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:

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

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:

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:

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 – – 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… 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:

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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Readers’ stories: T. Edmund Harvey – Liberal Quaker, Quaker Liberal

The sixth in our series of readers’ stories is by Mark Frankel, who’s two years into a PhD on T. Edmund Harvey at Birmingham University. Mark visits the Library regularly to read Harvey’s unpublished papers and his copious publications.

I’ve come to Quakerism late in life, having been a member of the Religious Society of Friends since 2009. I’m now 67, a retired civil servant, my last job having been in an agency of HM Treasury. A few years ago I did a Masters in Philosophy and it was the obvious philosophical training and intellectual rigour in Harvey’s passage 23.88 in Quaker Faith & Practice that first sparked my interest in him. I explain this further in a video I did for the Centre for Research into Quaker Studies (Why I am researching T. Edmund Harvey).

T. Edmund Harvey (1875-1955) was a prominent British Quaker of the first half of the twentieth century.  Born into a wealthy Quaker family in Leeds, he was educated at Oxford, Berlin and Paris.  He was warden of Toynbee Hall, the university settlement in the East End of London, from 1906 to 1911.  From 1904 to 1907 he was a member of the London County Council, and from 1909 to 1911 a Stepney borough councillor.  In 1910 he entered Parliament as the Liberal MP for West Leeds but stood down at the post-war election in 1918 because of criticism by his constituency party of his pacifist stance during the First World War.  He returned to Parliament briefly in 1923-1924, again as a Liberal, and for a longer stretch from 1937 as an Independent Progressive sitting for the now abolished constituency of the Combined English Universities.  He retired from Parliament aged 70 at the General Election in July 1945 and died in Leeds aged 80 in May 1955.

Harvey was a staunch Liberal.  He believed in ethical capitalism; in the British Empire as, on balance, a force for good; in duty to God and country; in gradual and orderly social reform; and in prudent public finance.  He could also be called an Establishment figure, as he moved smoothly in the corridors of power.  Yet he was a man of great integrity whose public life is marked by a well-worked-out commitment to the Quaker Testimonies.  It was his influence and eloquence that in 1916 brought about the statutory exemption from military conscription for conscientious objectors, and it was his dedication to the Peace Testimony allied with an equal dedication to public service which led to exempted conscientious objectors being placed in alternative civilian work through the agency of the Pelham Committee.  Harvey’s papers from the Pelham Committee (part of Library of the Society of Friends, Temp MSS 835) show how hard he worked on the practical aspects of the Peace Testimony.  The record is silent on how Harvey felt when the exemption hard won by his skill and dedication was spurned by the absolutists.

A former Librarian at Friends House, Ted Milligan, knew Harvey personally and has given me chapters from an unpublished biography.   The Library  has been important to my research for the papers of Pelham Committee, but also for reference material, particularly the unpublished Dictionary of Quaker Biography; for copies of Quaker periodicals from the era; for specialist secondary works on Quaker-related topics in the first half of the twentieth century; and for published works by Harvey himself and his contemporaries.  Harvey was the author of some fifty books and articles including The Rise of the Quakers (1905), A Wayfarer’s Faith (1913) The Long Pilgrimage, (the Swarthmore Lecture of 1921), St Aelred (1932) and Workaday Saints (1949),  all of which are held by the Library.

Harvey’s writings show his love not only of the Society of Friends, but also of neglected by-ways of the historic Christian Church with its lost sacraments and forgotten saints and sages.  There is also evidence of a teasing sense of humour.  Stolen Aureoles (1922) is a set of spoof hagiographies.  In it, Harvey mocks his own privileged background and reputation for equivocation with a bogus account of the trial of the early Christian saint, Eutychus:

When brought before the magistrate, Eutychus was at once surrounded by a cloud of false witnesses, one of whom accused him of having secreted vast wealth by his superstitious rites: to this the Saint simply replied that his treasure was in heaven.  Others swore that by the use of magic arts, he had frequently been known to face both ways at once, and that he had even made black appear white by uttering certain words which he was wont to use for such purposes.  At this the judge became filled with anger, and commanded the Saint to be thrown into a cauldron of seething hot water, which had been prepared hard by.  And lo! by a miracle marvellous to relate, as the water touched the Saint it became lukewarm, and the bubbling waves sank down, as though one had poured oil upon them.  (Stolen Aureoles p.19).

