Dr John Fothergill

Reading about 18th century Quakers, there is one person you are almost certainly going to come across at some point – Dr John Fothergill. He was at the centre of Quaker activity throughout his life, involved with peace, prison reform and poor relief projects. He also made significant contributions in medicine and botany and his list of friends and acquaintances reads like a who’s who of the 18th century. The Library has a significant collection of his correspondence and other archival material about him, as well as copies of many of his published works.

Dr John Fothergill

Dr John Fothergill. Print published by Edward Hedges, 1781 (Library ref: MS Vol 337/67)

John Fothergill was born in Wensleydale in 1712 into a well-known Quaker family. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather had been imprisoned in York for refusal to pay tithes, and his father was a well-travelled “publick friend”. John himself remained a faithful member of the Society of Friends until his death in 1780, serving as clerk for London Yearly Meeting, paying for the publication of the Purver Bible (the “Quaker Bible”), and founding Ackworth Quaker school.

Ackworth School

Ackworth School (Library ref: Pic Vol II/185)

He had initially seemed destined to be an apothecary, apprenticed to the Quaker Benjamin Bartlett at Bradford. Bartlett quickly recognized his pupil’s ability, however, and suggested that he attended medical school instead. As a Quaker, Oxford and Cambridge were closed to him, so he attended Edinburgh University, graduating in 1736 and then moving to London to practice.

Studying at Edinburgh instead of the English universities initially put the young doctor at a professional disadvantage – he was ineligible for a fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians – but he went on to become one of the most successful and well-respected doctors of his day. His writings on angina, diphtheria, trigeminal neuralgia (also known as Fothergill’s Disease), and migraine were considered groundbreaking and he gave the first known lecture on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

His medical opinion was respected. He was considered for the role of Royal Physician, but his religious beliefs ruled him out. When Catherine the Great was looking for a British doctor to inoculate the Imperial court against smallpox, it was Fothergill that the Russian ambassador approached, and Fothergill who recommended his friend Thomas Dimsdale.

Quakers used their network of connections to gain his advice. In the letter below, Fothergill is replying to his friend Mark Beaufoy, who had forwarded him a letter from William Phillips of Redruth, Cornwall on behalf of one J. Higman. Unfortunately we don’t have the original letter describing the ailment, so we only have Fothergill’s suggested prescription – tar water, dandelion sap and sea-bathing.

Letter from Dr Fothergill to Mark Beaufoy suggesting treatment for J. Higman's complaint

Letter from Dr Fothergill to Mark Beaufoy suggesting treatment for J. Higman’s complaint, 1772 (Library ref. MS Vol 337/67)

Like many other 18th century men and women of science, including Quakers, Fothergill was interested in the study of natural history. He collected insects and shells (his collections now form part of the Hunterian Museum), botanical art (his collection was bought by Catherine the Great and is now in Russia), and plants (his herbarium is now in the Natural History Museum). He bought Upton Hall estate in Essex and created an extensive botanical garden, with over 6000 species of plants and a 260ft greenhouse. This garden became what is today West Ham Park.

Plate from The Works of John Fothergill (1784)

Plate from The Works of John Fothergill (1784)

His interest in botany led to him being part of a large scientific network that included Sir Joseph Banks, William Hunter and the American founding father Benjamin Franklin. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and sponsored other Quakers in their botanical endeavours. The Library holds several pieces that illustrate this, including a bill from William Bartram for plant collecting on Fothergill’s behalf,

Receipt for plant collecting payment signed by William Bartram

Receipt signed by William Bartram, American plant collector, 1773 (Library ref: MS Vol 337/19)

and the only extant letter by the young Quaker botanical illustrator, Sidney Parkinson, written while accompanying Captain Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific.

Letter to Dr Fothergill from Sydney Parkinson Portfolio 20.46

Letter to Dr Fothergill from Sydney Parkinson, 1770 (Library ref: Port. 20/46)

Fothergill had sponsored Parkinson, and went to great trouble to assist in the publication of his drawings after his death.

The primary strength of the Library’s Fothergill collections are letters between John Fothergill and his family, most of whom were also Quakers. It is through these letters that we can see the influence of his sister Ann Fothergill on his life. John never married, and Ann moved in with him to look after his three houses. Several of the letters are to or from both John and Ann, and there are also a number of letters by Ann about her brother, particularly following his death, when she was managing the dispersal of his estate.

