• Quaker Businessman Concerned About Board Distrust At Pennsylvania’s Women's Preston Retreat Hospital For Poor

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    WILLIAM P. SHARPLESS was a Quaker and the owner of Sharpless, Worley & Neal, a flour and grain business in Philadelphia. He was director of the Penn National Bank for twenty years and in charge of purchases at the Preston Retreat, a charitable obstetric hospital for indigent women in Philadelphia.


    ELI K. PRICE was Sharpless’ uncle and a fellow member of the Preston’s Board of Managers. As a Pennsylvania State Senator, Price sponsored legislation protecting the property rights of women.


    2 pp, 7 ¾” x 9 ¾”, March 13, 1866, Philadelphia, ALS, Sharpless writes regarding a Committee Dispute at Preston Retreat. Written during the first months of the maternity hospital’s operation, Sharpless, who was chairman of the committee on purchases, writes to Price, concerned about an internal committee dispute regarding the distrust of Board members and the wishes of the late Dr. Preston, who founded the Retreat.


    Sharpless endeavors at the Retreat demonstrated his desire to help women. This would have touched a chord with Price, who was obviously sympathetic to women’s rights. Price served as one of Dr. Preston’s executors and was, at the time of this letter, treasurer and, at one point, president. Today, Preston Retreat is affiliated with Pennsylvania Hospital, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.


    Beginning in Quaker tone, Sharpless writes, “Thy note came to hand this morning. My idea was that the Board should apportion to the use of the Committee on Purchasing such…as it might deem expedient that the sum to appropriate should be placed by the Treas. to the credit of the Committee and that he should pay all orders drawn upon him by the Committee until this appropriation is exhausted…the Treas. not to pay beyond the appropriation. There is a provision in the By-Laws that the Com shall report monthly to the Board. There is also a provision that the visiting Com shall cause a regular account of the current expenses of the Retreat to be kept by the Steward and report at each stated meeting of the Board all purchases [that] would necessarily come before the committee…


    “…It seems to me as though the Board were apprehensive that its members could not be trusted, and this has caused so much uneasiness in my mind…If there are those among us inclined to take advantage of their positions to do a wrong thing I do not know who they are. This was also the ground of my objection to the rules and regulations which are adopted concerning the women’s committee at the last meeting. It is provided in the Charter that special respect shall be paid to the opinion and advice of the committee of female superintendance. This is recognized in the plan of Dr. Preston and is again affirmed in the 21st Section of the Bye Laws. We then place in our rules and regulations a provision which I think is calculated to destroy their usefulness in relation to this matter. To my mind this seems disrespectful and uncalled for.


    “I think we must have more confidence in our committees and in each other before we shall enjoy the satisfaction that ought to be derived from the performance of our duties.” Fold tears reinforced with archival tape. Some ink erosion resulting in several small holes. Later pencil notations added.


    Fold tears reinforced with archival tape. Some ink erosion resulting in several small holes. Later pencil notations added.


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