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Some Library highlights of 2018

It’s time to take stock as the old year draws to a close. It’s been a full one. We said goodbye to old colleagues and welcomed new ones. Centenaries kept us busy. The reading room got a new look. Our online catalogue was unavailable for nearly a week because of a provider problem, but thanks to our membership of Copac we were able to provide alternative access. We supported the work of Friends House departments, and local Quakers. We welcomed readers and visiting groups, and we went out to visit Quaker meetings and other events to talk about the Library and its collections. New connections continued to be made through our Facebook page and Twitter account.

Reading room postersHere is a small selection of the highlights of 2018.

New manuscript accessions

Each year we receive new accessions into our collections as gifts from donors, including personal papers of Quaker individuals and families, archives of independent Quaker organisations, and also artworks and museum objects.

One of our favorite accessions this year was the Armfield family collection which has already featured on the blog. We were also presented with an original land deed for William Penn for land in Pennsylvania, showing there are still 17th century treasures held in private hands waiting to emerge. We received personal papers from some familiar names relating to Quaker witness in the 20th century: Bernard and Naomi Lawson, ‘Jack’ and Ruth Catchpool, and Alison Kelly. These personal papers always add an intimate insight into the lives and work of Quakers whose names appear frequently in the central Quaker archives either as committee members or workers. We can’t feature every gift we receive, but keep an eye out on the catalogue for new collections being added. We are grateful to donors who are willing to part with wonderful family collections to enrich the Library’s research collections.

New publications on Quakerism and Quaker history

2018 was a bumper year for new books and articles written by Library users. To highlight just a few – William Penn: a life, a long wished for new biography by Andrew Murphy; Rosemary Moore and Richard Allen’s The Quakers 1656-1723: the evolution of an alternative community; and New critical studies on early Quaker women 1650-1800, by Michele Tarter and Catie Gill. Thanks to these scholars and to the many others who have donated copies of their published research to the Library.    

Work with Friends

A large part of the Library’s work is not often featured on this blog – work to support Quakers around the country. Besides providing support to local Quaker meeting librarians, we also offer advice to meetings on how to manage their records, which eventually become archives. This encompasses published guidance and bespoke advice on cataloguing and depositing with local archives, but also issues like data protection and digital record-keeping – something that has kept us quite busy this year, with the introduction of GDPR. We ran a special interest session on data protection at Yearly Meeting in May, and later in the year visited one regional Quaker meeting to talk about digital challenges and opportunities, and explore ways local Quaker meetings can get their heritage online.

Library displays and loans for exhibition

Library users will be aware of the limitations of our modest reading room display cabinet. We do what we can: the final display of 2018 featured prison bars and even a World War II prisoner of war camp bedstead – in miniature! The reading room itself got a new look early in the year with some large scale facsimile posters of a variety of collection items. Table-top displays were prepared for visiting groups, including Friends from Cambridgeshire Area Meeting, a group of young Norwegian Quakers, and a party of sixth form religious education students from Hampshire. During Yearly Meeting we had two displays, one on the book of discipline and one on World War II relief work, both well received.

Items from display on World War II relief work at Yearly Meeting 2018

Items from display on World War II relief work at Yearly Meeting 2018

We’re also glad to be able to reach a wider audience by loaning items for display elsewhere in the country. You may have read about Chichester University’s Otter Gallery exhibition Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists, which included 11 items on loan from our collections, including paintings, drawings, pamphlets and sculpture.

Collection care

Thanks to donors to our BeFriend A Book scheme, we continued work to preserve collections in the Library’s care. A further 18 “tract volumes” (composite volumes where several items are bound together), dating from the 17th to the early 19th century, received conservation treatment this year. You can read about some of that delicate work in an article posted in January.

Selection of tract volumes after conservation treatment

Selection of tract volumes after conservation treatment

Our much appreciated Arts Society conservation volunteers worked on steadfastly removing staples from 20th century pamphlets. This herculean task is expected to finish at the end of 2020, at which point we plan to move on to de-stapling newsletters and other periodical publications. Other volunteers help with a range of tasks, including checking accessions and carrying out small paper repairs. More difficult repairs have to be done professionally: as in previous years, we benefited from the work of a student conservator, who also wrote a blogpost on her work.

