The Women's History Trail of Greater Philadelphia
The can't-miss Philly sites honoring women's impact on the region and the country...
Trailblazing women and girls have played a pivotal role in Philadelphia’s history since its founding. Their sacrifices, hard work and vision helped make the city what it is today.
Historymakers and heroines like Harriet Tubman , Betsy Ross and Lucretia Mott have ties to Philadelphia and some of its oldest sites. And the city’s public art celebrates the achievements of more recent powerhouses like Patti LaBelle and Sonia Sanchez .
Throughout the Philadelphia region, museums, statues and buildings pay homage to some of the most notable and game-changing women in Philly history. As you explore, you’ll see how many of these women also helped shape the direction of the nation during crucial times.
Check out our guide below to these can’t-miss sites honoring women’s achievements in Philadelphia.
This humble Quaker meeting house is the site of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting regional congregation gathering. Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society co-founders Lucretia Mott and Harriet Forten Purvis and Southern activist sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke fought for abolition and women’s equality here.
Even if you consider yourself to be well-versed in Philadelphia history, this Beyond the Bell tour will likely provide you with some new insights. As you stroll, you’ll learn about under-the-radar women who shaped Philadelphia — from “forgotten founder” Hannah Callowhill Penn to the Red Rose Girls and lesbian leaders in the Gayborhood.
Cornelia Wells may not have owned this 1742 mansion in Fairmount Park, but it is her story that resonates here. Judge Richard Peters employed Wells and her daughter at the mansion after helping them escape from slavery. The Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion highlights Wells’ struggles and successes, as well as Philadelphia’s legacy of freedom. The American Women’s Heritage Society, an African American Women’s Association, maintains the site and welcomes visitors for tours.
The Betsy Ross House pays tribute to one of Revolutionary Philadelphia’s most notable women. Visitors can stop by to meet a Betsy Ross reenactor to learn about Ross and her family, as well as many other 18th-century women who helped build the new nation. Be sure to spend time in the courtyard, where the flag maker was laid to rest in 1836.
Located in Historic Germantown, The Colored Girls Museum explores the everyday lives of African American women through emotive exhibitions and art installations. Schedule your visit to the museum’s One Room Schoolhouse exhibit in advance.
Check out the oldest residential street in the country, and learn more about its hero, Dolly Ottey. With fellow residents and local historians, Ottey founded the Elfreth’s Alley Association in 1934, so we have her to thank her for this charmingly preserved attraction today.
Now a stunning invisible-service boutique hotel , this National Historic landmark once housed the New Century Guild, a pioneering club formed in 1882 to support working women. The 12 rooms and suites are named after members of the Guild, which included notable abolitionists, suffragists, activists, poets and artists.
2022 marks 200 years since the birth of Harriet Tubman, and Philadelphia is celebrating the life and legacy of the Underground Railroad hero. Look for the nine-foot statue and exhibit at City Hall through March 2022, as well as events at cultural organizations throughout the city.
Harriet Tubman spent time in Philadelphia after escaping slavery and has connections to many sites here, including Mother Bethel AME Church and the Johnson House. Just north of the city in Bristol, the Harriet Tubman Memorial Statue stands along the Delaware River in Lion’s Park with her hand pointing toward the North Star.
This 1703 Quaker burial ground is the final resting place of Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society co-founders Lucretia Mott and Harriet Forten Purvis, as well as other abolitionists and women’s rights activists like Mary Ann M’Clintock, who helped plan the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention for women’s rights. Today, six murals depicting 300 years of Philadelphia’s struggle for social justice accompany the cemetery’s well-known residents.
Ahead of the state referendum on women’s suffrage in 1915, the Justice Bell , a 2,000-pound Liberty Bell doppelganger created by a Chester County woman, toured Pennsylvania in an attempt to connect the cause to the Founding Fathers’ struggle. The referendum failed, but as a result, the Justice Bell became a national symbol for women continuing the fight for voting rights. Today, visitors can find the bell at the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Although Grace Kelly’s childhood home in East Falls is not typically open for public tours, you can check out the historical marker outside where the Oscar winner and Prince Rainier III announced their engagement in 1956. This event ignited a worldwide fascination with the glamorous Hollywood star-turned-Princess of Monaco that continues to this day.
Picturesque Laurel Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of many notable Philadelphia women dating as far back as the Revolution. They include Esther de Berdt Reed, who raised funds to support the Continental Army; and Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, organizer of the Women’s Pavilion during the 1876 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia; and bacteriologist and refrigerator engineer Mary Engle Pennington.
The National Marian Anderson Museum honors an under-recognized local and national figure. Raised in Philadelphia, Anderson fought hard for her place on the national and international stage as a contralto, and pushed back against segregationist policies in concert halls where she performed. For her work, Anderson received the American Medal of Freedom in 1963. The museum also celebrates Blanche Burton-Lyles, a pianist and Anderson mentee who founded the Marian Anderson Historical Society.
A visit to the home of internationally acclaimed author Pearl S. Buck in Perkasie includes viewing many items that speak to her Pulitzer Prize-winning writing skills, like the typewriter she used to write the 1931 novel The Good Earth . The museum’s thought-provoking and engaging tour experience carries on Buck’s humanitarian legacy of helping children achieve good health, education and job training.
Mural Arts Philadelphia proudly showcases influential women on several murals around the city. With a focus on contemporary women, the works depict figures like singer Patti LaBelle, poet Sonia Sanchez and Joyce Craig, the city’s first fallen woman firefighter. These powerful public works draw attention to Philadelphia women and the diverse communities they represent.
Eliza Powel, a resident of this 1765 Society Hill mansion, was known for her intelligence and wit. President George Washington counted her among his close friends, and it was Powel who convinced him to serve a second term. Women’s history at the Powel House continues into the 20th century, when the building was saved from destruction by Frances Wister, a female pioneer in the preservation movement.
Both Martha Washington and Abigail Adams called this site home, but their stories are secondary to Ona Judge’s. Judge was born into slavery at Mount Vernon, and Martha Washington selected Ona to be her personal slave. When she was brought to Philadelphia, the city’s free Black community inspired and helped Judge. She ran away from The President’s House to freedom and went on to marry and have children while living in New England, despite being constantly chased by those trying to recapture her.