Society of Friends

quakers. A religious group whose origins are traced to the radical wing of English Puritanism of the 1640s. The term “Quaker” was used from 1650, partly because people were expected to tremble before the Word of God, partly because a sect of women in Southwark had previously been so called. The first leader was George Fox,* who in the 1650s preached the message of the New Age of the Spirit. The Seekers of Westmorland were converted, and with their help Fox and others moved south in their aggressive evangelism, opposed by Puritans and Anglicans alike. In Scotland many espoused Quaker views introduced into the country during the Protectorate, and they, like the Covenanters,* suffered persecution for their beliefs.

From their emphasis on realized eschatology and the presence of the Spirit emerged the typical Quaker meeting wherein people waited for the Spirit to speak in and through them. The “Inner Light” was as important as Scripture; sacraments, ceremonies, and clergy were abandoned. Persecuted at home, they evangelized North America which they reached in the mid-seventeenth century. Two decades later, another of their leaders, William Penn,* established the colony of Pennsylvania. In 1796 they opened the first asylum in England, where also Elizabeth Fry* began notable work in prison reform. In America in 1827 a schism developed under the influence of the Hicksites.* During the nineteenth century there was a steady move westward in which Quakers participated; the first yearly meeting in Canada was established in 1867.

Their theology was given classic expression by Robert Barclay* in Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678), and their meetings were regulated by Fox's “Rule for the Management of Meetings” (1668). The body believes in the priesthood of all believers and holds that women equally with men have a share and responsibility in worship and organization. Many in modern times have abandoned the traditional form of worship in favor of a service led by a pastor. Called upon to act toward others in the way most likely to lead to a response of goodness, the Friends have obeyed with great consistency. Early in the eighteenth century they began to oppose slavery, and their efforts contributed much to Wilberforce's ultimate success. Their well-known opposition to war is not based primarily on Scripture, but on the conviction that warlike feelings are a sign something is wrong in men's thinking and attitude toward one another. Although refusing combatant duties, Quakers have a notable record of valiant service on and off the battlefield. “Walking in the light” means speaking the truth, so Quakers refused to take oaths. To them is due credit also for our system of fixed price trading-they held it wrong to ask a higher price than one was willing to take.

There are now estimated to be some 200,000 Friends throughout the world, of which more than 60 percent are in the USA, 11 percent in the British Isles. They maintain missions and international centers in several countries.

R.M. Jones et al., The Quakers in the American Colonies (1911); W.C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism (1912, rev. 1955), and The Second Period of Quakerism (1919, rev. 1961); A.N. Brayshaw, The Quakers, Their Story and Message (1921, rev. 1953); R.M. Jones, The Faith and Practice of the Quakers (1927; 7th ed., 1949); H.H. Brinton, Friends for 300 Years (1952); D.E. Trueblood, The People Called Quakers (1966).