The Library also holds published works, correspondence, diaries and commonplace books of other members of the Fothergill family, most famously the diary of John’s niece Betty who described her uncle as someone “who delights in making young people chearfull”.

As well as achieving professional success, Dr John Fothergill was “beloved & respected” by those around him. His life was one of energetic engagement in wide scientific and philanthropic affairs of the time, reaching far beyond the confines of his own religious society.


Further Reading

Chain of friendship: selected letters of Dr John Fothergill of London, 1735-1780, ed. Betsy C. Corner and Christopher C Booth (Oxford University Press, 1971) [includes a number of Fothergill’s letters from the Library’s collection]

Hingston Fox, Dr John Fothergill and friends: chapters in eighteenth century life (London: Macmillan, 1919)

Betty Fothergill’s journal, 1769-1770, ed. Elizabeth Francis Diggs (Ph.D. thesis – Columbia University, 1980)

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Quaker fiction: some collection highlights

Following the popular recent blogposts on fictional Quaker characters over on the Quakers in Britain blog  we thought we’d highlight some of the wide range of fiction written both by and about Quakers that you can find in the Library here at Friends House.

The Library collects two categories of fiction: books featuring Quaker characters, and books written by Quakers. The publications cover a wide period – from Regency era anti-slavery stories to 21st century young adult fiction by authors like Sally Nichols – in a range of genres and forms. The collection is a valuable resource for exploring both how Quakers have been represented and how they have represented themselves and their views.

The Negro slave: a tale (1830), title page

The Negro slave: a tale (1830)

The oldest fictional work in the collection is Bentivolio and Urania, by Nathanael Ingelo (1673), a book of religious instruction delivered as fiction. [Picture] This contains a reference to well-known Quaker James Nayler, making him one of the earliest Quaker characters to appear in a work of fiction. Most of the collection, however, dates from the beginning of the 19th century onwards.

Nathaniel Ingelo, Bentivolio and Urania, in six books (1673), title page

Nathaniel Ingelo, Bentivolio and Urania, in six books (1673)

Until late in the 19th century the Society of Friends, in common with many other religious groups, officially disapproved of most forms of fiction. Friends believed that reading stories, novels, and plays could have a damaging influence, giving false ideas about life and inspiring artificial emotions, contrary to truth.

The earliest printed version of the Book of Discipline (1783) offers the following advice, under the chapter heading “Books”:

This meeting being sorrowfully affected, under a consideration of the hurtful tendency of reading plays, romances, novels, and other pernicious books, it is earnestly recommended to every member of our society, to discourage and suppress the same.

Amelia Opie, a very popular writer at the beginning of the 19th century, felt compelled to give up the novel form when she became a convinced Quaker in 1825. She did, however, continue to publish poetry and short moral tales, which were more acceptable.

Amelia Opie, Tales of the Pemberton family. 2nd ed (1826)

Amelia Opie, Tales of the Pemberton family. 2nd ed (1826)

Following the example of Jesus and the parables, fiction with an avowedly moral or educational purpose was the only sort that was considered appropriate reading, and it is this type of book that forms the bulk of the Library’s fiction collection. The majority of these books were aimed at a young audience.

Unsurprisingly religion and moral conduct were popular themes, including re-tellings of biblical stories [Picture Happy Sunday Hours by Robert Bird] and fictionalised biographies of well-known Quakers

Plate from: L. V. Hodgkin, A Book of Quaker saints (1917)

Plate from: L. V. Hodgkin, A Book of Quaker saints (1917)

Some publications illustrated temperance and pacifist principles through fiction, including The Olive Leaf magazine, published by Anna and Henry Richardson which contains poetry and stories for children.

A page from The Olive Leaf, vol. 1 (1844)

A page from The Olive Leaf, vol. 1 (1844)

Another popular topic was the natural world. Black Beauty, one of the best-selling books of all time, was written by Anna Sewell (who was born a Quaker and buried in Lamas Quaker burial ground near Buxton, Norfolk, though she had resigned her membership), explicitly to educate the reader on the welfare of horses. This was followed by similar works by other Quaker authors such as Vic, the autobiography of a Pomeranian dog by Alfred Cooper Fryer  and Only a Cat! a story-pamphlet by Catharine Sturge.