Happy new year!

To all our volunteers and BeFriend A Book donors, to our readers, friends/Friends and well-wishers, we say thank you, and good wishes for the new year ahead!


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Kristallnacht, Kindertransport, and help for refugees

10 year report cover_crop

Cover of report on ten years work by FCRA, 1943 (Library reference: 066.34 FCRA [1/32])

Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the November Pogrom in Germany and Austria, now known as Kristallnacht. This outburst of anti-Semitic violence happened over the night of the 9th/10th of November and was a clear indication of the direction Nazi racial policy was taking. Across Germany and Austria Jews were beaten  and burnt out of their homes, synagogues and Jewish businesses were destroyed, many Jews were killed and thousands more were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

British Jews, terrified to enter Germany under these conditions, asked Quakers to send a group of investigators to find out what was happening. Quakers and Jews had been working closely together to help refugees from Nazi persecution escape Germany since 1933.

A group went from Britain, and a concerned group of Quakers also came over from America. There was talk of an offer of relief for Jews on the ground, but it quickly became clear that relief was not what was needed, but evacuation.

Ben Greene, one of the British group, reported:

“The Jews are therefore dominated by the one thought of getting out of Germany. Again and again they emphasize that they asked for nothing more than a camp and a crust of bread – only to get out of Germany at any price. They see only the possible effects of the present conditions (a) death in a few months or (b) the establishment of Jewish Labour camps by the authorities. Most of the Jews preferred the former to prospect of a so-called Labour Camp.” (Library reference: FCRA/17/6)

The reports gathered from the Jewish community in Germany by Quakers were of influence when Quakers accompanied the Jewish delegation who went to see Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare to plead the case for allowing immigration of children into Britain without the usual visa restrictions. They swayed the government and this planned immigration of German and Austrian Jewish children became known as the Kindertransport. Around 10,000 children were evacuated from Germany and Austria to Britain between 1938 and 1939.

Although Quakers were involved in helping Jewish lobbyists pressure the government, making arrangements for children on the ground in Germany and Austria, and also when they came to Britain, we do not hold a large amount of archive records relating to the Kindertransport in the Library. Minutes refer briefly to the undertaking but there are no detailed records. Although an important event in the history of the Holocaust, and an event Quakers are proud to have played some part in, for Quakers at the time, it was a small part of the overall work they had been doing to assist refugees since 1933, and which would continue into the 1950s.

The records of Friends Service Council, Germany and Austria sections, include a lot of correspondence about the situation in these countries at that time, including some of the reports after Kristallnacht. Read with hindsight they make even more chilling accounts than they must have done at the time.

When two of the American delegation met with an official they referred to as Counsellor Hendrichs (referred to later as Counsellor Henrichs) at the Foreign Office in Berlin, they told him they had decided relief work on the ground did not look necessary (rather that evacuation of Jews was needed), and Henrichs remarked:

“No and there will not be such need [for relief], as we – the Germans – will not let Jews starve.” (Library reference: FSC/GE/5/6)

The records of the Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens (FCRA), formerly the Germany Emergency Committee (GEC), record how they helped refugees, predominantly “non-Aryan Christians” (Christians who had Jewish parents or ancestry) escape from Nazi controlled Europe 1933-1950. These records include minutes covering policy and organisation, correspondence with other agencies involved in refugee work, and a very small number of case files. Unfortunately the majority of case files for refugees were destroyed after the war. There is a name index which lists approximately 8000 adults helped to escape by the Quakers over this period. It generally does not include the names of children, including those on the Kindertransport. The index is not open for general research but applications can be made to access the information via the library enquiries email:

We have developed a new subject guide to help anyone who wants to undertake research into World War Two era refugees (c.1933-1950s) in our collections; it can be found as the featured resource alongside our other subject guides on this page:

Please read the guide and get in touch should you wish further information or to arrange a visit.


