This last week the Chester County, Pennsylvania Town Tour was in Coatesville, and the star was a woman who died in 1854. Rebecca Webb Pennock Lukens’ father would take her to his Federal Slitting Mill as a child, so she was no stranger to industry. Even today, a cluster of Lukens family homes on 1st Avenue in Coatesville has mills in their back yards, so the family was never far from their business. Her physician husband became involved in the business, but when both he and her father, Quaker Isaac Pennock died within one year of each other, Rebecca had no choice but to take over the family business in 1825.
On January 6, 1994, the 200th anniversary of Lukens' birth, the Pennsylvania Legislature and City of Coatesville declared her "America’s first woman industrialist." She was also honored in 1944 by having a "Liberty Ship" named after her, the SS Rebecca Lukens.
The Lukens family were no strangers to the shipbuilding business because Rebecca's husband developed rolled steel plates which were used to construct the first metal hulled steamboat in America, the Codorus, and were later used as boilerplate in steam engines and locomotives.
We were privileged to meet with Susannah Brody, who regularly portrays Rebecca Lukens. She stood in front of Brandywine Mansion, an 18th C home where Lukens once lived and which is undergoing restoration. A 1980's highway widening cut off one end (on the left) of the earliest part of the house, but fortunately, they didn't tear it down. Brody told Lukens story, and answered questions about the 1820's Quaker split between the Orthodox and Hicksite factions of Quakerism. You can learn more about the history of this business which spawned America's first female CEO at the Iron and Steel Museum, which is part of the complex of Lukens family buildings in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
Want to learn more about local historic and older homes in Southern Chester County and New Castle and Kent Counties in Delaware? Contact Carolyn Roland, Your Older and Historic Homes Specialist.