are captured with great style and insight by the father-son team of Peter and Jonathan Binzen.
Sam Katz, executive producer, Philadelphia: The Great Experiment
In times of trouble, Theodore Roosevelt once said, the country needs not critics or complainers, but “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
Richardson Dilworth was such a man. At Belleau Wood and Guadalcanal, epic battles in World Wars I and II, he was there when courage counted. Years later, when the doomed luxury liner Andrea Doria was sinking at sea, Dilworth instinctively helped get other passengers into lifeboats and was among the last to leave the ship.
Born to a wealthy family in Pittsburgh, raised in New York and educated at Yale, Dilworth moved to Philadelphia to enter the practice of law in 1926, and he embarked on his political career a few years later. A liberal Democrat in a city totally dominated by Republicans and rife with corruption, he suffered defeat after defeat, exchanging insults with his opponents and gaining a reputation as a “bare-knuckled aristocrat” in American politics
In 1951, Dilworth and Joseph S. Clark ended sixty-seven years of boss-ridden, often corrupt rule by the GOP. Clark served one term as mayor and then went on to the U.S. Senate. Dilworth pulled off a singular trifecta, serving first as Philadelphia’s district attorney, then as mayor, and finally as head of the city’s embattled Board of Education during the tumultuous 1960s.
Richardson Dilworth emerges in this stirring biography as one of Philadelphia’s great citizens, perhaps its greatest since Benjamin Franklin. He was a true inspiration to his adopted city, and since his death in 1974, Philadelphia has not seen his like. For those two reasons and for the multitude of contributions he made to the people of Philadelphia and their way of life, the mayor who was also a statesman will long be remembered.
About the Authors
Peter Binzen was a reporter, editor and columnist for more than thirty years at the Philadelphia Bulletin, and for more than twenty years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is the author of Whitetown USA, the coauthor of The Wreck of the Penn Central and The Cop Who Would Be King as well as the editor of Nearly Everybody Read It, a history of the Philadelphia Bulletin.
Jonathan Binzen is a writer, editor and photographer. A senior editor at Fine Woodworking magazine, he has written and illustrated articles for This Old House, American Craft, Inspired House, and Home Furniture. He is the coauthor of Arts and Crafts Furniture, a history tracing the international scope of the Arts and Crafts movement.