Quaker History

Philadelphia Yearly meeting Faith and Practice - 2018

Context of Our History

Friends are reminded that our Religious Society took form in times of disturbance, and that its continuing testimony has been the power of God to lead men and women out of the confusions of outward violence, inward sickness, and all other forms of self-will, however upheld by social convention. — Advices, I   Faith and Practice

The Religious Society of Friends is committed to a life of obedience to God’s Spirit, both as individuals and as meetings. This commitment leads Friends to support much that is creative in public life, education and business. It also leads Friends to oppose practices and institutions that result in violence, oppression and exploitation in the world around us.

History, however, demonstrates that Friends have not always been united in perceptions of what obedience to Spirit requires, and the Society has been beset from time to time by conflict and misunderstandings. Yet out of such conflicts, painful as they have been, the Religious Society of Friends has continued to strive for clarity in its commitment and unity in its witness.  Faith and Practice

There are many ways to write and interpret the history of the Religious Society of Friends. Below are three (of many) books of introduction to the history and beliefs of Friends. These books are available in our Meeting library or can be purchased from the Pendle Hill or FGC book store. 

Historical Summary of Friends of the Delaware Valley

A historical summary of different periods of time for Friends in the Delaware Valley who are part of  Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) is found in the 2017 edition of PYM Faith and Practice. Below is the introductory portion of each section, with a link to the entire section.

Beginnings: Circa 1650-1690

The Religious Society of Friends arose in England in the middle of the seventeenth century, a time of turbulence and change in both religion and politics. In the established Church of England, great emphasis was placed upon outward ceremony, the authority of the Bible and the acceptance of a formal creed. Many individuals, however, became dissatisfied with ceremonies and creeds and broke away from these churches. Singly or in small groups, they turned inward in search of a religion of personal experience and direct communion with God. George Fox (1624-1691) was one of these seekers.

Link to full section.

Consolidation and Withdrawal: Circa 1690-1800

After the adoption of the Toleration Act by the English Parliament in 1689, conditions for Quakers changed. Though occasionally persecuted, they were mostly left alone. Perhaps ironically, their missionary zeal diminished almost as soon as they won toleration. What had once been an outward-looking, energetic movement now took on the characteristics of a closed sect.

In Pennsylvania, the Quakers had become a minority of the population by 1720, but they retained political control of the colony until the beginning of the French and Indian Wars in 1755. At that point, a few Friends gave up their seats in the General Assembly to allow Pennsylvania to pursue the war without their support.

Link to full section.

Schism and Reform: Circa 1800-1900

Even before the nineteenth century, American Friends exhibited two divergent tendencies: on the one hand, emphasizing the primary authority of the Inward Light; and on the other, emphasizing such Christian tenets as atonement and bodily resurrection and also the authority of the Bible.

Link to full section.

Reconciliation: Circa 1900-1955

Appropriately enough, it was the continuing commitment of both Orthodox and Hicksite Friends to the peace testimony that paved the way for their gradual reconciliation and reunification. In 1901, they jointly organized a conference for world peace to which all American Quakers were invited.

Other developments in the early 1900s contributed to the reconciliation. In 1913, a group of Philadelphia young adult Friends from each branch began to meet regularly to study the separation and issued a report the next year stating that it was not a matter of doctrine but of authority that had caused the separation. The group continued to meet and to develop social occasions for young Friends of both branches to get together; this even resulted in a few cross-branch marriages. Women from both yearly meetings also worked together on issues of suffrage and peace. Alice Paul, a member of Moorestown Friends Meeting, was a leader in the campaign to pass and ratify the 19th Amendment.

Link to full section.

Unity Amidst Diversity: 1955-2000

As with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1955, Friends in Canada and in other parts of the United States were reconciled and reunited. Friends throughout North America developed a growing interest in dialogue and cooperation. The Friends World Committee for Consultation, founded in 1937 following the Friends World Conference at Swarthmore College, encouraged this development.

On the other hand, there were important differences that continued to divide Friends, both within and between the various yearly meetings, including how to respond to the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. For instance....

Link to full section.