The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Tragedy & Perseverance
Shortly after the sheet for the Codorus was rolled and the order filled — tragedy struck the family again. In June of 1825, at age 39, Charles died suddenly from a fever. Rebecca was 31 years old and expecting their sixth child. Dr. Lukens was laid to rest at Fallowfield Meeting, his grave marked with a plain stone in keeping with his Quaker faith. To his widow fell the relentless task of holding family, community, and property together.

Before he died, Charles asked Rebecca for a promise — that she would continue to run Brandywine Iron Works and carryout the plans they had made together. Rebecca faced a multitude of problems. The boiler plate business, while encouraging, was scarcely begun. The Brandywine Iron Works was in great debt. Despite Dr. Lukens’ good efforts, the mill and farm remained in much need of repairs and rebuilding. To all of this was added the personal needs of her family of small children, including one yet born.

Faithful to her husband’s death-bed request and ignoring the many objections to a woman’s presence in the iron industry (including her mother’s), she accepted the burdens. Rebecca Lukens’ own words in describing her situation could not be improved upon — “In the summer of 1825, I lost my dear and excellent husband. He was sanguine in his hopes for success, and this was his dying request — he wished me to continue and I promised to comply. I will not dwell on my feelings, when I began to look around me, but necessity is a stern taskmistress [and] my every want gave me courage. Dr. Lukens had many good and firm friends, and they stood by me. The workmen were tried and faithful, and so with some fear but more courage, I began to struggle for a livelihood.”

This time was pivotal for both Rebecca and our nation's industry. She became one of America's few female ironmasters. Later, Rebecca Lukens also became America's first female industrialist. She was the first woman to own and operate multiple businesses at the same time: the iron works, a farm, and later, a freight agency, store, and warehouse. Her biggest success was, of course, the iron works.