Buildings Then and Now: Washington Square Stories, II - Off the Kinsey scaleOur occasional series on the buildings of Washington Square continues this week with the story of one of the several publishers whose offices ringed the square. While none survive in their original corporate form, the names of most of them remain alive, both on the title pages of books and magazines and on the buildings that housed them.
The publishing industry has a long and storied history in Philadelphia, from Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette
forward to the present day. And for most of that history, the industry's Ground Zero was Washington Square. Several of the country's oldest and best known publishers built their headquarters on or near the square in the years around 1900, creating a literary hub of sorts.
Much of that literature, however, was specialized, and one of the reasons that was so resided in this building at the northwest corner of West Washington Square (South 7th Street) and Locust Street.
The W.B. Saunders Company was founded in 1888 by Walter Burns Saunders. From its start, the company specialized in medical books. The exact date of construction of the Saunders headquarters appears lost to history, but some real estate records give 1900 as an approximate date. We do know that the building was standing by the time the city began constructing new subway lines in 1915, as the photo below shows a Department of City Transit work crew taking a break against its south wall.
Unlike its older and larger rival across the square, J.B. Lippincott Co., Saunders stuck to its medical last, producing no books that gained wide recognition among the general public. Make that almost
no books: in 1948, Saunders published
"Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," by Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy and Clyde E. Martin, and in 1953, it released its companion work, "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female." The "Kinsey Reports," which provided statistical data on the frequency and nature of sexual behavior in men and women, caused a national sensation when they were released, and while subsequent research into human sexuality has confirmed the basic accuracy of Kinsey's figures concerning sexual orientation - the "Kinsey scale," the most widely cited part of the research - the reports remain controversial to this day.
Less controversial but as well known among medical professionals are the company's medical reference books. Beginning with the American Illustrated Medical Dictionary
in 1890, Saunders' medical reference books, now known as "Dorland's" in honor of their longtime editor, have gone through more than 30 editions and have sold millions of copies in both print and digital versions.
The Saunders company was purchased by CBS in 1968 and incorporated into its Holt, Rinehart and Winston publishing unit. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich acquired Holt's academic imprints when CBS sold its publishing business in 1986, and Dutch publisher Elsevier acquired HBJ in 2000.
Saunders remains an active imprint of Elsevier, whose U.S. health sciences publishing division
remains headquartered in Center City Philadelphia. The former Saunders headquarters, now known as 220 West Washington Square, was converted into condominiums in the early 2000s.