Alfred Cooper Fryer, Vic: the autobiography of a Pomeranian dog (1880), front cover

Alfred Cooper Fryer, Vic: the autobiography of a Pomeranian dog (1880)

Catherine Sturge, Only a cat. 2nd ed. (1890s)

Catherine Sturge, Only a cat. 2nd ed. (1890s)

There were also more lighthearted animal stories that taught some basic zoology, such as Stories of Animals, intended for children between five and seven years old by Maria Hack (1820), a small book of beautifully illustrated short stories that tell the reader something about the animals in an amusing way, somewhat like Kipling’s Just So Stories.

Some of the earliest novels for adults in the Library collection were written by authors who grew up as Quakers but left the Society as adults to pursue other religious beliefs, and then began novel-writing. Sarah Stickney Ellis, educationalist and advocator of the idea that a woman’s primary duty was as mother and home-maker, wrote novels such as Family Secrets, or hints to those who would make home happy (1841).

Like Sarah Stickney, William Howitt was educated at Ackworth Quaker school. He married another Quaker, Mary Botham, and together they pursued a career as writers, publishing prolifically. The Howitts also published their poetry in a literary annual called The Gem, which features poems such as this one by Boodles founder James Kenney.

The gem: a literary annual (1830)

The gem: a literary annual (1830)

Quaker attitudes to literature have long since changed, and the arts are embraced as another source of light and inspiration (https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/1-02/). Since the 20th century Friends have been writing in a variety of forms and genres: examples held by the Library include horror, science fiction and historical romance.

Janet Whitney, Intrigue in Baltimore (1951)

Janet Whitney, Intrigue in Baltimore (1951)

Margaret Thomson Davis, Scorpion in the fire (1977)

Margaret Thomson Davis, Scorpion in the fire (1977)

Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (1988)

Olaf Stapledon, Star maker (1988)

William Fryer Harvey, The Beast with five fingers (1928)

William Fryer Harvey, The Beast with five fingers (1928). Copy with author’s MS dedication

Two of the most interesting authors in our collection had served in the Friends Ambulance Unit. William Fryer Harvey, author of well-regarded ghost stories, and Olaf Stapledon, philosopher and science fiction writer. Harvey’s most famous work, The Beast with the Five Fingers, was made into a film starring Peter Lorre. Stapledon invented the concept of the Dyson sphere, an idea that has inspired many other science fiction writers.

This blogpost has only scratched the surface of the Library’s fiction collection. Try searching the online catalogue (www.quaker.org.uk/cat) if you want to find out what books the Library holds by a particular author, or browse novels in general, or see a full list of books with Quaker characters in particular. (Hint: if these links don’t work in your browser, copy and paste them into the address bar)

We’re planning a companion blogpost on Quakers in drama later this autumn: watch this space!


Further reading

Anna Breiner Caulfield, Quakers in Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography (Northampton: Pittenbruach Press, 1993).

Nancy Jiwon Cho, “Literature”, in The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism, ed. Stephen Angell and Pink Dandelion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) pp. 69-87.

James W. Hood, “’Novel Reading and Insanity’: Nineteenth-Century Quaker Fiction Reading Practices”, in Quaker Studies 23(1) pp. 3-24. Available online here: https://online.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/toc/quaker/23/1

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Creating A World Without War: new project to open up World War Two research materials

LSF FRS stationery Help War Victims

Friends Relief Service letterhead

In the week that many have been commemorating the start of World War II 80 years ago, we have some news to share about an exciting new project to open access to some of our key collections from that period.

The Wellcome Trust have given us funding for a new project: Creating a world without war: pacifist approaches to humanitarian relief in World War II and after. The project aims to catalogue, preserve, and promote the papers of the Friends Ambulance Unit (1939-1946) and the Friends Relief Service (1943-1948). The project will involve recruiting a dedicated Project Archivist who will not only do the hard work of cataloguing and repacking the collections so that they are accessible to researchers, but will also be able to devote time to promoting the collections widely and creating related resources such as subject guides, exhibition materials, and more.

Working with the Wellcome Trust involves a focus on promotion of these collections to the academic community, and particularly to academics researching health and the history of medicine. This work has already started, with a successful working group on emotional responses of relief workers, led by Dr Suzan Meryem Kalayci, held at Oxford University in March. Several of the academics present offered their support for this project: some who had worked with these collections in some way before, and some who were excited to hear about them for the first time. Dr Toby Kelly (University of Edinburgh), who worked with us on the Conscience Matters exhibition at National Museums Scotland, wrote the following about these two archive collections:

 The archives are an invaluable source for all people interested in the history of medical humanitarianism. They are globally significant…I can think of few sources, anywhere in the world, that provide such a nuanced, complex and personal record of what it is like to work in the medical humanitarian field in periods of war and conflict.

