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An Early Example of Political Action by Women
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Notes and Documents AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF POLITICAL ACTION BY WOMEN By Edwin B. Bronner* The enjoyment of worldly amusements had long been frowned upon in Pennsylvania. The "Laws Agreed Upon in England ," sometimes called the "Great Law," enacted by the assembly which met at Chester in December 1682, had condemned "stage plays, cards, dice, may-games, masques, revels, bull-baitings, cockfightings , bear-baitings and the like."1 When Pennsylvania was seized by the Crown in 1692, and Benjamin Fletcher, Governor of New York, was made Royal Governor of Pennsylvania, he repealed all the former laws. In 1693, however, the colonists persuaded Fletcher to re-enact most of the statues, including one entitled "The Law Against Rude Sports, Plays and Games."2 This law was in force at the time the present petition was offered to the Grand Jury. A session of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, held at Burlington, New Jersey, September, 1694, produced a statement in regard to rearing children, which condemned laying of wagers, wrestling, jesting or idle talk, and smoking in the streets, among other * Edwin B. Bronner is a member of the History Department at Temple University. 1 Staughton George, et al., editors, Charter to William Penn, and Laws of the Province of Pennsylvania, Passed Between the Years 1682 and 1700 (Harrisburg, 1879), p. 103. 2 Ibid., p. 197. The law stated in part: "whosoever shall introduce into this Province, or frequent such rude & riotous sports & practices, as prizes, stage plays, masques, réveils, bull-baitings, cock-fightings, with such like, being convicted thereof, shall be Reputed and fined as Breakers of the peace and suffer at Least ten days Imprisonment at hard Labour in the house of correction, or forfeit twenty shillings ... if any person be convicted of playing at cards, dice, lotteries, or such like enticing, vain & evil sports and games, such person shall for every such offence pay five shillings or suffer five days Imprisonment in the House of Correction at Hard Labour." 29 30Bulletin of Friends Historical Association things. Parents were urged to keep their offspring away from the "Worlds corrupt Language, manners, & Vain needless Things & Fashions, in apparel."3 Thus the petition below, denouncing the activities of children of Philadelphia, was based both upon the law of the province and the beliefs of the Society of Friends. Petitions were drawn up by the colonists during the seventeenth century in regard to a number of things. Some condemned immorality in the plantation, as did the one under discussion. Others protested the adoption of a new constitution, the laying of taxes, or the lack of a suitable defense against attack by the French.4 This particular petition was unique because it was signed by two Quaker women: Hannah Emlen and Elizabeth Ranstead. There were few distinctions between men and women in the eyes of early Friends. William C. Braithwaite writes: "The equality of men and women in spiritual privilege and responsibility has always been one of the glories of Quakerism."5 One of the earliest ministers among the followers of George Fox was Elizabeth Hooten, who had probably been a Baptist minister even earlier.6 The earliest Quaker ministers to the New World were Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, who sailed first to Barbados, and were jailed when they visited Boston.7 Friends early organized Women's Meetings for the conduct of business and to supervise charitable activities, and they were considered to be at least comparable to Men's Meetings. Despite this evidence of the prominent position held by women in the Society of Friends in the seventeenth century , even the Quakers did not offer complete equality of the two sexes, although women had more freedom and responsibility among Friends than among other groups of the period.8 3 Minutes of the Yearly Meeting [Philadelphia], 1681-1746. Department of Records, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 302 Arch Street, Philadelphia . 4 See Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia , 1852), I, passim. 5 The Second Period of Quakerism (London, 1919), p. 270. 6W. C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism (London, 1912), p. 44. 7 Rufus M. Jones, The Quakers in the American Colonies (London, 1911), pp. 26-29. 8 Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism, pp. 286...