Celebrating more collections information online

Every archive is faced with the problem of growing backlogs of material waiting to be added to their online catalogues and made accessible for users. It is a skilled and time consuming task to update old catalogue entries in paper format to digital ones with modern standards. We were lucky enough to be able to secure funding for a project to update catalogue entries for a large backlog of manuscript collections and add to our online catalogue.

Over the course of 15 months, our project cataloguer Jane Kirby, created top level catalogue entries for around 600 collections. This has opened up these collections to a wider public and we started noticing the impact straight away in the reading room – with collections being ordered up that had rarely been looked at by readers – and even some new discoveries for staff!

The project faced various hurdles: often older collections had scant accession paperwork and needed extra research into their provenance. Some of these mysteries remain unsolved….Other collections needed extensive repacking and cleaning, or had to be earmarked for professional conservation work. We chose to focus on top level entries only, with a basic overview of each collection, as we wanted to get as much of the backlog onto the online catalogue as possible. For larger collections we will need to do further work on expanding their catalogues so that people can find the records they need.

There are all sorts of collections within the manuscripts, including collections from organisations that were not centrally managed by the Yearly Meeting, but that are closely linked with Quakers, such as Friends Ambulance Unit, Friends Temperance Union, and Central Board of Conscientious Objectors.

There are also collections of personal papers of notable Quakers, many of whom carried out work under the auspices of the central organisation, or were closely linked with the Society and wished to leave their papers to the Library. These papers give a complementary personal insight and emotional resonance to the official archives, which tell the story of Quaker work often from a purely administrative perspective.

We have highlighted three interesting collections of personal papers that show the personalities of the people behind the political and social movements and issues interesting Friends in the 20th century.

Lucy Backhouse was an active Friend who sat on many committees, including Friends Service Council, Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens, Armenia Committee as well as Meeting for Sufferings. Her obituary in The Friend, the weekly Quaker magazine, highlights that one of her strengths was her extensive letter writing to support Friends carrying out missionary and relief work abroad. It was remarked that her address at 50 Higher Drive, Purley, must have been well known all over the world!

We have several collections of her papers in the Library including at TEMP MSS 511 and TEMP MSS 673.

Featured is an example from her papers of her support for Daniel and Emily Oliver who went to Brummana, Syria (later part of Lebanon) in 1895 to run the Friends Mission School there. During the First World War, after the Turkish invasion, they witnessed the orphan crisis there and set up an orphanage, pictured here in 1936, in a photo sent to Lucy Backhouse.

Lucy Backhouse ii(Daniel and Emily Oliver Orphanage, Ras-el-Metn, Syria, 1936, Library ref: TEMP MSS 511/2/1)

Reverse of photo: “With good wishes and greetings from the orphans & staff at Ras-el-Metn, Nov 2 1936”

Lucy Backhouse iii

Lucy Backhouse vii

Lucy Backhouse’s familiar address on letter from Daniel Oliver

Aline Atherton-Smith has an interesting collection of papers TEMP MSS 776 mainly about the Land Settlement movement of the 1920s, which she pioneered in Austria, earning her the title ‘Mother of the Settlements’.

She worked in Austria as Head of the Land Settlement Department of the Friends International Centre in Vienna, after the First World War, attempting to ease the poverty and housing issues there. Many Viennese citizens had fled the city for the surrounding areas and set up makeshift homes there. The settlement movement sought to instil co-operative organisation into these settlements and foster good community relations.

Atherton-Smith would seek to export this model to try to solve poverty and housing issues in England and elsewhere in the world. The letters in her collection show great warmth and gratitude from the Settlers towards Atherton-Smith, and a report from the FIC reads: “Her promotion of interpolitical co-operation had been of tremendous value to the movement.” It was also work that would bring her under the watch of the Nazis in the next decade. Her collection includes photographs of the building of the settlements in Austria, as well as correspondence about the movement.

