Kennett Women vs. the Philadelphia Mob, 1838

by Chris Densmore

This month is the 175th anniversary of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, a
building dedicated to “virtue, liberty and independence.” It was a place for free speech.
But many of the “respectable” citizens of Philadelphia were very unhappy that there was
a place where abolitionists could speak, where women could speak and where people of
different races sat together. The Hall opened on Tuesday, May 14 th . The following day
the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women began their meeting. Sixteen women
from Kennett and a number of other women from the region were delegates. The mob
outside began to yell and throw stones at the building. The women continued their
convention through Thursday afternoon by which time the building was surrounded by
what one newspaper estimated as crowd of 25,000 people. At the end of their session,
the women marched out, arm in arm and two by two, through the crowd, taking particular
care to protect the women of color who were the special targets of the wrath of the mob.
That night Pennsylvania Hall was burned to the ground while the police and the fire
companies looked on making no attempt to save the building. The next morning the
women met in a nearby school room, finished their convention and resolved to meet
again the following year—in Philadelphia. Do you think women should be allowed a
voice in public issues? To hold unpopular ideas? Thank Hannah Cox, Lydia Fussell,
Diana Mendenhall and their sisters for their fortitude in 1838.

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