Check into the inspiring past at Philadelphia’s The Guild House

Located in the Historic District of Philadelphia, USA, The Guild House hotel is steeped in feminist history dating back to 1882. Spending time here gives you a glimpse into the evolution of America as we know it today.

On the cobbled sidewalk of Philadelphia’s Locust Street, I travelled back 140 years. To 1882. To an era in American history when women were still struggling for an identity separate from the men in their lives. Women couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property once married, and were regularly refused service in hotels, clubs, restaurants, and stores, unless they were accompanied by a man. And even as more and more women had begun to enter the workforce, the idea of women working outside the home was still a controversial prospect. On that Philadelphian sidewalk, the past seemed antithetical to the current American narrative of progress and equality.

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Located in Philadelphia’s Historic District, The Guild House is a 12-room boutique hotel. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

My late-19th century reverie was interrupted by a blue plaque titled ‘New Century Guild: Founded 1882 by Eliza S. Turner. One of the oldest and largest organisations created to advance the interests of women in the labour force.’ I was intrigued.

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The Guild House is a designated National Historic Landmark. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

I walked up the steps of The Guild House — now a splendid 12-room boutique hotel — designated as National Historic Landmark. It was in this four-storeyed house that women of the late 1800s could come to rest, have a cup of tea, learn skills and chatter — such a rarity in that epoch. I could holler through the 1800s copper intercom nailed to the brick wall; instead, I rang the bell.

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In the early 1900s, this equipment was used by guests at the door to talk to women upstairs. Think of it as an old-fashioned intercom. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

Dressed in black, petite Brennan Tomasetti, co-owner, The Guild House Hotel, opened the door to the hotel where history lives honestly to tell the tales of 3,946 guild members, who must have walked on the pine floors, played the piano, rested in wood-panelled rooms, read books in the lounge and held the veneered banisters for support in a rather unkind outside world.

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The Library Lounge at The Guild House, which is historical in its identity and modern in its new avatar. Image: Jason Varney.

The Guild House remains loyal to the past. The Italianate brick rowhouse originally constructed in 1851 as a private residence with brick façade retains its white marble lintels and sills. The original interior was a rich combination of mid-19th through early 20th century materials and finishes in the foyer, parlours, dining hall, meeting rooms, library, and main stair hall.

“Aside from the addition of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entrance at the rear, lights and cameras for security, and replacement of non-historic windows, the project retained the original 1851 exterior character, materials, and form of the building. On the interior, the work included retaining the original floor plan with reuse of historic doors, fireplaces, highly detailed woodwork, wood flooring and stairs, decorative plaster, and upper floor auditorium stage,” the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office elaborates on its official website.

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The Guild House remains loyal to the past. Image: Jason Varney.

The hotel is historical in its identity and modern in its new avatar. The Guild House experience is built around a handful of concepts that we take super seriously: purposeful, beautiful design; luxury amenities crafted by minority-owned businesses; a spirit of community; invisible (and impeccable) service; and our commitment to honouring our history in cool, relevant ways,” says Tomasetti.

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The Guild House is committed to honouring history in cool, relevant ways. Image: Jason Varney

The rooms borrow the names of the Guild members. The Wilda Suite is named after Wilda Love, who, in 1915, began working as the Guild’s housekeeper. She was also the first official cook for the Guild’s Thursday night meals that eventually grew into popular 25-cent-a-plate dinners for any ladies of the Guild who wanted to dine.

The Florence Suite pays homage to Florence Kelley, a fireball, who spent her entire life fighting for the rights of women, children, and Black Americans. With rich, dark textures and an interplay of light and shadow, the Mathilde Suite harks back to the black-and-white photography that connected Mathilde Weil to the Guild and took her around the world. Even the room’s mirrored-glass accents hint at the tools and process behind Mathilde’s art.

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The image of Eliza S Turner on a custom-made wallpaper in The Guild House. Image: Preeti Verma Lal.

The Alice, a deluxe split-level suite, occupies the space that was once the New Century Guild’s auditorium, a place that Dr Alice Norton filled with music, entertainment, and celebration more than a century ago. The Eliza Suite is named after Eliza Sproat Turner — founder and first president of the New Century Guild. The layers of lush greens, botanical prints and nature-inspired furniture are set against a pastoral mural, all of which pay tribute to Eliza’s love of the countryside surrounding Philadelphia.

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The rooms borrow the names of the Guild members. Image: Jason Varney.

Interestingly, the Ruby Suite, originally the home’s billiard room, that still features the original millwork wainscoting, plus its Art Nouveau chandelier, is not christened after a lady called Ruby. The story of the Guild’s ruby butterfly pin began with Lisbeth Canning, a beloved Guild member, who, on a trip to Italy, spotted the jewellery, brought it home and gifted it to Elizabeth O’Brien, another member of the Guild. She bequeathed the pin to the Guild which would be worn by the members who had completed 25 years of continuous membership.

The four-storeyed hotel has a wheelchair lift from street level to the first floor although the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) restriction prevented the architects from including an elevator inside the modern hotel. Their solution was to install a dumbwaiter (an open freight lift) alongside the staircase. “At least guests won’t have to carry their bags up the four flights,” Tomasetti points out.

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It was in The Guild House that women found dignity — and sisterhood. Image: Jason Varney.

The Guild House, where you can even book the entire hotel for a private event, has no manned concierge, it is all virtual. Book your room online, get a door code, load the bags onto the dumbwaiter and let history tell you a bedtime story. It was in The Guild House that women found dignity — and sisterhood. In this Philadelphia historic hotel, sleep on that thought tonight!

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Let history tell you a bedtime story at The Guild House. Image: Jason Varney.

Good to know

Address: 1307, Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 | Website: www.guildhousehotel.com | Instagram: @guildhousehotel | Phone: 1-855-GUILDED | Email: inquiries@guildhousehotel.com | Room Tariff: Between $219 and $599/per night (subject to change).

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