Aline Atherton v

“Siedlergruppe” Group of settlers, Austria, 1920s (Library ref: TEMP MSS 776/2/7)

Aline Atherton vi

“Hausergruppe. Objekt III, IV, V” Settlement houses (Library ref: TEMP MSS 776/2/7)

Mauricle Hussey’s papers TEMP MSS 544 are a colourful collection of drawings and sketches as well as family photographs and photos of farflung places. Hussey was an artist and one of her lively sketches is featured below. She was active on committees including Meeting for Sufferings and Friends Service Council, and seems to have travelled widely, writing articles on her travels in Russia, where in the 1950s she was one of the first British women to travel to Irkutsk. Below are some negatives of photos in Russia.

Maurice Hussey i

Drawing by Mauricle Hussey (Library ref: TEMP MSS 544/3/1)


Maurice Hussey iii

Maurice Hussey iv

Negatives of Russia, c.1950s (Library ref: TEMP MSS 544/3/5)



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Three remarkable women of the twentieth century: Joan Mary Fry, Elizabeth Fox Howard and Francesca Wilson

For Women’s History Month, we look at the lives of three remarkable women of the 20th  century – Joan Mary Fry, Elizabeth Fox Howard and Francesca Wilson. Each of them in their own way responded to the challenges of world war, testified to their belief in international friendship and worked to relieve suffering.

Joan Mary Fry (1862-1955) is probably the most well-known of the three (you may remember her face on the “Britons of distinction” postage stamp). She was one of a large family with a strong interest in questions of political justice, several of whom went on to devote their life to public service (her sister Margery was a penal reformer, and principal of Somerville College, Oxford; another, Ruth, was a prominent peace campaigner).

Joan Mary Fry

Joan Mary Fry (1862-1955) (Library ref. F91)


In her Swarthmore Lecture (1910) Joan Mary Fry spoke of the way that spirit and action are not separate in Quakerism, saying that “Quakerism is nothing unless it be … a practical showing that the spiritual and material spheres are not divided… the whole of life is sacramental and incarnational”. Her own life demonstrated her belief in that of God in all people, and the importance of acting on our beliefs.

During World War I she was a prison chaplain, visiting conscientious objectors in prison, and attending military tribunals and courts martial to support them. After the war she travelled to Germany to investigate famine and help organise food relief programmes. You can read about the work in her book In downcast Germany 1919-1933 (1945), and in the journal letters she sent back from Germany between 1919 and 1933, as well as other unpublished papers.

In the 1920s, as unemployment soared in Britain, Joan Mary Fry became deeply involved in work to alleviate distress in mining communities, including self-help schemes and allotment projects. She acted as Clerk of the Friends Allotments Committee from 1931 to 1951, and wrote about the work in Friends lend a hand in alleviating unemployment: the story of a social experiment extending over 20 years, 1926-1946 (1947).

Allotments for the unemployed: what an allotment can give you!

Friends Allotments Committee poster. Allotments for the unemployed: what an allotment can give you! (Library ref. PO Allot. Com. 4)


Elizabeth Fox Howard (1873-1957) was not brought up as a Quaker, though she had Quaker family connections. She joined the Society of Friends as an adult in 1903 and was soon recognised as one of the Quaker leaders of her generation. She attended the Scarborough Conference of 1905, and travelled to visit American Friends in 1912.

Like Joan Mary Fry, she acted as a Quaker chaplain during World War I, visiting absolutist conscientious objectors who were imprisoned for their refusal to support militarism in any way. And, also like her, she formed strong links with Germany and Germans after the war, visiting the country again and again, returning after the Second World War to work with displaced persons in her seventies. As she wrote in Barriers down, the second of her two books on work with Germany, “for twenty-five years my connections with Germany had been closer than with any other country except my own, and I had spent months each year on some form or other of relief or reconciliation work, leaving Frankfurt, indeed, only a couple of weeks before war broke out in 1939”. When English Friends had opened the Quaker rest home at Falkenstein and then at Bad Pyrmont in 1933, to care for victims of the Nazi regime, Elizabeth Fox Howard served as one of the hosts. During the six years the rest home was in operation, it offered recuperation to some 800 people, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Communists and other victims of the regime.