We were incredibly grateful for, and definitely buoyed up by, the strength of support we received from researchers, and from groups such as Quaker Memorial Service Trust. We hope that by opening up access to these collections and promoting them widely, exciting new possibilities for research will emerge.

FRS Team 2

A Friends Relief Service team set sail for Europe


Friends Relief Workers pinning on badges at Friends House

The ‘Quaker Grey’ uniform set Quaker relief workers apart from other relief agencies who agreed to wear khaki uniforms. This was one distinctive feature Quakers insisted upon in line with their testimony to Peace.

We will also be looking to engage Quaker communities, Britain Yearly Meeting staff and other public user groups to use the collections in creative and innovative ways.

We learned a lot during the World War I centenary about the wide variety of people who are interested in pacifist responses to war, medical work in conflict zones, historical treatment of refugees, and the many other topics that relief records can illustrate. We want to build on the success of our World War I digitisation project, which made the Friends Ambulance Unit World War I personnel cards freely available online, and part of this project will involve identifying new avenues for digitisation.


Many associate the Friends Ambulance Unit with overseas work in conflict zones, and tales of derring-do in far flung places such as China and the Middle East, however many FAU members carried out more prosaic, but no less needed work in Britain. This was quite wide ranging, from hospital work, setting up rest centres for evacuees and those who lost their homes through bombing, to manning Citizens Advice Bureaus to help people with wartime regulations, and gaining access to provisions.

We hope to start recruitment for the Project Archivist soon, and we will no doubt be introducing them on the blog shortly after – watch this space!

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Respected Friend? Women and equality in the Society of Friends

Quaker women in history have a reputation for being bolder and more publicly visible than their contemporaries, being involved with preaching and publishing from the very beginning of the movement. Until the end of the 19th century, however, the members of the main Quaker decision-making groups were men. Female Friends were considered spiritually equal, but there was vocal opposition to giving them any earthly authority. The current display in the library gives a timeline of key events in Quaker women’s history, beginning with the meeting of George Fox and Elizabeth Hooten – considered by some to be the “first definite event in Quaker history” – and ending with the merging of men and women’s Yearly Meetings in 1908.

Library display: timeline of key events in Quaker women’s history

The view that women could speak on religious matters, travel to preach and publish their thoughts was revolutionary in the 17th century when, in some circles, it was taught that women had no souls. It became a defining characteristic of the Society of Friends and intensified their persecution as permitting women to behave in this unconventional way was a very visible difference. Richard Farnworth (1625-1666) published the first written defence of women’s preaching by a Quaker in 1654. This established, using scriptural evidence, the spiritual equality of women. Farnworth’s pamphlet was followed by others, most famously Margaret Fell’s “Women speaking justified, proved and allowed of by the Scriptures” in 1666.

That same year George Fox set out his administrative system for the Society of Friends. Local worshipping groups would send representatives to a Monthly Meeting to handle matters of finance, discipline and membership. Monthly Meetings would send representatives to a Quarterly Meeting, who would in turn send them to London Yearly Meeting, ensuring the Society as a whole was going in the same direction. Women were not usually included in these Meetings, leading to a separate system of Women’s Meetings being developed.

It is generally thought that George Fox had the idea for Women’s Meetings – he certainly promoted them – but evidence suggests that Margaret Fell was central to their establishment. Women’s Meetings were administrative meetings that paralleled, and were subordinate to, the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings. They enabled women to participate in practical decision making without being talked over by men. They had responsibility for areas traditionally associated with women: charity work in their local area, the moral behaviour of other women and marriages.

The first all-female Meeting had actually begun a decade prior to this, and formed a pattern for the work done by other Women’s Meetings. London’s Box Meeting had responsibility for helping the poor and needy in the city and its suburbs. It was the only Women’s Meeting not to be accountable to male Friends. Its name comes from the collection box used to gather funds to support the work.

Women's signatures from Box Meeting records

Box Meeting MSS 13 (3)

A group of Quakers led by Thomas Wilkinson and Thomas Story were against George Fox’s administrative system in general, and targeted Women’s Meetings as a focus for their attacks. They considered them to be unscriptural and unnecessary, objected to the women having authority over marriages and suggested that women Friends should leave the work to the men and go home and wash dishes, echoing criticisms of Quaker women from outside the Society.

