Arch Street Meeting House has reimagined the annual William Penn Lecture! The inaugural Annual Spring Kickoff will happen Thursday, March 23, 2023, from 5-7pm. The evening will include a cocktail hour and will be followed by a presentation by John Dickinson, portrayed by Doug Thomas. Join the “Penman of the Revolution” as he discusses his role in the journey that took us from colonies to country. In anticipation of this event, we interviewed Sean Connolly, Executive Director of Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust, to learn more about this exciting new take on a beloved event.
Q: This event’s roots tie back to Quaker tradition as the William Penn lectures that ran from 1916 – 2017. What is driving this reimagined annual event?
We are thrilled to bring back this tradition after a several-year hiatus. In the calendar of annual events, the original lecture offered the Quaker community an opportunity to share in discussions around diverse topics and to socialize and meet Friends from around the Yearly Meeting. In reimagining this lecture, we hope to bring back that energy and community after spending so much time apart over the last few years. There are some changes… it will now always fall in March to kick off the year’s public program calendar. When Friends come to the lecture each year, they will be some of the first to see any updates, as well as new exhibits and collection materials on display. It will give folks a unique sneak peek at what we do at Arch Street in addition to sharing in food, drinks, and a fascinating lecture.
Q: Why did you choose the first-person interpretation format for this year’s lecture?
I have a background in first-person interpretation, and it’s a strong way to learn about history. Seeing a presentation by an interpreter in first person grounds the experience in history. It’s really intimate, plus it’s also really fun. So, my hope is that it draws in people who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary and memorable. We certainly won’t do first person every year, but I think it’s a great way to start after this hiatus.
Q: Why start this lecture with John Dickinson?
We’re getting ready for the Semiquincentennial of the United States in 2026. So Quaker history around the founding of the United States is going to be a topic of huge interest leading up to those celebrations in 2026. Unique histories like John Dickinson, a Founding Father who was also a Quaker, are going to be important stories to share over the next few years to showcase the influence of Quakerism at the time of the founding of the United States.
Q: Why are you doing programs like this?
Arch Street Meeting House is a museum, in addition to being an active Quaker meetinghouse. If we are going to lean into our mission of spreading Quaker history, it’s important for us to offer a variety of programs. The Annual Spring Kickoff will form the foundation of our yearly programming calendar which attracts thousands of visitors to Philadelphia each year.
Q: Who should attend this? Is there still time to get tickets?
Anyone who is interested in Quaker history should attend. I think the presentation is going to be really exciting—First-person interpretation offers a backdoor into a historic figure’s mind, so I’m looking forward to learning a lot along with everyone else. There is still time to get tickets! You can get tickets online or at the door all the way up to March 23rd.
Sean Connolly is the Executive Director of Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust. Before that he oversaw public history programs at Pennsbury Manor and for Historic Philadelphia and has taught first person historical interpretation at Drexel University.