Bad Pyrmont edit2

Quaker House at Bad Pyrmont (Library ref. Album 7)


Extract from Elizabeth Fox Howard's account of her arrest in Germany 1935

Elizabeth Fox Howard’s account of her arrest in Germany 1935 – extract (Library ref. Temp MSS 83/3)

Elizabeth Fox Howard also worked tirelessly in her own local community and her international interests were wide. Gandhi visited her home in Buckhurst Hill during his 1931 visit to London, for a quiet day away from public affairs. She published many articles, poetry, books about relief work in Germany, and memoirs, and continued to make friendships with people of all nations throughout her life.

Elizabeth Fox Howard, Midstream (1945)

Elizabeth Fox Howard, Midstream: a record of many years (1945)



Francesca Wilson (1888-1981) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, some years later than Joan Mary Fry and Elizabeth Fox Howard. Unlike them she went to university (Newnham College, Cambridge), to study history. With her interest in travel and languages she was led into relief work with Friends in 1916, and worked with French refugees at Samoens, later becoming involved in caring for wounded Serbian troops in Corsica and North Africa under the auspices of the Serbian Relief Fund. After some time working as Hilda Clark’s interpreter in Vienna where Quakers and Save the Children Fund were organising a child feeding programme, she went in 1922 to work for famine relief in the Buzuluk region of Russia.

Francesca Wilson

Francesca Wilson (Library ref. MSS 1006/8)

As a teacher in Birmingham in the 1930s she obtained leave to go to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, visiting three times to organise housing and medical care for children. During the Second World War and afterwards she worked with Spanish refugees in the south of France, with Polish refugees in Hungary, and after the war worked with displaced persons in Germany under UNRRA. Her home was open to all sorts of lodgers, including refugees from Nazi Germany and Russia, and she adopted several young people, providing them with a home and opportunity for education.

She was a prolific writer, including contributions to The Friend and the Manchester Guardian, made radio broadcasts and television appearances. She wrote a best-selling account of her experiences, In the margins of chaos (1944).

Francesca WIlson, In the margins of chaos

Francesca Wilson, In the margins of chaos: recollections of relief work in and between three wars (1944)


The Library holds books, articles and unpublished papers of all three women, as well as the archives of the Quaker organisations for which they worked.



Further reading

Joan Mary Fry

 Published sources

Oldfield, Sybil, ‘Joan Mary Fry (1862–1955), relief worker and social reformer’ in Oxford Dictionary of national biography (2004) http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38522  (log in using most local public library cards)

Fawell, Ruth, Joan Mary Fry (Friends Home Service Committee, 1959)

Moore, Katharine, Cordial relations: the maiden aunt in fact and fiction (Heinemann, 1966. Chapter 19 includes transcript of interview with Pamela Diamand about her childhood and her aunts, Joan, Isabel & Margery Fry.

Diamand, Pamela, Joan as she was to us children (Undated typescript. Library reference: Box L27/25)

Johnson, Dale A., ‘From pilgrimage to discipleship: Quaker women’s ministries in nineteenth century England’ in Quaker history, Vol.91, no.2 (Fall 2002), p.18-32

Morgan, Nigel, ‘Joan Mary Fry and The Communion of Life’ in The Friend (14 December 2010) https://thefriend.org/article/joan-mary-fry-and-the-communion-of-life

Obituary in The Friend (2 December 1955)

Manuscripts and archives

Joan Mary Fry Journal letters from Germany and America (Library reference: Temp MSS 66)

Joan Mary Fry Papers, concerning work in Germany 1919-1954 (Library reference: Temp MSS 87/7)

Joan Mary Fry Papers, including report on a visit to German prisons (Library reference: Temp MSS 99/2)

