From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

On Wednesday, March 19, Governor Tom Corbett and First Lady Susan M. Corbett unveiled a portrait of Hannah Callowhill Penn (1671–1726) to hang in the Governor’s Office in the State Capitol with the Commonwealth’s early leaders and governors. This corrects an omission dating to the original furnishing of the Capitol in 1906. It also reflects the increasing scholarship about the proprietor’s second wife and her role in governing the struggling colony from 1712 to 1726.

Much has changed since the decision was made about the founders selected for recognition in the Governor’s Office. In 1906 women did not yet have the right to vote and women’s history was largely neglected. Women today fully participate in the governance of Pennsylvania, and extensive research and scholarship has been conducted on the role of women in all walks of life, including politics. This has been especially true of research on Hannah Penn.

As early as 1926 the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (predecessor of PHMC) honored her with a plaque in Philadelphia as the “capable administrator of Pennsylvania Affairs, 1712 to 1726.” Nearly six decades later in 1983, Congress granted honorary U.S. citizenship to William and Hannah Penn, recognizing the role both played in governing Pennsylvania. PHMC installed a state historical marker in Philadelphia in 2000 citing Hannah as “the only woman to control a British proprietary for so long.”

Several biographies based on painstaking research emphasized her role in governing Pennsylvania after her husband’s stroke in 1712 to her death in 1726. These include Hannah Penn and the Proprietorship of Pennsylvania, by Sophie H. Drinker in 1958, and “Instructions from a Woman”: Hannah Penn and the Pennsylvania Proprietorship, by Allison Duncan Hirsch in 1991. An article entitled “Hannah Penn, Pennsylvania’s First Woman Governor” by regular contributor William C. Kashatus appearing in the Fall 2003 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage, the official state history magazine published by PHMC, summarized the case for recognizing her as the actual governor of the colony. Hannah Penn: “blest with a strong judgment and excellent good sense,” an exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2013 and a current exhibit at Pennsbury Manor, Morrisville, Bucks County, recognize Hannah Penn as the Commonwealth’s chief executive.

We salute the governor and first lady for rectifying a century of oversight by placing a portrait of our first female governor in the Governor’s Office. The weight of historical evidence tells us that she should be there. Visitors to the State Capitol will now be given a complete and accurate account of the rich and fascinating history of the Commonwealth and its leaders, male and now female.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC