He was brave and intelligent, loyal and true, affectionate and proud. He devoted his sole and only treasure and inheritance to the University of Pennsylvania—his whole life.”
These are the words read aloud at the close of Albert Monroe Wilson’s funeral in 1904. Wilson, a native of Philadelphia, worked at the College of the University of Pennsylvania for 50 years.
It all started in 1854. Thirteen-year-old Wilson took on the role as an errand boy, first at Penn’s Ninth Street campus and then at the West Philadelphia campus. His position evolved in later years to janitor, and he locked and unlocked the doors to College Hall, rang the College bell, lit and extinguished lights and fires, delivered mail and messages, and collected lab fees from students. He’s also credited as the University’s first archivist. He became Professor John Fries Frazer’s special assistant, and later Professor Henry Morton’s, setting up materials for lectures and experiments in chemistry and physics.
The knowledge and skills Wilson acquired while working and taking classes in Penn’s medical school made him a respected medical healer in Philadelphia’s African-American community. Nathan Francis Mossell, Penn’s first African American medical school graduate, acknowledged Wilson’s abilities in his autobiography.
Early in his time at Penn, Wilson acquired the nickname of Pompey, or Pomp. He’s remembered as a key figure, as well as friend, for many students passing through College Hall, and often posed with students in class photographs.
In 1904, alumni planned “Pomp’s Jubilee,” a celebration set to take place during that year’s Commencement week. Money raised would provide retirement income for Pomp, and after his death, a scholarship fund in his name. Unfortunately, Pomp died of pneumonia on Saturday, March 9, 1904, just months before this planned public recognition.
His funeral service took place in the College Hall Chapel, filled with flowers and a standing-room-only crowd. Honorary pallbearers were juniors and seniors at Penn. As his body was carried from the Chapel to be transported to Merion Cemetery, the College bell tolled 50 times, one stroke for each year of Wilson’s service.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.