Swarthmore College Acquires Papers of Social Activist, Mira Sharpless Townsend

The Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania has recently acquired the papers of Mira Sharpless Townsend, a Philadelphia Quaker who was an advocate for social reform movements of the mid-19th century such as the abolition of slavery and capital punishment and the improvement of prison conditions. Her most notable accomplishment was the establishment of the Rosine Association, which provided a home, work, and education to women on whom society had turned its back. The organization was unique in that it was run completely by women, for women.

“She was in the vanguard of a group of 19th-century women who reimagined their roles in bringing positive change to the world outside of their home circle,” said Friends Historical Library curator, Jordan Landes. “Her distinctive voice shines through more than a century after her death, presenting the stories of Philadelphia’s 19th-century female underclass in a matter-of-fact tone, with rich detail.”

The Townsend collection includes two volumes of her narrative accounts of the “Rosines,” brief biological sketches of the women who passed through the Rosine House. There are names, address, and outcomes included for each case. Many of the Rosine House residents were prostitutes or homeless women. Through Townsend’s assistance, these women were able to earn money for themselves through their newly gained skills and sell their wares in an adjacent store.

“The two casebooks of the Rosine Association are truly significant, detailing the unvarnished lives of the women involved in the association,” Dr. Landes says. “Townsend ‘names names’ and circumstances, successes and failures, painting a stark picture of the underside of Philadelphia in the 1840s and 1850s.”

Dr. Landes is a graduate of Haverford University in Pennsylvania. She holds a master of library science degree and a master’s degree in history from the University of Maryland. Dr. Landes earned a Ph.D. in history from the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.

More information on the Friends Historical Library can be found here.

Filed Under: Women's Studies


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply