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Women’s History Month

All-Star #4: Hannah Callowhill Penn

Women’s History Month

All-Star #4: Hannah Callowhill Penn

A governor. The world’s first computer programmers. Lawyers, doctors, writers, artists and activists. Philadelphia’s history is full of incredible, history-making women whose stories, unfortunately, are often all but missing from the history books.

It shouldn’t take a dedicated month—Women’s History Month—to recognize the contributions of these heroines. But in honor of the occasion, we scoured history to find several badass Philly women to celebrate for our Women’s History Month All-Stars.

RELATED: A cadre of visionary women are behind Guild House Hotel—a newly opened boutique hotel that celebrates the history residing in our buildings by giving props to the early feminists who initially occupied the property.

04

Hannah Callowhill Penn

Pennsylvania’s first female leader

Hannah Callowhill Penn

Pennsylvania’s first female leader

1671-1726

Hannah Callowhill Penn was a governor, but she was—as too many successful women of her time were—primarily remembered for her role as a wife. The second wife to Pennsylvania founder William Penn, actually.

Callowhill Penn was born in Bristol, England to Quaker merchants who had nine children, all of whom died except Hannah by the time she was a teenager. As a result, her parents taught her accounting and management skills so that she could run the grocery store and button-making company she’d inherit from them.

She married the widower William Penn in 1696 and went to America with him soon after to manage the Province of Pennsylvania, which Penn had founded in 1681. Pennsylvania was facing numerous debts at the time. Throughout their marriage, Callowhill Penn and her father loaned Penn money to prevent the colony from going bankrupt.

After her husband suffered a series of strokes in 1712, Callowhill Penn effectively ran Pennsylvania for six years and then for another eight after Penn died. During this time, she paid off her husband’s debts and kept the colony running smoothly.

She was the first woman granted the status Honorary Citizen of the United States, an award given as an Act of Congress to an exceptional non-Citizen of the U.S.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • The only woman to serve as Pennsylvania’s governor
  • The first woman granted the status Honorary Citizen of the United States
  • She settled a land dispute with Lord Baltimore of Maryland that kept Philadelphia in Pennsylvania
  • She was the first woman in the United States to have formal political authority
  • Callowhill Street in Philadelphia is named for her


FINAL WORDS:
When he conferred Callowhill Penn with honorary citizenship in 1984, President Ronald Reagan said that Callowhill Penn “effectively administered the Province of Pennsylvania for six years and, like her husband, devoted her life to the pursuit of peace and justice.”


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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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