Allotments Committee records (http://quaker.adlibhosting.com/Details/archive/110006641)


Elizabeth Fox Howard

Published sources

Howard, Elizabeth Fox, Upstream: a family scrapbook (privately published, 1944)

Howard, Elizabeth Fox, Midstream: a record of many years (privately published, 1945)

Howard, Elizabeth Fox, Downstream: records of several generations (privately published, 1955)

Haseldine-Jones, Lynn, ‘Elizabeth Fox Howard’ in Loughton and District Historical Society Newsletter (Jan-Feb 2013) http://www.theydon.org.uk/lhs/Downloads/LHS%20News%20196.pdf

Manuscripts and archives

Elizabeth Fox Howard Papers – including World War I relief work, letters written while a prison chaplain at Dartmoor Prison, description of a day spent with Gandhi, journal and letters about her arrest in Germany in 1935 (Library reference: Temp MSS 83)


Francesca Wilson

Published sources

Roberts, Siân. ‘Wilson, Francesca Mary (1888–1981), schoolteacher and refugee relief worker’ in Oxford Dictionary of national biography (2013) http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/103379 (log in using most local public library cards)

Wilson, Francesca, In the margins of chaos: recollections of relief work in and between three wars (John Murray, 1944)

Wilson, Francesca, Aftermath: France, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, 1945 and 1946 (Penguin, 1947)

Horder, June (ed.), Francesca Wilson: a life of service and adventure (privately published, 1993)

Manuscripts and archives

Francesca Wilson Papers – including correspondence, diary extracts, articles and talks (Library reference: MSS 1006)

Friends Emergency & War Victims Relief Committee records of relief missions (Library reference: YM/MfS/FEWVRC/MISSIONS/)

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The conscience of the nation: the work of three Quaker MPs during World War I

The Military Service Act came into force on 2 March 1916, and Quakers nationally are marking the centenary. Our new online exhibition Matter of conscience: Quakers and conscription gives an overview of the introduction and impact of the Act.

The story involves the hard work of three Quaker MPs who fought for the Act to include an exemption for men who had a religious or moral objection to violence and military service; furthermore they fought for the exemption to be based solely on an individual basis, not aimed at groups, such as former exemptions from military service which had been granted to certain groups in society including the Quakers themselves.

All three men would suffer for taking this stance, facing charges of encouraging shirkers and being painted in an unpatriotic light at the time of greatest distress for the nation. It would also cost all three their seats at the next election in 1918.

The Quaker MPs were Arnold Stephenson Rowntree (1872-1951), T. Edmund Harvey (1875-1955), and Sir John Emmott Barlow (1857-1932). The Library holds a small collection of parliamentary election addresses for John E. Barlow and more extensive collections of personal papers for Rowntree and Harvey, as well as various publications by and about them. Rowntree and Harvey were very active Friends and therefore also feature heavily among the central archives of the Society, from the Friends War Victims Relief Committee, which Harvey was involved with creating, to the Friends First Day Schools Association, which engaged much of Rowntree’s time after the war.

Arnold Stephenson Rowntree was a member of the close knit network of Quaker Rowntree and Cadbury families. He was educated at Bootham School in a fiercely anti-conservative environment, and became a Liberal MP for York in 1910. While at Bootham he became close friends with T. Edmund Harvey who would later become his brother-in-law. After Bootham he started working for his uncle, Joseph Rowntree at the confectionery company of the family name, where he would end his working life on the Board of Directors, retiring in 1941.

TEMP MSS 558-1 crop

1918 election flyer for Arnold S. Rowntree (Library reference: TEMP MSS 588/1)

His attitude to the war was quite complex. Although a pacifist, he was a committed Liberal and believed everything possible had been done to avoid the war. He also understood the urge to self-sacrifice which drove young men to sign up, which helped shape his belief in non-combatant alternative service. This led to his central role in the establishment of the Friends Ambulance Unit in 1914.

