Annual Meeting to Discuss Moravian Sister Mary Penry (1735-1804)

Join the Lititz Historical Foundation for our annual meeting lecture on Saturday November 18th beginning at 1:30pm at the Lititz Public Library. After some very brief items of business, we will welcome Scott Paul Gordon, who will present a program on Moravian sister Mary Penry.

Gordon is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Chair at Lehigh University. He teaches courses at the undergraduate and graduate level in eighteenth-century transatlantic literature. He has served as the Director of the First-Year Writing Program; Director of Lehigh University Press; and as chair of the Department of English.

Gordon’s early research projects tackled seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British literature, but for the last decade his research has focused on early America, in particular the Moravian experiment in Pennsylvania. One project, which will be published in 2018 by Pennsylvania State University Press, brings into print for the first time the extensive correspondence of Mary Penry (1735-1804) who immigrated from Wales in 1744 and lived as a single sister in Moravian communities at Bethlehem and Lititz for nearly fifty years.

Penry spent most of her adult life in Lititz, arriving in 1762 as one of the first women to populate the new single sisters’ choir house. For more than forty years in Lititz, Penry kept the diary of the single sister’s choir and served as the choir house’s clerk, recording the varied business activities related to the choir’s textile industries and its girls’ school. She was responsible for guiding visitors around the community; she earned income from her embroidery; and was paid to translate documents from German into English. Penry remained single for her entire life, an extremely rare phenomenon in early America where nearly all women married (and remarried). Penry knew that this opportunity was possible only because she lived in a Moravian community.

Few early American women produced such a prodigious amount of first-person writing as Mary Penry. Penry’s sharp eye and skillful pen recorded an ox roasted on the frozen Delaware, air balloons that some had proposed for transatlantic travel, a visit to Philadelphia’s “African church,” and the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. She corresponded with Benjamin Rush, met the Miami chief Little Turtle, was lifelong friends with the Quaker Elizabeth Drinker, and knew everybody in the late eighteenth-century Moravian church. Penry was obsessed with global politics and devoured the partisan newspapers of the early republic. “I am a great Politician,” she confided to a friend in 1795, “but am very careful of speaking my Sentiments.”

The lecture is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will follow the lecture. Call the Lititz Public Library today to reserve your seat!

717-626-2255. Seating is free, but limited!

SPG 2016 photo

Scott Paul Gordon

Figure 5 Single Sisters Membership Catalog

Single Sister’s Membership Catalog

Figure 6 Letter to Joseph and Martha Powell

Letter to Joseph and Martha Powell

This entry was posted in Lititz Historical Foundation. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *