With the recent opening of Moore College of Art & Design's juried alumni exhibition, consider the story of the first visual arts college for women in the United States: Moore's antecessor, the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (PSDW).

Founded in 1848, PSDW was the first of several such institutions to appear in Boston, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

However, art for art's sake was not the goal of philanthropist and PSDW founder Sarah Worthington Peter.

At the time of the school's inception, thousands of unmarried and widowed women worked from home, which - in the 19th century - did not mean telecommuting in one's pajamas. Rather, it often entailed sewing by candlelight and other sundry labors.

Peter recognized the convergence - rather than conflict - of interest between these "needy and deserving" women and the industrial revolution sweeping the city.

"Having for a number of years observed with deep concern the privation and suffering to which a large and increasing number of deserving women are exposed in this city . . . ," Peter wrote in 1850, "I resolved to attempt the instruction of a class of young girls in the practice of such of the arts of design as were within my reach."

Steeping the curriculum in industrial design, Peter brokered a relationship between PSDW and the Franklin Institute, on whose board sat many of Philadelphia's captains of commerce.

Local businesses saw in PSDW an opportunity to wean themselves off expensive European design imports, and from employing skilled immigrants from Ireland, England, and Germany. For women in Philadelphia, PSDW's vocational arts training offered a chance to earn decent wages outside of the domestic sphere.

"It is believed that such a school of design, wisely managed, and on a scale worthy of its locality, would be conducive of great benefit, by adding to the productive industry of this city in a department where the demand greatly exceeds the supply," Peter continued.

This cooperation between art and industry - whereby PSDW educated female artists for work in the city's textile firms and other artistic professions - continued after Peter left Philadelphia for Cincinnati in 1853.

Tracing the growth of Philadelphia's industrial base, PSDW continued to expand in the decades after the Civil War, doubling from 100 students in 1860 to more than 200 by 1880.

"Wood cuts neatly executed. Also, designs for carpets, paper hangings, calicoes, mousselines, etc. for sale, or made to order, with despatch and on moderate terms," ran a PSDW ad in the Franklin Institute's Proceedings.

In 1932, PSDW merged into the Moore Institute of Art, Science, and Industry before adopting its current style in 1989.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania's archive contains many of the records documenting PSDW's struggles and successes.

"Researchers have mined this collection over the years, finding interesting materials about the Sartain family, three of whom were heads of the school, as well as multiple artists whose work is widely known and collected," remarked Page Talbott, Historical Society's president and CEO, who was instrumental in PSDW's 150th anniversary celebration.

"We are proud to have among the women who attended PSDW women who were trailblazers, including internationally renowned portrait painter Alice Neel and a contemporary of hers, Anna Russell Jones, who was one of the first women to work as a freelance designer in Philadelphia and New York in the 1920s and '30s," said Roy A. Wilbur, Moore's director of marketing and communications. "With the 2016 juried alumni exhibition we are pleased to showcase the talents of our alumni, many of whom are modern-day trailblazers in their fields."

The alumni exhibition runs June 4 through Aug. 13. Visit www.moore.edu/alumniexhibition for more information.