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.
Elizabeth Buffum Chace, born in 1806, was a striking example of the Progressive Friends movement. Raised a Rhode Island Quaker, she imbibed the refining spirit from her Quaker forebears, especially a sense of mission to help abolish slavery. But this zeal soon put her at odds with the New England Quaker Establishment. While officially against slavery, the leading Friends, mostly persons of wealth, staunchly opposed the “modern” reformist movements, not only abolitionism, but temperance and women’s advancement as well.
Chase had watched in growing dismay as many abolition-oriented New England Friends were expelled or exiled by this powerful, anti-reform inner circle, and meetinghouses were ordered to exclude any abolitionist-oriented meetings and speakers.
Where did Progressive Friends come from? How did they get started?
To get at these questions, we have to start by taking down a myth: the myth of the peaceable Quaker liberals of the nineteenth century. They were the ones called Hicksites, who got that name when most American Quaker groups tore themselves into two competing, mutually hostile streams.
Sometimes it can feel like a stretch, but there are at least a few of us who still believe the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, has some useful contribution to make in the world. If this faith is not entirely in vain, that makes the group’s history potentially useful too: where it came from, how it has persisted, what it has and has not accomplished, and what that tale might suggest about its potential. Continue reading Say Hello to Progressive Friends!→
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.
So here it comes again: on another list, a complaint about expensive Quaker schools. Are they really “Quaker”? Don’t they sow division in meetings? Don’t they perpetuate all kinds of bad class stuff??
For the record, I never worked at one of the fancy Quaker schools; but I was briefly on the “faculty” of the fledgling (and now gone) Friends World College some 45 years ago, where I earned room, board and all the luxury a couple hundred bucks a month could buy.