Never large in numbers and yet disproportionately influential, even today the Quakers are often stereotyped by images from Quaker Oats labels and memories of the1956 movie classic, Friendly Persuasion.
Often an enigma to those who have opposed them and sometimes a source of inspiration to their sympathizers, such as Cromwell, Voltaire, Frederick the Great, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Albert Schweitzer, Arnold Toynbee and Gandhi, the group quietly persists in what they believe to be a dedication to total integrity to the Christian light. That has meant their principles of nonviolence, pacifism and dedication to honesty has placed them at times in harm's path with other elements of society. At the same time, they have rightfully been accused on occasion of being a bit too smug for their own good. While Quakers are generally viewed as progressives, there have been concerns about internal intolerance towards non "liberal" perspectives.
|Quakers can be found in all walks of life and in most nations. They are heavily represented in the truth-seeking professions such as education and science and count Nobel laureates in science among their midst. Their sponsored overseas relief organization, the Friends Service Committee, was a model for the US Peace Corps and other similar organizations, and was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Quakers in general.||
|Less commonly found in the arts, one of America's first artists of international recognition, Benjamin West, came from a Quaker community who supported his early recognized talents. Similarly famous was Edward Hicks, best known for his Peaceable Kingdom folk paintings (seen at the right). American 19th century novelist James Fenimore Cooper had a strong interest in human rights, which he attributed to his Quaker origins, and his novels often sympathized with Native Americans. Perhaps the most surprising is Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, South Africa's Deputy Defense Minister.|
|While few in number, Japan's Quaker community has a hundred-year tradition. Within their numbers there have been members whom are widely regarded in Japan but rarely recognized as having been Quaker. The most famous may be Nitobe Inazao who is honored on Japan's 5,000 yen note.|
Even fewer in number in Korea, Quakers have included one of that country's strongest moral voices of this century, Ham Sok Hon. During the post-war fascist period he daily called on Koreans to struggle for a democratic society through non-violence. Koreans in any significant number first came in contact with the Quakers during their volunteer medical service following the Korean War. Today the Korean Quakers meet in Seoul, next to Ewha Womans University.
Many Quakers are found in health care and social work. Although somewhat less common in commerce, Victorian Quakers founded banks such as Gurneys, Barclays and Lloyds. They are also the founders of Cadburys, Frys and Rountrees. In Ireland, Quakers George & William Penrose established what would become Waterford Crystal and a French immigrant Quaker family established world-renown Bewley's Cafes. Quaker merchants, following the example of founder George Fox, were among the first to have retail prices - that were "fair and honest" and not subject to dishonest haggling.
|It may be argued that Friends were among the first supporters of women's rights. From the very beginning, three centuries ago, women have been recognized as being fully equal to men in all rights and privileges. Many of the first Quaker leaders and preachers were women. Quaker Ann Preston pioneered the role of women in the medical professions.||Susan B. Anthony, recognized as a key leader of US women rights, was a Quaker school teacher. From this tradition Friends have been quick to recognize and help protect the rights of minorities -- even those with whom they may profoundly disagree.|
|Having often been persecuted by the Puritans and various governments, the Friends are very empathetic to the plights of others. While 19th century social reformers debated theories in England, a Quaker housewife, Elizabeth Fry, by her sheer example triggered a revolution in the welfare and purpose of prison and mental asylum inmates that continues around the world to this day.|
In the settling of America the Quakers were among the very few Europeans that the Native Americans regarded as truly friends with their desire to live together in full equality and respect for each other's traditions. Quakers were not only active in the Abolition Movement against slavery, Quaker Benjamin Lundy organized the first formal antislavery society. In April 1688, Quaker colonists in Germantown, Pennsylvania, issued a formal protest against the institution of slavery in the colonies the first recorded such instance in America. Often Quaker leaders, such as Lucretia Mott, were found within the links of the "underground railway." The great Afro American leader, Frederick Douglas, got his first paid job and formal education from a Quaker family.
During the first years following World War I, the Quakers were active in providing relief to the German starving masses - largely due to the efforts of a self-made Quaker tycoon who later became a US president, Herbert Hoover.
|As a result, individual Nazis often had a hands-off policy towards them since they remember it was the Quakers from England and America who were the first to show their families compassion. This allowed the Quakers the relative freedom to offer greater assistance in the evacuation of the Jews from Germany. During World War II, several German and Dutch Quaker families at great risk hid the remaining Jews.||From
1946 to 1948, a second "Quaker Feeding" or Quekerspeisung
(seen below) in Germany took place during which time 770 tons of food and 10,000
bales of clothing were distributed.
|Quakers aided Japanese-Americans during their forced evacuations from their homes when most civil liberties groups turned away. After the war, the Quakers were among the forefront in war relief providers. A Quaker tutor (seen here) was selected by the Japanese Imperial family to instruct the Crown Prince after World War II.||From 1942 to 1948, Quaker Hugh Borton worked with the Department of State as chief of the Japanese affairs division, later special assistant to the director in charge of preparing the peace treaty with Japan, and helped with the drafting of Japan's postwar constitution with its remarkable Article 9 that formally renounces war as an instrument of national policy.|
|The tradition of expressing the light and love of Christ through service continued during the SE Asian war years including the artificial limbs project. Quakers of all races were active in the US Civil Rights Movement.|
|Today the Quakers are active in such services of providing famine relief to North Korea and community development in Cambodia, the West Bank & Gaza and Haiti.|
Their aversion to dogma does not allow one to refer to a set of Quaker doctrine other than the Bible. And even the Bible is regarded as simply a profound testimony of those who have been inspired by God - but not as a literal representation of God's Word. Rather, emphasis is placed on self study, prayer and meditation with the aim of direct experience and communion via the Inner Light with Christ. Nevertheless, the Quakers have a long tradition in education and thereby have produced a considerable body of literature over the centuries. Among the most notable of writers from the Quaker tradition is Thomas Paine who embodied the Quaker belief in the power of articulating simple, even unpopular truths. For quotes and hot links to some of this material, please click on the below button.
Background music: "Simple Gifts" - history and lyrics
Revised by Tom Coyner, 9th Month 10, 2002