Question of the Week
Who was the first woman in Pennsylvania to hold public office?
Answer: Ann Henry
The first woman in Pennsylvania to hold a public office was Ann Henry, who served as Lancaster County treasurer. She took over this position when her husband—who had been treasurer—died in December 1786.
Ann, the daughter of Abraham and Ursula Wood, was born in 1734 in Burlington, New Jersey. She married William Henry, originally from Chester County, in the 1750s. In an amusing family tale of their meeting, William was said to have placed a broom down in a hallway. Out of sight, William watched as his sister stepped over the broom, her friend moved it over with her foot, and Ann picked it up and put it in place. It was then that William decided Ann was the girl to marry.
William originally apprenticed as a gunsmith, and later ran a hardware business. He pursued many business ventures and helped supply Indian traders. He developed an interest in science and engineering and was an early experimenter with steam engines and the steamboat. He also had an active military career, and during the Revolutionary War was a strong proponent for independence. He held several offices during the war and worked as treasurer of Lancaster County from about 1777 until his death in 1786.
Ann, mother of 13 children, was a diligent housewife and mother, and she watched over her family’s and William’s affairs while he was away during the Revolutionary War. Her familiarity with household business and William’s work made her an ideal candidate to take over the office of Lancaster Country treasurer.
The Henry family papers (#280) at HSP contain a variety of letters, documents, and accounts relating to William Henry's political interests in Lancaster County and his activities during the Revolution. There are also papers relating to his family, as well as volumes on the history and vocabularies of American Indians.
Image: “William Henry, Member of the Continental Congress,” print (undated)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.