FCRA pamphlet to raise funds for refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria, c.1938 (Library reference: 066.34 [FCRA 3/6])

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Friends at the end of World War I: seeking international peace

At various points during the last four years we have marked the centenary of World War I on this blog by highlighting our collections relating to aspects of Quaker work at that time, including the relief work of the Friends War Victims Relief Committee and support for conscientious objectors. As the centenary draws to a close this November, it seems appropriate to look at what our collections tell us about how Quakers in 1918 felt peace could be achieved after the war.

Amongst our archives from the time are the records of the Friends League of Nations Committee, later the Friends League of Nations Association, which began with a preliminary meeting held in London on 24 July 1918.

In January that year, the US president, Woodrow Wilson, had spoken about his proposed Fourteen Points for peace, which included a proposal for a League of Nations. When Yearly Meeting considered the report of the Peace Committee in May, it was reported in The Friend that Joseph B. Braithwaite urged support for the idea, as the only practical proposal for peace that had been put forward, referring to William Penn in arguing that peace had to be backed up by force if needed. Other Friends present differed, unable to support a League which rested on the threat of force.

Joseph B. Braithwaite was one of those who gathered on 24 July to consider the matter, with the minutes of the meeting recording that:

“The Friends present were unanimously of opinion that although the late Yearly Meeting of the Society declined to take any action endorsing the proposal for a League of Nations, there were a very large number of Friends, who were anxious to participate in this piece of constructive work for Peace, and that steps should be taken to ascertain if this is so.”

Letter inviting support for President Wilson's proposals

Letter inviting support for President Wilson’s proposal for a league of nations, signed by J B Braithwaite, Robert Marsh and Harry Gilpin (1918) (Library ref: Box 232/7)

An appeal was drafted to be printed and circulated , asking for people to respond with their views. The letter referred again to William Penn, drawing parallels between his 1693 Essay towards the present and future peace of Europe  and recent statements in favour of the League of Nations by Viscount Grey, the former Foreign Secretary.

By the time the new Friends League of Nations Committee met again on 4 September 1918, they reported that they had so far received 2092 assents and 112 dissents to their letter.

The Committee’s activities increased. They held a meeting of supporters at Devonshire House on 1 November 1918, and sent a minute to Meeting for Sufferings, recommending “drastic control” of the production of armaments, and “a solemn international compact to employ such material solely under the sanction of the League of Nations for the maintenance of international peace based upon Right, Justice and Liberty, and for the protection of peoples threatened with injustice and oppression…”.

The Friend reported on a further conference at Devonshire House on 21 November, called by the Peace Committee of Meeting for Sufferings. At the conference the discussions continued, with speakers like Carl Heath again questioning whether Quakers should actively support a League of Nations if the purpose was not disarmament, while J. Bevan Braithwaite continued to argue that, “As long as evil was in the world, force must be employed to repress it, if necessary, otherwise anarchy would prevail.”

Report of the 21 November conference at Devonshire House, The Friend (29 Nov 1918)

Report of the 21 November conference at Devonshire House, The Friend (29 Nov 1918)

The Friends League of Nations Committee became the Friends League of Nations Association in 1919 and continued to operate until 1921, when it was decided that it was no longer needed as a separate body, following the decision of Meeting for Sufferings in February that year to establish a League of Nations Watching Committee.

The Library holds the minutes of the Friends League of Nations Association and the Propaganda Committee, and of the League of Nations Watching Committee (1921-1925).

Friends League of Nations Committee first minute book

Friends League of Nations Committee first minute book

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Caring for the past: conserving the Library’s collection of pamphlets and booklets

Lizzie Fuller, trainee conservator, writes about her work with some of our 19th and 20th century pamphlets.

As a trainee Paper Conservator, I am fortunate to have opportunities to work on fascinating objects and this summer was no exception when I was given the chance to carry out conservation treatment on the Library of the Society of Friends’ collection of booklets and pamphlets as part of my student placement at Sussex Conservation Consortium. As I worked through the booklets it was interesting to uncover the breadth of areas that the Quakers have been involved with, as well as the diverse variety of pamphlet styles.

