Pennsylvania’s first and only official woman leader served as acting proprietor of the Province for 14 years.
Born in Bristol, England, to a family of wealthy Quaker merchants. She was the only child out of 9 to reach adulthood, and as the sole heir of the family business, she learned the trade, which included accounting and management skills. At the age of 25, she married 52 years old Pennsylvania founder William Penn, and 3 years later, the couple moved to Philadelphia, where William Penn served as governor of the province of Pennsylvania. As opposed to other women of the era, Hannah Callowhill wasn’t an ordinary housewife and was deeply involved in the colony affairs, making connections with government officials and men in power.
Two years after the Penn’s arrived in America, they had to return to England because of financial issues, and Callowhill Penn, with the help of her father’s fortune, managed to keep the colony from falling into ruins.
In 1712, her husband suffered a series of strokes that affected his mental and physical health, so for the six years till his death, Callowhill Penn took control of both family and all the colony matters. She paid her husband’s debts and managed his financial and legal affairs, which sometimes included forging his signature and writing letters in his name. In 1718 William Penn passed away, and in his will, he gave his wife full control of his possessions as well as the colony. Penn’s oldest son from his first marriage tried to dismiss his father’s will and to gain control of the colony, but the Board of Trade and the Assembly of Pennsylvania sided with Callowhill Penn, and at age 47, she officially became the acting proprietor of the Province, a position she served for 8 years until her death.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She had 8 children.
- She made the 3-month journey to America while pregnant with her first child.
- As the acting proprietor of Pennsylvania, Callowhill Penn fought for women’s right to inherit their husband’s estate.
- March 12th, 2013, was named “Hannah Callowhill Penn Day” in Pennsylvania.
- A portrait of her was on display in the Pennsylvania governor’s office, alongside her husband’s portrait and portraits of other early leaders of Pennsylvania. Still, after a few months, it was hanged down and sent into storage.
- Callowhill Street in Philadelphia is named in her honor.