James Lancaster berated the dissenters “You that stumble at Women’s Meetings and think yourselves sufficient as being men: what was and is it that makes thee sufficient? Is it not the Grace of God, and hath that not appeared to all men and to all women?”

The Wilkinson-Story faction was unsuccessful in putting a stop to women’s meetings, but women’s role in church government continued to be strictly limited, thanks to a combination of contemporary attitudes and fear of criticism from the Quakers’ opponents.

In 1700, although Women’s Monthly and Quarterly Meetings had been established for some time, there was no official Women’s Yearly Meeting. Female Friends had been regularly gathering and writing epistles during London Yearly Meeting, but this year they were told to stop, as they had not been given permission to meet. It was suggested that women who had concerns should take them to a public meeting, although they should be careful not to speak too much or take up time that male Friends could be using to speak.

The women continued to meet in an unofficial capacity and began to work on establishing an official Women’s Yearly Meeting. Much of this work was prompted by American Friends who had Women’s Yearly Meetings already. A proposal was submitted to London Yearly Meeting in 1753, and was rejected, although epistles were sent to all constituent Meetings suggesting they set up Women’s Meetings if they didn’t already have them.

In 1765 the unofficial Women’s Yearly Meeting decided to try a different tactic; they proposed that Quarterly Meetings should report to the official Yearly Meeting on the activities of their Women’s Meetings. This issue was considered “too weighty” to be decided that year, and when it was raised again in 1766 the request was turned down. It was suggested that the informal Women’s Yearly Meeting didn’t have sufficient women Friends of “suitable ability” to carry out the work.

Silhouette of Esther Tuke (1727-1794)

Esther Tuke (1727-1794)

Women were finally given permission to hold their own Yearly Meeting in 1784, when a group of nine women, led by Esther Tuke took another proposal to London Yearly Meeting. It was, however, stressed that “such a Meeting is not to be so far considered a Meeting of Discipline as to make rules”.

This quote highlights two of the issues that Women’s Meetings faced. Firstly, that many male Friends were reluctant to cede any authority to a woman. Anna Price went with Martha Routh to inform London Yearly Meeting of the Women’s Meeting’s deliberations in 1793, and recorded the following:

“a certain young man who was fearful we should be too much set up, and convey too much encouragement to Women’s Meetings. He spoke to M[artha] R[outh] who was a match for him. I said nothing, but was painfully sensible that the life which was in Christ and may also be in us, was not so in dominion in the Men’s Meeting as I thought we had witnessed it. Deep inward wailing and conflict of spirit was much maintained by many through our various meetings, but painful is the jealousy of Men Friends.”

The second issue was that Women’s Meetings actually ended up doing very little. Men’s Meetings continued to make all the decisions, including in areas for which the Women’s Meetings allegedly had responsibility. Many Quaker women viewed the work of Women’s Meetings as “make-work” and chose to invest their time in anti-slavery, temperance or other humanitarian causes instead.

Women’s Yearly Meeting, in Illustrated London News (June 1843)

In 1873 there was a conference held to discuss the state of the Society of Friends. Women were not permitted to attend, a situation which stirred up many heated letters in The Friend, discussing women’s ineligibility for service on Meeting for Sufferings (the Quaker executive body), the fettered nature of Women’s Meetings and correlating the topic with the wider issue of women’s suffrage.

“It is quite evident that a meeting convened from all parts of the country to discuss the “state of the Society”, in which women are unrepresented, lacks an essential element for its completeness; and I have little doubt that in a few years we shall regard their exclusion from a mere deliberative meeting of this kind is but a relic of that barbarous tone of thought with respect to differences between the sexes, made by man and not by God, of which so much still remains in the public opinion and in the legislation of this country”, Alfred W. Bennett, Grasmere, Eighth Month 17th. Published in The Friend September 1873.

Despite this, and two minutes from Bristol and Somerset Quarterly Meeting in 1884 and 1895, it wasn’t until 1896 that London Yearly Meeting officially recognised women as equal to men and declared them to be eligible to serve on Meeting for Sufferings.

