NEPHN talks Hannah Penn for William’s 375th birthday

Attendees at Northeast Philadelphia History Network’s October meeting heard about Hannah Penn, William Penn’s wife who helped manage business affairs in his absence.


History buffs who attended Northeast Philadelphia History Network’s October meeting learned about Hannah Callowhill Penn, William Penn’s wife who helped him achieve many of his accomplishments as well as led the way on her own.

The meeting began with a special presentation from Elaine Peden, a Wissinoming resident who spent years of her life and thousands of her own dollars to make William and Hannah honorary U.S. citizens. It was a major accomplishment, but that’s not all Peden has done in her life – she has also advised the Penn Treaty Park statue, created a replica of the Liberty Bell and helped restore the Penn statue on top of City Hall.

Peden recorded these accomplishments and more in a book that NEPHN helped create some copies of so her legacy may be preserved.

This October marked the 375th anniversary of the birth of William Penn. The speaker was Kathy Clark, a prize-winning journalist who is researching Hannah Penn for an upcoming article. Clark grew up in Bristol, “basically in the shadow of William Penn.”

Clark described Hannah Penn as gentle and loving, but also very feisty and with a much stronger business sense than her husband.

“She probably would have matched with any of the young women today who are waving their MBAs around,” Clark said.

Hannah managed William’s businesses for years and “basically managed the colony” for 14 years while William was imprisoned and had a series of strokes. Hannah helped solve boundary disputes among Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware and managed many of Penn’s client’s in the new world, Clark said.

“She was basically the governor of Pennsylvania, the first and only female governor,” Clark said.

Her middle name, Callowhill, is where the Philadelphia street got its name.

Clark is writing an article that will be published in Pennsylvania Magazine.

NEPHN usually meets the first Wednesday of every month at Pennepack Baptist Church, 8732 Krewstown Road.