Reducing a heavy layer of animal glue on one booklet

Reducing a heavy layer of animal glue on one booklet

Paper conservation involves the stabilisation of paper-based objects in order to improve long-term preservation. For the pamphlet and booklet project, my treatment involved removing deteriorated elements such as rusting staples and degraded pressure-sensitive tape, which were causing damage to the paper as well as staining and would result in more damage in the future. I also reduced thick areas of animal glue that were restricting the opening of covers and re-adhered the lifted spine materials using wheatstarch paste and Japanese repair papers. Following the removal of staples, I re-sewed the bindings and tipped in any loose inserts with a Japanese paper hinge to prevent them from getting lost. As an organic material, paper naturally degrades and conservation plays an essential role in mitigating against this so that objects are protected and preserved for years to come.

Lifting degraded adhesive tape

Lifting degraded adhesive tape

I am currently in my second year of study at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London, and this student placement has contributed to the development of my practical skills, as well as providing valuable experience of a professional environment. Sussex Conservation Consortium is a small private studio owned jointly by Ian Watson and Ruth Stevens, both accredited Book and Library Materials Conservators. I particularly benefited from working under the supervision of two experienced conservators and applying some of their wealth of knowledge to my work. My placement was a really enjoyable and useful experience and I am very grateful for the Library’s agreement to me working on these valued and important objects.

A booklet sewn together after removing staples

A booklet sewn together after removing staples

You can support work to conserve the Library’s collections by donating to our BeFriend a Book appeal. Please email or write to us for more information about the appeal.





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Open, healthy, scrupulously clean, with a liberal table: the Armfields and their temperance hotel

This year the Library was given a collection relating to the Armfield family who ran Armfield’s South Place Temperance Hotel near Finsbury Circus, London, during the second half of the 19th century.

The collection includes a visitors’ book chronicling guests from 1857 to 1869, a copy of Joseph John Armfield’s memoir, and personal family papers, as well as photographs and publicity material relating to the hotel.

Joseph John Armfield's Journal cover

Joseph John Armfield, Journal (Library reference MSS 1035/1)

Joseph Armfield (1821-1894), the head of this branch of the family, was a conservative Quaker who held to the principles of plain dress and plain speech. His religious views were described by his son Joseph John as “extreme”, “strict”, and “orthodox”. He was an active member of the Society of Friends, publishing two tracts and serving on numerous committees. He had taken the temperance pledge in 1839, at the age of 18, and his brother was an ardent temperance campaigner, so it is unsurprising that he chose to run a temperance hotel.

Temperance hotels, like coffee taverns and temperance clubs, were one of a range of institutions set up by temperance campaigners to provide access to social and entertainment amenities without the temptation of alcohol being present.

Advertisement for temperance drinks in The Friend

Advertisement for temperance drinks in The Friend

The ideal temperance hotel should offer respectable food and lodging, a place for people to socialise and conduct business and, of course, a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, temperance hotels generally had rather a poor reputation – they were often conversions of existing buildings run by those with little or no prior experience in the trade and, deprived of the profits that could be made from the sale of alcohol, were unable to offer luxuries. Even temperance campaigners were forced to admit that they were generally “not attractive”.

Joseph had worked as a clerk for various family owned businesses before opening the hotel with his wife Julia (née Ashby, 1813-1889) in 1857. They converted the house of a wealthy Jewish silk merchant and moved in with their three surviving children: Julia Anne (1850-1902), later author of Quaker tracts and member of Fritchley General Meeting, Joseph John (1852-1935), engineer, and Aaron Ashby (1854-1944)at who was eventually to take over from his father.

Despite the inexperience of the Armfields, and the building’s origins as a domestic dwelling, Armfield’s South Place Hotel proved very successful. It was situated at the corner of South Place and South Street, just north of Finsbury Circus. As we can see from this flyer, it was initially a single five-storey house with basement. Joseph John describes high-ceilinged rooms, mahogany-framed sash windows, and thick mahogany doors with ivory-inlaid door furniture, and recalls sitting on the balconies outside the first floor windows.

The hotel was advertised in both The Friend and the British Friend.

Advertisement for Armfields Hotel in The Friend (1857)

Advertisement in The Friend (1857)

No doubt bolstered by its location less than a mile from Devonshire House, where Yearly Meeting was held, Armfield’s had many Quaker guests. Representatives from all the well-known British Quaker families can be seen in pages of the visitors’ book – Sturges, Clarks, Pumphrys, Peases, Corders, Foxes, Bevans, Cadburys, Lloyds and Rowntrees, among others. There were also numerous American Quaker visitors, including members of the Bettle and Turnbull families and James E. Rhoads – president of Bryn Mawr College.