Note recording the presence of women at Meeting for Sufferings 1898

Marginal note in the minutes of Meeting for Sufferings, June 1898

50 of the 87 new members of Meeting for Sufferings in 1898 were women. One of these women, Anna Littleboy, is quoted as saying “while kindly and courteously received, it was evident that the presence of women was not exactly welcomed by most of the older members, and the clerk impressed upon them that the meeting was for the conduct of business and not for speeches”.

Further Reading (all available in the Library)

Bacon, Margaret Hope. “The Establishment of London Women’s Yearly Meeting: A Transatlantic Concern”. In Journal of the Friends Historical Society, vol. 57(2) (1995). Available online: http://journals.sas.ac.uk/fhs/article/view/3499/3450

Britain Yearly Meeting. Quaker Faith and Practice. London: The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 2013. Available online here: https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/.

Fox, George. This is an encouragement to all the Womens-Meetings in the world…. London, [1676].

Kunze, Bonnelyn. Margaret Fell and the Rise of Quakerism. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1994.

Martin, Clare J. L. “Tradition Versus Innovation: The Hat, Wilkinson-Story and Keithian Controversies”. In Quaker Studies, vol. 8(1) (2003). Available online: https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/quakerstudies/vol8/iss1/1.

Peters, Kate. Print Culture and the Early Quakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Pullin, Naomi. Female Friends and the Making of Transatlantic Quakerism, 1650-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Rowntree, Henry J. “George Fox and Women’s Liberation”. In Friends’ Quarterly, vol. 18(8) (1974) pp.370-376.

Shaw, Gareth. “The Inferior Parts of the Body”. In Quaker Studies, vol. 9(2) (2005). Available online: https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/quakerstudies/vol9/iss2/4.

Trevett, Christine. Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century. York: Ebor Press, 1991.


Timeline pack

During Yearly Meeting many Friends requested copies of our timeline display to use in their Meetings. We now have available a pdf pack which includes the display text, some related images and discussion questions. If you would like your free copy of this pack please email us – library@quaker.org.uk – and we will send it to you.

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Yearly Meeting 2019

Here in the Library, we are all recovering from a busy and productive Yearly Meeting in Friends House held over the bank holiday weekend. Yearly Meeting is the annual gathering for Quakers from around the country to come together to discern the direction of travel for the Society of Friends, and take decisions that affect the Society at a national level.

When it is held in Friends House, we use it as an opportunity to invite Friends into the Library, who may not usually get a chance to visit us, and to highlight some of the support services we can offer Quakers, from help with their libraries and meeting records, to support for outreach and exhibitions.

Friends House Library Poster

We also open our doors as a quiet space to escape the hustle and bustle in the rest of the building, and this year, had a table of reading materials from our collections, and from the Library in Woodbrooke, based around the theme of the weekend for anyone who wanted some inspiration.

Yearly Meeting this year was exploring the theme of privilege and how this impacts climate justice, diversity and inclusion. This made for an interesting reading table with books ranging from ‘This changes everything: capitalism versus the climate’ by Naomi Klein to a zine on welcoming people who identify as non-binary.

We also had a thought provoking display inspired by the theme, which traced the acceptance of women into Quaker meetings for business. While Quakers have a good reputation for women’s rights and equality, our display highlighted some surprising dates on its timeline. George Fox was radical in encouraging women to have their own business meetings, and women were allowed to preach in Quaker meetings from the 17th century, which again was revolutionary for the time; however women only joined the main constitutional Yearly Meeting in 1908, showing that Quakers were not that far ahead of the rest of society in valuing women’s voices as equal to men when it came to actual decision making.


Many Friends who visited were surprised by the timeline and it certainly started some interesting conversations!

The highlight of our weekend was undoubtedly welcoming the children from the Children’s Programme into the Library for the first time. We had two groups, 5-8 year olds, and 8-11 year olds, and as always when we welcome children to the Library we enjoyed their surprising questions, and the random things that take their interest! Book sniffing was en vogue with the 8-11 year olds; and the Great Books of Suffering provoked an interesting conversation about why Quakerism fell foul of the law in the 17th century with the 5-8 year olds.

They took inspiration from some of the posters in our collection, related to the theme of the weekend, and came up with some of their own posters featuring recurring symbols of doves, trees, rainbows and globes.

The children’s programme was focusing on caring in response to the theme of the Yearly Meeting; we created a small display about caring for refugees for them, which gave us an excuse to get out a teddy bear! Jack Hoyland distributed the pattern for these teddy bears in the 1930’s so people could make their own for the child refugees from the Spanish Civil War. Although the children enjoyed this 80-year-old bear, there were some unhappy customers as we hadn’t got out our 100 year old bread roll for the display…..next time!

