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Woven Revolution: Athena

The average person who learns about Lancaster PA, thinks of buggies and bonnets. While the Amish and Mennonite communities are quite strong in Lancaster, they are not the only Protestant groups in the community. Their English counterparts, Baptists, are alive and well.

Pennsylvania, however, was not founded by Anabaptists or Baptists, but by Quakers. In Colonial Lancaster, a group of Irish Quakers had residence. They are a small group, though little is recorded of them. Like the Anabaptists, the Quakers are pacifists, but during the American Revolution, a few Quakers opted to fight, one of them was Nathanael Greene who became a major general in the Continental Army.

Knotted Pile Sampler, 2011

Business in Lancaster

Athena MacGuire, is many things, but she is uncertain of who she is. She is an Irish Quaker in Lancaster, an unmarried woman and the owner of her own business. During the Colonial time period, women did own businesses: some ran inns, some ran millinery shops. Others were dressmakers, and still others found other occupations. Many of these women inherited businesses from deceased husbands or fathers, but many others established their own businesses without male supervision.

In farming communities like Lancaster, most women married and raised their own families or helped their husbands with shops. Though there were women owners, they were few. It wasn't that women couldn't own a business, it just was not common, culturally.

For Athena, owning her own business is a matter of life.

A Woman Contained

At the age of thirty, Athena is an old maid with little to no hope of every marrying. Though her mother, Penelope still lives, her father has died in the defense of Bunker Hill. Unlike the other two women, Athena has very personal reasons for despising the British troops.

Since 1770, Athena has run an inn in Lancaster named The Fighting Quaker. She makes her living off the inn, and when her father dies in 1775, offers space for her mother to join her. Penelope declines the offer, but remains a constant support to her daughter.

Athena's brothers, however, are an entirely different matter. The eldest of four children, Athena watches her younger brothers with a cool eye. The two eldest brothers dismiss fighting, and blame their youngest brother for their father's death. Added to their bitterness, they see Athena's inn as a constant sore in their lives and make life difficult for her.

Her brothers, however, are the least of her worries. Athena struggles with her faith. On one hand, she understands the reason she is not to fight, but on the other hand, backing away from a fight seems pointless. As she withdraws farther from her Quaker roots, the Quaker community tries to pull her back into their fold. The struggle threatens to loosen the constrains Athena has placed around herself for like Circe, she is a passionate woman who has learned the fire her tongue can bring.

She desires respect from a man who can see her worth as his equal, not his subordinate. In a world still ruled by men, even with all their freedoms, Athena, like the other two women, desire freedom of their own. The freedom to be who they were meant to be.

Through her story, Athena finds the way to unlock the cultural rules that have left her contained within a cell of her own making.


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