History of Pennsylvania Hall

Publication Year: 1838

Pennsylvania Hall Association. History of Pennsylvania Hall, which was destroyed by a mob, on the 17th of May, 1838 (Philadelphia : Printed by Merrihew & Gunn, 1838).
PHS Call number: F 158.8 .B83 P4 1838

Reading suggestions

See especially pages 123-126, “Speech of Angelina E.G. Weld.”

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Source note

Angelina E. Grimke Weld (1805-1879) was born to a slaveholding family in South Carolina but became an influential leader in the Abolition Movement. She delivered this speech (pages 123-126) to attendees of the second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, and as she spoke, a mob was attacking the building where she spoke, Pennsylvania Hall. Weld and her older sister Sarah Grimke, who was also an ardent abolitionist, became the first two female agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1837. Their speaking tours and publications drew praise from many abolitionists and immense criticism from pro-slavery politicians, much of the press, and many churches. Weld and Grimke’s work highlights the tension that many contemporary women felt between the moral obligation to work toward abolition, and the societal expectation of women to remain in the domestic sphere. 

Historical Context:

Pennsylvania Hall was a large, public building located in downtown Philadelphia on 6th Street south of Race Street. Financed through a joint-stock company by abolitionists and other prominent citizens of the city, it was designed as a meeting place for abolitionists and other groups and had a mission to promote free speech. The first floor had a lecture hall and a small bookstore, and the second floor had another large hall with a stage, over which was written the motto “Virtue, Liberty and Independence.” The building was dedicated on May 14, 1838, and after just four days of dedication ceremonies and meetings of the 1838 Anti-slavery Convention of American Women, an anti-abolition mob of mostly white men burned the building to the ground. Firefighters arriving at the scene only sprayed water on the neighboring buildings. The mob continued on after destroying Pennsylvania Hall to terrorize African American neighborhoods and damage African American-owned buildings. 

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Reading questions

1.    On page 124, why does Weld distinguish between “happiness” and “mirth” with regards to the emotional state of enslaved people?

2.    Weld uses the raging mob outside the building where she’s giving her speech as a rhetorical tool (page 124). How does she use the mob, and what effect do you think this tactic had on her audience?

3.    Weld says that she came up out of South Carolina to Pennsylvania hoping to find strong support for anti-slavery efforts. What did she find instead?

4.    Just by attending this meeting, Weld argues, the audience is doing important work to end slavery (page 125). How do the stakes of attending such a meeting differ for white anti-slavery activists, versus African American anti-slavery activists?

5.    Besides attending this very meeting, what other actions can and should women take to help the anti-slavery cause, according to Weld? See pages 125-126.

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Source type
History Topics
Abolition and Anti-slavery
Women's Rights
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)