Teddy full display

Yearly Meeting is always a nice opportunity to meet some of the donors of material that we have only conversed with over the phone or by email, and also to see some of our regular readers and writers. Judith Roads popped in to give us some copies of her new book on Quaker minuting, and some other visitors told us about forthcoming books we should keep an eye out for.


Judith Roads new book

We hope everyone enjoyed the weekend as much as we did!

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Conscience Matters: new exhibition in Edinburgh

Last month an exciting new exhibition telling the story of World War II conscientious objectors opened at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle. Conscience Matters is the result of a partnership between National Museums Scotland, and a University of Edinburgh project led by Dr. Toby Kelly, and features material from our collections.

LSF CBCO 2_25 Registering as CO

CBCO pamphlet (Library ref: 051.54 [CBCO 2/25])

Discussion and planning for the exhibition started in 2016, so it is satisfying for us to see the project finally complete and open to the public.

The exhibition uses some material from our Friends Ambulance Unit and Central Board of Conscientious Objectors pamphlet collections, displaying some FAU badges, medals and medical supplies, and focuses on one FAU member in particular, Peter Tennant.

Peter Tennant was with the China Convoy section of the Friends Ambulance Unit during World War II. From a prominent Scottish family, before the war he had been working in London housing associations. While working with the FAU he was part of the group who became trapped by the advancing Japanese army in Burma, and were forced to walk a treacherous escape route to India with the American General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell. His photo albums from his time in China show both a fascination with the street life and landscapes of China, as well as documenting the people they treated and their illnesses (sometimes with graphic detail!).


Page from one of Peter Tennant’s photo albums (Library ref: MSS 1013/2/0041)


Page from one of Peter Tennant’s photo albums (Library ref: MSS 1013/1/0053)

Peter Tennant went on to a varied life after the war, working again in housing, then in farming and forestry. Towards the end of his life, he became involved with peace work in Northern Ireland.

Tennant was chosen as the museum wanted to focus on Scottish stories; after consultation with his family, we arranged for his FAU photo albums to be digitised, so that some of the images could form part of the display. The exhibition also looks at other Scottish COs including Scottish author, Fred Urquhart, and poet, Edwin Morgan.

Peter Tennant display in situ.jpg

Tennant material on display in the exhibition

A Scottish Friend went along to the opening night and had the following to say:

The exhibition is in a relatively small space but it is expertly produced to give maximum information, without clutter. It gives an overview of conscientious objection in World War II, with further details presented through  individual stories, including that of Scottish Friend Peter Tennant, who joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. Interactive technology allows access to documents, letters, photographs, poems and artwork which enrich the experience and throughout the exhibition there are several references to Quaker work and there are Quaker memorabilia on display. The exhibition is well publicised and I think it will succeed in opening up public awareness and understanding of part of our history which is often overlooked. It is well worth a visit and the views from Edinburgh Castle ramparts are spectacular!

We have been increasingly engaging with opportunities to loan material from our collections to other institutions for exhibition. As we do not have a dedicated gallery or museum space at Friends House, it is a great way of ensuring material, especially our artworks and objects, can be displayed and viewed. It is also a wonderful chance for people in other parts of the UK to see our material – so far, Edinburgh is the furthest journey our items have made!

We believe these projects are a vital tool for public engagement.  While they take a lot of time and energy to plan and implement, we can enjoy the knowledge that large numbers of people are seeing items from our collection, in a way that would not be possible at Friends House. The visitor numbers for Edinburgh Castle last year were over 2 million! If even a small proportion of those visitors view the exhibition, we have reached many people, from all over the world, with stories of Quaker war resistance.

The exhibition runs until January 2020. We hope it will raise awareness of the peace work of Friends, and of the collections available for research here in the Library. For more information, see the NMS website here: https://www.nms.ac.uk/exhibitions-events/exhibitions/national-war-museum/conscience-matters/

Quaker relief badge

Quaker relief badge, circa World War II

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Quaker feeding programmes in postwar Germany and Austria


Small pictures given to children who came to the feeding centres. They sometimes had messages on the rules of the feeding centre such as encouraging the child to finish all their bread and not be tempted to take some home. (Library reference: TEMP MSS 198/3/2)

For many, the celebrations at the signing of the Armistice and the end of World War I were short lived. While soldiers went home from the front, the destruction wreaked on basic infrastructure and the civilian populations became clear. Germany and Austria as defeated nations were particularly hard hit, as allies restricted imports and diminished their access to previous resources. Starvation and disease were widespread. Below is an extract from a letter sent to Quakers in Britain in February 1919 about the conditions in Austria.


