By Chris Densmore, Curator of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College
May 14 was the 175th Anniversary of the 1838 opening of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Hall was dedicated to “liberty and the rights of man.”
Over the next three days the Hall hosted meetings of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, the Requited Labor Convention and the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Stories, some true, that race mixing, abolition and women speaking were openly countenanced in Pennsylvania Hall attracted a hostile mob of reportedly 25,000 “respectable” citizens of Pennsylvania who surrounded the building yelling and throwing rocks through the windows.
On May 17, 1838, the mob burned Pennsylvania Hall to the ground while the police and firemen looked on. Those inside made a speedy exit. Lucretia Mott had been in the Hall and afterwards she and her husband James waited quietly at home for the mob that was coming to burn their house. Fortunately a friend of the Motts sent the mob off in the wrong direction thus sparing the Mott home.
Lucretia Mott confronted mobs several times. On a later occasion a mob broke up the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York City. Mott sent the man who was escorting her through the mob to assist some of the more timid women and then approached one of the biggest and roughest leaders of the mob. Taking him by the arm, she declared, “This man… He will see me safe through.” Mott was less than five feet tall, less than ninety pounds in weight, and a grandmother. The man saw Mott safely though and the next day they had lunch together.
Other Swarthmore College related people associated with Pennsylvania Hall included Dr. Joseph Parrish, the father of Edward Parrish, Swarthmore’s first president and Caleb Clothier. One of the Vice Presidents of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was Mary Magill, mother of Edward Magill, the second president of Swarthmore College. When Swarthmore College opened for instruction in 1869, the examples of Lucretia and James Mott were held up as examples for future Swarthmore students to emulate.