A group of women gathered Saturday to celebrate feminism, history, and faith at the Cranaleith Spiritual Center, a bucolic nonprofit educational retreat hidden in Northeast Philadelphia.
The "Women of Strength and Vision" event featured women of the past and present dedicated to social change.
The Cranaleith grounds in Somerton are a tribute to notable women in American history. The Cranaleith house, Mill-Rae, was commissioned in 1890 by the suffragette Rachel Foster Avery, who often invited fellow activists including Susan B. Anthony to the home for meetings. The home was designed by Minerva Parker Nichols, the first American woman to practice architecture independently. The property itself was once home to the matrilineal Lenni Lenape Native Americans.
Stephanie Toothman, associate director for cultural resources for the National Park Service, recognized the inclusion of Mill-Rae in the National Register of Historic Places.
"Preserving the sites associated with suffrage is critical," she said, emphasizing the importance of recognizing women and other marginalized groups' contributions to American history. Toothman spoke of programs the National Park Service is organizing to better tell the story of the women's rights movement, including the potential creation of a national women's rights trail.
Young women from the Villa Joseph Marie High School performed monologues recognizing the work of women's rights advocates.
Carrie Baker, a gender studies professor at Smith College and descendant of Nichols, and Sheila Jacobs, president of the Bucks County Women's Business Forum, both spoke during a panel discussion about giving back.
"Our children are watching," Jacobs said. "We should not grow weary of service."
Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Cafe chain in the Philadelphia area and the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, told of her motives in starting her business. "It wasn't about maximizing profits, it was about maximizing relationships," she said.
Wicks advocated for environmental protection and animal rights, in addition to urging support for protesters in Cannon Ball, N.D., who are fighting construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which would cross sacred Native American land and potentially endanger local water sources. Criticizing factory farming and environmental destruction, Wicks said: "The value we need is to lead with love."
"Each of these women helps us move from 'me' to 'we,' " said Maureen McCullough, a director at Catholic Relief Services, who moderated the discussion.
Supported by the Sisters of Mercy, Cranaleith offers spiritual programs open to all. The center focuses on providing wellness care to veterans, as well as to men and women from marginalized communities who may face homelessness, mental illness, poverty, and other traumas.
"It's all about building values and the strength within," said Veneta Lorraine, the center's executive director. "Cranaleith is a place where people can come for reflection, renewal, and restoration."