The Quakers

By Hugh Barbour; J. William Frost | Go to book overview

1
INTRODUCTION: THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

A benevolent old man in a broad-brim black hat, beaming out from a box of oats, is the best-known icon of a Quaker. Most educated Americans know other images: William Penn* shakes hands with the Indians; a plain-dressed couple helps a runaway slave to freedom across the Ohio River; Gary Cooper refuses to fight in the Civil War (in the movie Friendly Persuasion); Elizabeth Fry* preaches to inmates at Newgate prison; Edward Hicks* paints The Peaceable Kingdom. Since Quakers are linked to Pennsylvania as Puritans are to Massachusetts, car license plates of the "Quaker state" (it's a motor oil too) pun that "you've got a Friend in Pennsylvania." The name Quaker is misfitted to a whiskey, an exterminating company, football teams, and a string band. After sixty-nine such entries in the Philadelphia telephone book, the last one is "Quakers--see Friends, Religious Society of," the subject of this book.

The Quaker reality is today diverse, though rooted in a unifying tradition and inner life: silent worship in a 300-year-old meetinghouse; a revival meeting in a cathedral-like midwestern Quaker church; a hundred thousand African Friends in Kenyan villages; thirty Quaker boarding schools and fifteen colleges in ten nations; and Friends Service Committees deeply involved in the crises of American, English, Canadian, and South African society. Quakers are at home in twenty-five languages, but outside Africa and Hispanic America most think in English. George Fox* established their gathering place in London in the 1650s. By now they have spread to forty-six countries on six continents, but nearly half of all Quakers live in the United States, and their evolution since 1700 centered here. Most literate Americans know east coast Quakers rather than the two-thirds of the 120,000 American Friends who live west of the Appalachians.

Quakers recorded unusually directly their individual religious experiences: the

____________________
Quakers whose names are asterisked (*) (when first mentioned and in the index) are those whose biography is included in Part Two.

-3-

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