The Quakers

By Hugh Barbour; J. William Frost | Go to book overview
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17
THE LIBERAL TRANSFORMATION

Between the Civil War and 1900 eastern Quakers changed at a glacial pace while urbanization, industrialization, and immigration revolutionized the world around them. Philadelphia Friends in 1880 remained divided over the issues of the 1830s. Orthodox Friends, who united in refusing to associate with the heretic Hicksites, were composed of two disputing factions--Wilburites and Gurneyites--and only just managed to stay together in the Arch Street Yearly Meeting. The Wilburites, or quietists, distrusted higher education, opposed any change in dress or Discipline, disliked religious activities like First Day Schools or Bible societies, and idealized the virtues of a fast-disappearing rural way of living. The Gurneyites disagreed on each of the above, supporting learning and Haverford College, gradually dropping the distinctive Quaker language and dress, participating in a large variety of charitable and philanthropic activities, and attempting, unsuccessfully, to make minor modifications in the Discipline. 1 By 1900 the Philadelphia Orthodox numbered only 4,460, about one-third the size of the Hicksites, and were concentrated in urban areas where they resembled more an extended family or clan rather than a denomination.

The Hicksites had an easier task of accepting change since they had long claimed to stand for diversity and equality among members. Almost from the time of the separation the Hicksites embraced notions of the unimportance of creeds, the symbolic nature of religious language, and the priority of experience. In 1894 a revision of the Hicksite Discipline essentially ended disownment for mixed marriages or any other cause, merged Men's and Women's Meetings for business, and broke the equation between simplicity and the plain style of dress and language. 2 The Hicksites, recognizing that Swarthmore College could not continue as a satisfactory boarding school and college at the same time, in 1893 established George School in Bucks County as their equivalent to Westtown. As early as 1866 the Hicksite Yearly Meeting endorsed an attempt to establish contacts with all other Friends. By 1900 the Hicksite Yearly Meeting sessions

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