Ellen Phillips Samuel left a bulk of her estate to the Fairmount Park Art Association when she died in 1913, specifying that it be used to create a series "emblematic of the history of America." Upon her husband's death in 1929, these funds became available to the Art Association which decided to depict chronological events in American history through sculptural design.
Hundreds of artists were sought from around the world during three International Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1933, 1940, and 1949.
Work was completed with the dedication of the Samuel Memorial in 1961. The sculpture gardens are divided into three landscaped terraces separated by gardens and fountains.
The Central Terrace was the original terrace and includes Spanning the Continent by Robert Laurent from 1937, Welcoming to Freedom by Maurice Sterne from 1939, The Ploughman by J. Wallace Kelly from 1938, The Miner by John B. Flannagan from 1938, The Slave by Helene Sardeau from 1940, The Immigrant by Heinz Warneke from 1940, and The Spirit of Enterprise by Jacques Lipchitz from 1950-1960. The Spirit of Enterprise was moved to the Central Terrace in 1986.
The South Terrace was the second to be assembled and includes Settling of the Seaboard by Wheeler Williams from 1942, The Birth of a Nation by Henry Kreis from 1943, The Puritan and The Quaker Harry Rosin from 1942, and The Revolutionary Soldier and The Statesman byErwin Frey from 1943.
The North Terrace was the final garden to be built. Originally two major bronze sculptures were to represent "social consciousness". Social Consciousness and The Spirit of Enterprise were designed by Jacob Epstein and Jacques Lipchitz but were too massive to both fit in the North Terrace. Social Consciousness was installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art's western entrance and the The Spirit of Enterprise was installed as the centerpiece of the North Terrace until it was moved to the Central Terrace in 1986. Sculptures included in the North Terrace are The Preacher by Waldemar Raemisch from 1952, The Poet by José de Creeft from 1954, The Scientist by Koren der Harootian from 1955, The Laborer by Ahron Ben-Shmuel from 1958, and Titles Unknown: Eye and Hand by J. Wallace Kelly from 1959.
The fountains are no longer functional but the sculptures and grounds of the gardens are relatively well maintained. As of now, no effort has been made to restore the fountains that separate the terraces. But as more and more people flock to the revitalized Schuylkill River Trail, one can hope that an increased interest in the history and restoration of the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial Sculpture Garden is an optimistic possibility.