Eliza Willing Powel was a prominent figure in the late 18th and early 19th century and was know for her intelligence, wit and social influence. She was a highly respected friend of many of the Founding Fathers of the United States and played an important role in the social and political life of Philadelphia during that time. She was considered a leading political thinker who made significant contributions to the formation of the United States. As a gracious hostess she brought together many of the leading figures of the American Revolution and facilitated important discussion and debates on key issues facing the fledgling nation.
Eliza was one of the few women of her time who had access to the corridors of power and used her influence to advance the cause of independence. She was known, along with her two sisters, Ann Willing Bingham and Mary Willing Byrd, as one of the “Three Graces” of Philadelphia society. The term was a reference to the three daughters of Zeus in Greek mythology who were known for their beauty, charm, and grace.
Eliza was also a champion of education and intellectual pursuits for women. She played an important role in the founding of the Philadelphia Young Ladies’ Academy which provided rigorous education to young women and helped promote gender equality in education.
Eliza’s home, in particular, was a hub of intellectual and political activity. The Powel home is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the United States, and was designed by the prominent Philadelphia architect, Samuel Vaughan. The house was completed in 1765 and served as the home of the Powel family until the early 19th century.
John Adams noted in his diary in 1775, “Mrs. Powel is a lady of great talents, and one of the most amiable characters in the world. She has more wit, more sense, and more knowledge than any other woman I know.”
Marquis de Chastellux, a French general who served in the American Revolutionary War, was a close friend of Eliza and her husband, Samuel Powel. He writes, “Mrs. Powel has been one of the most zealous in the cause of America, and she has given frequent proofs of her attachment to the principles of liberty and independence.”
Eliza and John Dickinson also shared a close friendship and a mutual respect for each other’s political views and accomplishments. They corresponded frequently and discussed a wide range of topics, including politics, literature, and social issues. Dickinson was known to hold Eliza in high esteem, and he frequently sought her counsel on political matters, as did many of the Founding Fathers.
Overall, Eliza Willing Powel’s most significant contribution to the formation of the United States was her role as a respected figure in Philadelphia society who used her intelligence, wit, and political influence to shape the thinking of the Founding Fathers and advance the cause of freedom and democracy. Her legacy as a political hostess, advocate for education, and supporter of American independence continues to be celebrated today.