A page from Armfield's Hotel visitors' book

A page from Armfield’s Hotel visitors’ book (Library reference MSS 1035/2/2)

Joseph John recalls in his memoir that he and his siblings were sent away during Yearly Meeting each year. “Our hotel was conveniently near [Devonshire House] & Friends to the full capacity of its accommodation stayed there during that time; & it was a relief no doubt to our parents to get us young children out of the way during that period… I expect our room in London was more acceptable than our company”.

It was not only Quakers who stayed at Armfield’s. Other figures engaged in social and public work chose the hotel, including abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, temperance campaigner Asbjorn Kloster and missionary Elias Schrenk. Ten men from temperance-led life insurance company Sceptre Life Association are noted in the guest book as expressing “their entire satisfaction with the attention received and the accommodation afforded”. As a budding engineer, Joseph John enthusiastically recalls dining with sea captains and the inventor of the screw propeller.

In the early 1870s it was decided that Aaron Ashby (Ashby to his family) would become his father’s apprentice, partner, and then successor at the hotel. In 1873 Julia Armfield was in ill health, so she and Joseph moved out of the hotel to Croydon, leaving Ashby living in the hotel. Ashby held less strict religious views than his father, and over the next 30 years the hotel’s character gradually changed.

Armfields group photograph, with Ashby and Helen Armfield centre

Armfields group photograph, with Ashby and Helen in the centre

The hotel was advertised in the British Friend as having been enlarged and redecorated. Joseph John mentions that the hotel eventually grew to encompass five houses going down South Street and an additional building on South Place. At this point it had 70 bedrooms, coffee, commercial and private sitting rooms, a ladies drawing room and smoking and billiard rooms furnished by well-known billiard table manufacturers Burroughs and Watts.

Advertisement for Armfield's South Place Hotel in the British Friend (1 May 1886)

Advertisement in the British Friend (1886)

In 1891, the hotel was completely rebuilt and accommodation doubled. Publicity photographs and a brochure in our archive give a good idea of what the rebuilt hotel would have been like.

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The exterior is markedly different from the converted house and the rooms are comfortably decorated with art and fine furniture. The hotel boasts modern facilities – the telephone room (visible in the back of the entrance hall), a lift, electric lights, modern sanitary arrangements and hot and cold water on all floors. The hotel also now includes a separate restaurant available to rent for parties. Whereas the advertisements of earlier decades emphasised cleanliness and health, those of the 1880s and 1890s stress comfort and modernity.

Advertisement in the British Friend (1894)

Advertisement in the British Friend (1894)

More radically, the establishment ceased to be a temperance hotel. Temperance is not mentioned in the pamphlet or advertisement in The British Friend, and in 1897 an advertisement in The Freemason specifically states that it was now fully licensed.

There is no guestbook for this period, but we were able to find out a few of the hotel patrons from other sources. In 1895 King Khama of the Bamangwato people of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) stayed at the hotel whilst in London. Opposite Armfield’s was the South Place Chapel, home of the South Place Ethical Society (now called Conway Hall Ethical Society). Its periodical, The Ethical Record advertised a Sunday school and dances held in Armfield’s (thanks to staff at Conway Hall library for finding further links between the Ethical Society and the Armfields out at Croydon).

The Armfield family stopped being associated with the hotel at some point in the 1910s. It is thought by the family that the building was requisitioned by the government during World War One. We can see from this postcard that it was still operating in 1916.

Armfield's Hotel postcard written in 1916

Armfield’s Hotel postcard, 1916 (private collection)

An auction of the hotel’s contents was advertised in the Pall Mall Gazette (12 January 1918), marking the end of the story of Armfield’s South Place Hotel. The building itself was destroyed during the blitz, so although there is still a South Place Hotel on the site today, it bears no relation to the original Armfield’s.

The newly catalogued Armfield Papers provide a fascinating record of one Quaker family and their flourishing temperance enterprise in the latter part of 19th century.

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