Library reference: FEWVRC/MISSIONS/4/3/3/1

The allies maintained the naval blockade of Germany for seven months after the signing of the armistice in November 1918. The blockade restricted the amount of foodstuffs coming into the country and led to shortages. In response, British Quakers started a ‘Foreign Fund’, and with other interested relief organisations, a ‘Fight the Famine Council’. In February 1919, permission was given by the British government for voluntary aid for women and children to be allowed into Germany – previously entry to Germany for British civilians had been prohibited. As civilians started to gain entry into the country, they sent back horrifying reports on the conditions there. Supplies of food were incredibly scarce and malnutrition was rife. British Quakers started to try to get aid into the country but the logistics proved difficult.

In November 1919, the American Relief Administration (sponsored by the US government) entrusted the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the American Quakers overseas relief body, with the administration of a massive programme for feeding German children. It is worth noting, that future President Herbert Hoover, who was then head of the American Relief Administration, was himself raised a Quaker. Hoover wrote to Rufus Jones, head of the AFSC, in November 1919, with a challenging appeal to take on this work, describing infant mortality in Germany as worse than during the war. He also implied that propagation of the pacifism Quakers were known for, would perhaps not be a bad thing in post-war Germany. The feeding programme became known as Quakerspeisung (Quaker feeding).

By the end of June 1920, American and British Quakers were feeding more than one million children daily at around 1,640 separate feeding centres across Germany.


Child feeding centre in Germany (Library reference: LSF FWVRC/GERMANY/PH 3)

The scheme was not without controversy though. For some Quakers, the idea of only feeding children, when their parents continued to starve, was problematic. There was also inevitably a political aspect to undertaking the work under the official administration of the US government; but faced with a choice of working with the state organ and having much larger resources to feed more people or working independently and feeding fewer people, they chose the pragmatic option. The British Treasury, meanwhile, matched pound for pound donations for aid in European countries including Austria, but denied it to Germany.

The feeding scheme was aimed at children, but not older students, and British Quakers decided this could be a focus of their work. In May 1920, Quakers opened their first Speisehalle (Feeding-hall) for 125 students in Berlin; it was soon extended with support from donors including Albert Einstein. By January 1921, 15,000 students received a daily meal.

Austria was in a severe condition after the war having to rebuild from destruction of the Hapsburg Empire, with losses of agricultural land and resources. One third of the country’s population lived in Vienna and the city was on the brink of total starvation.

British Quaker Hilda Clark led the relief operations there. She became expert in child malnutrition, and sought creative ways to solve the milk shortage, including looking into the viability of milk substitutes such as soya milk using a newly patented technique. This proved too ambitious and she instead arranged for the import of cattle to replenish supplies.


Pamphlet aimed at raising funds (Library reference: 066 [FWVRC 1/8])

In 1923, FEWVRC closed its operations. By this time, British Quakers had set up a new initiative, with the aim of fostering reconciliation in a broken Europe: the International Centres. This project was first set up by Council for International Service, and managed from 1927 onwards by Friends Service Council. The centres based in Berlin and Vienna could take on some of the ongoing relief work carried out by FEWVRC and AFSC.

Although Quakers had helped with relief work in previous conflicts, World War I provided challenges on an unprecedented scale. The people involved in these feeding programmes developed huge operational and logistical experience in humanitarian relief. Later in the century, many would contribute to the establishment of organisations such as Oxfam, who still operate in conflict zones today. Unfortunately, many of the same people would also be at the centre of even more challenging humanitarian work only twenty years later in World War II.

The Friends Emergency War Victims Relief Committee papers are the main collection here at the Library for researching this work. There are also great accounts in both A Quaker Adventure by A. Ruth Fry, and Volume I of Quaker Encounters: Friends and Relief by John Ormerod Greenwood, from both of which we borrowed heavily for this blogpost!

It is also worth seeking out the personal papers of FEWVRC workers in the collections such as the Hilda Clark papers and Silvia Cowles papers which add intimate insights into the work, and the reactions of the German and Austrian people to being helped in this time of need.


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