The collection contains papers of Mira Sharpless Townsend, a major Quaker social activist and reformer in Philadelphia. Mira Sharpless Townsend (1798-1859) was born in Philadelphia, attended Friends Select School, and in 1828 married Samuel Townsend (1800-1887). He was a member of Philadelphia Monthly Meeting by whom she had six children, only two surviving to adulthood: Emily Sharpless Townsend who married Powell Stackhouse and Clara Gordon Townsend, married William Penn Troth. During the 1840's, Mira Townsend became an active and vocal social activist who wrote and published a variety of poetry and articles which reflected her strong views regarding women, slavery, temperance and capital punishment.
She also was the driving force behind the founding of the Rosine Association. In January 1847, at a meeting of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, she announced her desire to form a society "to open a house for the reformation, employment and instruction of females, who had led immoral lives." The result was the establishment of the Rosine. Mira Townsend was on the committee of five to create a Constitution and served as a Manager and Treasurer for the organization until her death. Encouraged by the support for the Rosine Association, Mira Townsend, together with others including her sister Eliza Parker, established a Temporary Home, a boarding house for destitute women and children. Townsend traveled to Harrisburg to petition the all-male state legislature for funding which was approved, and her case books record in detail her visits to unfortunate women.
Her extensive collection of correspondence, poetry, and related materials reflect her goals and political and social activism, and the case books offer documention of the lives of the women she sought to help. Her journals, letters, and poetry reflect her devotion to friends and family, especially to her two daughters, and her wide range of interests.
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Biographical / Historical
Mira Sharpless Townsend (1798-1859) was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of Jesse Sharples and Joanna Townsend Sharples, both birthright members of Concord Monthly Meeting. Jesse Sharples (1759-1832) was disowned in 1781 from Concord. In 1784, he married Joanna Townsend at Old Swede's Church. Joanna Sharples was restored to membership in 1805 and received a certificate of transfer to Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in 1806. After the Separation, the family affiliated with the Hicksite branch. Jesse Sharples was a Philadelphia merchant; the succeeding generations adapted the surname spelling to Sharpless. Mira Sharpless was the sixth of nine children and attended Friends Select School where at an early age she exhibited a skilled proficiency in writing skills and academic subjects. Most of her siblings were active in the Society of Friends. In 1828, she married Samuel Townsend (1800-1887) by whom she had six children, only two living to adulthood: Emily Sharpless Townsend (1829-1890) and Clara Gordon Townsend (1835-1925). Emily married Powell Stackhouse in 1851, a birthright member of Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and real estate lawyer and genealogist. Clara married William Penn Troth in 1860. One of their daughters, Alice Gordon Troth, married John Rozet Drexel, Sr., prominent banker with homes in New York City, Newport, and Paris.
During the 1840's, Mira Townsend became an active and vocal social activist who wrote and published a variety of poetry and articles which reflected her strong views regarding women, slavery, temperance and capital punishment. In January 1847, at a meeting of women preparing a Petition to the Legislature of Pennsylvania for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, she announced her desire to form a society "to open a house for the reformation, employment and instruction, of who had led immoral lives." The result was the establishment of the Rosine Association. Mira Townsend was on the committee of five to create a constitution, and she served as a Manager and Treasurer for the organization until her death. She was the driving force behind the organization and 1855 compiled a history ending with a plea for more support, published as "Reports and Realities from the Sketch-Book of a Manager of the Rosine Association." Mira Townsend died 11 month 20, 1859, and is buried in Fair Hill Burial Ground. In 1867, her widowed husband was married under the care of Green Street Monthly Meeting to Rachel Baker Wilson Moore, a prominent Hicksite minister who also was active in social reform activies.
According to the history compiled by a Manager [Mira Townsend], The Rosine Association of Philadelphia was founded by women mostly from the Cherry Street Meeting (Hicksite) and First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. It was founded by women for women and under complete female management, vowing not to judge women who worked as prostitutes, but rather to assist them find "more dignified labor." Many of case studies document the direct involvement of the organization's Treasurer and founding Manager, Mira Sharpless Townsend. Her sister, Eliza Townsend (1791-1851), who married Thomas Parker in 1816 under the care of Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, also served as a Manager. The name Rosine Association was chosen to commemorate the work of Rosa Govana, an Italian who had founded schools with similar goals. It was selected to avoid negative association towards women who came under its care.