Benjamin Banneker Institute

Benjamin Banneker Institute

Philadelphia’s African American Literary Society was formed here in 1854 and lasted until 1872

Former Building Address: 409 South 11th Street

(See place marker no. 14 on map)


The Banneker Literary Institute, named after black mathematician Benjamin Banneker, was one of several literary and debating societies in nineteenth-century Philadelphia. Organized in 1854 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by a group of prominent men, the Banneker Institute promoted literary and other intellectual endeavors. Members were expected to deliver lectures and participate in debates on a variety of subjects, including politics, literature, philosophy, and astronomy.  In order to maintain exclusivity and solidarity, prospective members had to be nominated by a current member and demonstrate some intellectual aptitude. Such important persons as Jacob C. White, Jr., Robert M. Adger, and Octavius V. Catto were members of the Institute, which required an entrance fee of fifty cents and $2.00 in annual dues. The Banneker Institute was the forerunner of the Afro-American Historical Society, which was established in 1879. The records of the Banneker Institute were donated to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in the 1930s.

By Aslaku Berhanu


Lapsansky, Emma Jones  “’Discipline to the Mind’: Philadelphia’s Banneker Institute, 1854-1872.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography 117.1/2 (Jan./April 1993): 83-102.