Star of the West, Tent No. Six

Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

A national organization of African American women, the Grand United Order of Tents, J. R. Giddings and Jolliffe Union, was founded in 1847 and named for Congressman Joshua Reed Giddings (1795–1864), of Ohio, and his law partner, prominent abolitionist John Jolliffe (1804–1868). Today, the organization aids education and medical research and provides housing for the elderly, but an early goal was to help runaway slaves find freedom in the North. The Grand United Order of Tents is a Christian organization comprised of, and managed exclusively by, African American women.

Star of the West, Tent Number Six, headquartered in West Chester, Chester County, was chartered by the organization’s Northern District on October 20, 1865, and incorporated in 1878. Tent Number Six erected a brick building, Tent Sister Hall, at 113 South Adams Street in the community in 1879. The preamble to its constitution set lofty goals for its members: “Whereas, it is desirable that a Sisterhood be formed to secure sympathy and organize relief for the sick and distressed; to ameliorate the condition of the living and aid in the decent burial of the dead; to raise in the heart a fountain of purity and love extending consolations to the bereaved and generally to promote the principles of Union, liberty, fidelity virtue and charity among the Colored race.” The constitution’s second article further identified its mission as “the maintenance of a Sisterhood or Society of Colored females for benevolent, charitable, beneficial, and protective purposes to its members.”

In 1965, as it observed its centennial, Tent Number Six reiterated its aim “to lift the fallen or less fortunate, to incite women to the highest standards of Christian living and strive to achieve for the Negro race the place it rightly deserves.” Today, it works to improve the status and quality of life for African American women by offering a variety of classes, awards scholarships to local male and female high school students, and supports the West Chester Community Center.

Star of the West, Tent Number Six, is representative of the self-help and benefit organizations that flourished in the United States during the nineteenth century. These associations were generally segregated along racial lines. Tent Number Six is important because it has survived, evolving from a mutual aid society to a community service organization.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission erected a state historical marker at Tent Sister Hall in 1995 because Tent Number Six typifies the origin, growth, and role of women’s organizations in American history. Ann Firor Scott, author of Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History, published by the University of Illinois Press in 1991, contends “the organization of women into literally thousands of voluntary associations created one of the central social movements of the years after 1865. What had begun in the first half of the century with the multiplication of local groups now became a whole series of national organizations in which we see mirrored much of the social history of the time.”