While reading about and “living with” Progressive Friends, I was inspired by several of the memorable personalities I walked with. I admired and learned from all of them, as well as others who interacted with them.
But there’s one Friend I identified with especially: Samuel M. Janney.
Researching and writing about Progressive Friends took up most of my time from the autumn of 2013 through the spring of 2014. Often this was a paradoxical experience: from one angle, it was a very solitary effort: from another, very crowded.
I did this research at Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania, as the Cadbury research scholar in Quaker History. Most of my time at Pendle Hill was spent solo: in the Friends Historical Library at nearby Swarthmore College, poring over old letters, minutes, pamphlets and books; in my room, reading more old documents; then lots of staring into my computer screen, at the ever-growing store of texts available there.
As reports, official and unofficial, have come in about Gina Haspel, the nominee to be the next CIA Director, eerie memories began to seep from the back of my mind.
Take, for instance, this passage from a major Newsweek piece, just out:
“She is the woman who keeps the secrets,” Daniel Hoffman, another former senior CIA officer, told Newsweek. “That’s her. She’s the most discreet person I ever worked with.”
Early on, when she signed up in 1985, she chose the clandestine world over a more public life with a husband and children, her colleagues said. Hall recalled asking Haspel what her weekend plans were as a meeting broke up one afternoon. “Steve, come on,” he remembered her saying. “You know that I have no social life. I have no life whatsoever outside of work.”
Kate was racing the Muni bus toward the stop at the corner. She was wet and out of breath. It was bad enough, she thought as the bus slowed, that the skinheads had ripped up her peace poster. But why did they have to drench her with ice water?
The bus stopped and the doors flapped open. Kate leaped onto it, flashing her bus pass and shivering her way toward the back. A sudden San Francisco fog had rolled over the peace rally just as it was breaking up, quickly turning a sunny afternoon chill and dreary. The skinheads had jumped her when she rounded a corner, away from the others, headed for the bus and home.
The Progressive Friends were a group that hasn’t yet got their props from Quaker historians. There isn’t space here for an outline of their fascinating history, except to say you can find out more here and here.
But in sum, they started as liberal rebels in mid-1800s America, who took on a hidebound Hicksite Establishment. And they ended, invisibly but unmistakably, as the seedbed and founders of modern US liberal Quakerism. The fact that almost nobody knows this is a shame, but no surprise given the general ignorance of Quaker history among Quakers. (I’ll rant about that some other time.)
Settle in, guys and gals; this one is lengthy. But worth it. (It should be especially useful for recovering from an overdose of Supreme Court hearings.)
In a couple of earlier posts– here and also here — many months ago, I mentioned discussions of class as a factor that complicated self-understanding and community-building among Friends today, and promised to return to them at some point.