University of Pittsburgh
February 21, 2012

Two Original State Charters Establishing the University of Pittsburgh On Display at Pitt’s Hillman Library

Exhibition part of the University’s 225th anniversary celebration that begins with Honors Convocation Feb. 24 and continues through Homecoming in October

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926


PITTSBURGH—Two original Pennsylvania charters—one dated Feb. 28, 1787, that led to the establishment of the progenitor of today’s University of Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Academy, in a small log house on the edge of the American frontier, and one dated Feb. 18, 1819, that rechartered the school as the Western University of Pennsylvania—will be on display from Feb. 27 to May 18 in Pitt’s Hillman Library, 3960 Forbes Ave., Oakland. University Library System Associate Katrina Milbrodt scans a page of the 1787 charter.

The exhibition is part of the University’s 225th anniversary commemoration, which kicks off with Honors Convocation on Feb. 24 and continues through Homecoming Weekend in October.

The charters, somewhat torn and tattered when they arrived at Pitt in December, have been mended and cleaned by the University Library System (ULS) Department of Preservation. They will be shown in the Audubon display case near the library’s ground-floor elevators; reproductions of all the charters’ pages will be mounted on nearby walls. A related display, tracing Pitt’s history, will be on display in the Hillman Library’s ground-floor lobby. Visitors are welcome to view the exhibition during regular library hours, which are posted at

It was Pitt Assistant University Librarian Michael Dabrishus who first wondered whether the Pennsylvania State Archives might house the old Pitt records. Dabrishus approached Linda Ries, head of the Arrangement and Description Section of the Pennsylvania State Archives, who located the documents and agreed to loan them to Pitt.

The papers have been painstakingly conserved, cleaned, and mended by professional conservator Csilla Crisanti, working in Pitt’s Department of Preservation in Point Breeze. 

The 1787 charter had been folded in thirds and was torn along the creases. Crisanti used a wheat starch paste to adhere strips of Japanese tissue paper to the back of the document. The acidic iron gall ink used in the 1700s had eaten through the paper in some areas, and there were slight tears and a small hole. Crisanti sprayed the document with a de-acidification solution that conserves the paper and leaves the ink undisturbed. The 1819 charter was in much better condition but had some small rips. Both documents were dry-cleaned to reduce soiling and staining, and they are being housed in special protective acid-free enclosures custom-made by Crisanti.

The content of both charters is available at the ULS Documenting Pitt Web site at

Dabrishus said the charters demonstrate how very far the University of Pittsburgh has come from its modest beginnings. He also was struck by the fact that the Pittsburgh Academy charter and the U.S. Constitution were not only written in the same year—1787—but also in the same city, Philadelphia.

“A new nation and a new school developed from the minds of people who had much higher ambitions and expectations,” Dabrishus said. “And I’d say both are pretty successful stories.”






University Units