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Tracking “gritty” Philadelphia: Better when it’s a person than a place

The first mention I could find of “gritty Philadelphia”  was a June 16, 1880 article in the Boston (Daily) Globe about a walking contest known as the Sawdust Pounders.

“Albert” is never given a first name in the article about an 1880 walking contest that saw the “gritty Philadelphia boy” cover his first 100 miles in 15 hours 52 minutes and 30 seconds. A record number of “the fairer sex” were said to have attended the event, with fleet feet ensuing. See the PDF here.

Some more examples of gritty Philadelphia people.

Courier Post, February 10, 1939.
New York Daily News, July 7, 1947.
Tampa Tribune, August 19, 1954

A 1976 profile of Bill Green syndicated by UPI appears to be the first use of “gritty Philadelphia politics”.

Shenendoah Evening Herald, October 18, 1976

By 1986, a usage familiar today—that of the gritty Philadelphia neighborhood—appears in a blurb about the novel South Street.

In 1989, NBC used the phrase to describe the lead character in a new legal drama.

LA Times, May 26, 1989.

The uses above seem clearly positive, evoking the Angela Duckworth sense of the word. But grit is not always a good thing. “Gritty Philadelphia” sometimes just means dirty.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 1986.
Springfield News-Leader, April 26, 1997.
Philadelphia Inquirer, September 20, 2002.
Philadelphia Daily News, October 23, 2011.
Courier Post, May 9, 1997.
Honolulu Star, September 2, 2000.

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