Weekly Comment:
Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Inducts First Female Member

Ambassador Anne Anderson speaks at the 18th Annual Irish America Wall Street 50 earlier this year. (Photo: Nuala Purcell)
Ambassador Anne Anderson speaks at the 18th Annual Irish America Wall Street 50 earlier this year. (Photo: Nuala Purcell)

By Irish America Staff
December 17, 2015

Two hundred and forty five years after it was founded, the Philadelphia chapter of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick will induct it’s first female member, Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson. Anderson will become the chapter’s first female member, an honorary role, at a St. Patrick’s Day dinner next year, where she will also be the guest speaker.

“I am delighted by this decision, especially as we approach the centenary celebration in 2016,” Anderson said.

“It is a great moment to embrace and celebrate a more open and inclusive Ireland and Irish America.”

Since assuming the ambassador role in 2013, Anderson has been a strong advocate for overturning all-male Irish societies long-standing exclusion of female members.

The decision to change admission policy was spearheaded by the society’s president, Joseph Heenan, who was elected in June and made the issue one of his top priorities. Calling the decision “long, long overdue,” Heenan said that 90 percent of the chapter’s 650 active members voted in favor of the measure.

“The decision came from a sense of fairness. I think it was a sense of imbalance and and that it needed to be on fair footings for all of us,” Heenan told our partner publication IrishCentral.

“Whether we’re male or female, you have your Irish heritage and you should be participating in it.

“I strongly see the value in having the accomplishments of many, many females that will only enhance our organization. I want the Philadelphia branch to be around for another 245 years and I think we have good footings with the addition of female members.

“I hope we set an example [to other branches] and I hope they look at the progress over time and follow suit. It took us 245 years and hopefully it won’t take others as long.”

For the time being, the change only affects the Philadelphia branch, the founding branch of the Friendly Sons. Each branch is operated independently with no central offices or rules, with chapters able to establish their own rules.

The men’s-only society began allowing women to attend their events as guests 20 years ago, but those rules, too, vary branch to branch. Several Friendly Sons and Daughters chapters have been established in recent years that have been more inclusive, but the move for the Philadelphia branch signals a greater shift within the leadership.

Founded in 1771, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia provided aid to Irish immigrants and welcomed both Catholic and Protestant male members. Several early members were prominent colonial leaders, politicians, and military personnel, including several signatories of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Despite the policy shift, the one thing that won’t be changing is the name, Heenan told the Irish Times.

“Let’s not get hung up on the name. It is our brand,” he said. ♦

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