T. Edmund Harvey was also educated at Bootham, then at Yorkshire College (now University of Leeds) and Oxford. He spent time studying in Germany and France, developing an understanding of these countries that would stand him in good stead in the years to come. After a time working at the British Museum, he became warden of Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, the first university settlement – a centre of social service and reform.

He entered the House of Commons in 1910 as a Liberal MP for West Leeds. He was an impressive orator and his speech during the debate on the Military Service Bill was a key moment for pacifists; Arnold Rowntree described it as a great moment and claimed he did not bother to speak after, as planned, as he could not better it. Harvey also argued for kind treatment of Germans resident in Britain during both World Wars. He helped set up Friends War Victims Relief Committee in 1914 and contributed to the relief effort throughout the war and after into the 1920s.

FEWVRC-MISSIONS-3-1-2-1 crop

Carnet d’etranger for T. Edmund Harvey issued for foreign relief work in World War I. (Library reference: FEWVRC/MISSIONS/3/1/2/1)

While both Rowntree and Harvey worked hard to gain a civilian option for alternative service for conscientious objectors (C.O.s) who refused to come under military command, even in non-combatant roles, many absolutists saw this as a compromise and therefore a betrayal. Their attitude is reflected in a letter from Rowntree to his wife, 6 Jan 1916:

“I have Richard Roberts here tonight and he says all the Fellowship of Reconciliation men are dead against alternative service and I think are out to break the machine.”

John Emmot Barlow, Liberal MP for Frome, Somerset, came from an old Quaker family near Stockport. Educated at Grove House School, Tottenham, he became a business man in his father’s Manchester firm dealing in import and export of various goods. He married Anna Maria Heywood Denman, who campaigned for women’s suffrage and international understanding, and herself stood for Parliament in 1922.

Barlow’s family reflected the divisions of the time: although he was strongly opposed to conscription, one of his sons served in the army and was severely wounded in World War I. Another son joined the FEWVRC in foreign relief work. Barlow didn’t play on his son’s military actions in the next election though, when faced with accusations of letting his country down, and lost his seat in 1918.

All three men would suffer at the 1918 election for their association with the anti-conscription pacifist movement. While Harvey stood down in 1918, Barlow and Rowntree both lost the election to Conservative candidates.

Box L 228_4 ASR crop

1918 Election poster, Arnold S. Rowntree (Library ref: Box L 228/4)


John Barlow continued to be involved in local government into later life, and Rowntree and Harvey would go on to be engaged in various areas of work tackling social issues and taking on roles in Quaker committees.

We hold two main collections of personal papers from Arnold S. Rowntree which give slightly different angles on his work during the war. TEMP MSS 558 is a collection of personal papers including letters. The wartime letters show the stress he was under, how busy a time it was, and give personal insight into the people he was working alongside and their reactions to unfolding events.

TEMP MSS 977 consists mainly of working papers and official correspondence from Rowntree’s time as an MP, providing an insight into how a backbencher lobbies and influences to gain ground on an unpopular position.

Among other material on T. Edmund Harvey, we have his papers as chairman of the Committee for Work of National Importance (the Pelham Committee, of which he became chair following Lord Pelham’s death) TEMP MSS 835. As well as official documents such as minutes and papers, this collection contains a large amount of correspondence from and on behalf of COs, and is an important resource for World War I researchers. Again this adds a very personal dimension, as well as the official view of the effect conscription had on men in World War I.

TEMP MSS 835-1-A-B6 crop


TEMP MSS 835-1-A-B6 ii crop

Examples of the hundreds of letters sent to T. Edmund Harvey by, and on behalf of C.O.s when he served on the Pelham Committee (Library reference: TEMP MSS 835/1/A-B6)

For more information, please check out our online exhibition Matter of conscience: Quakers and conscription.

Read more about continuing Quaker work for Peace

Look out for more displays and blog posts on World War I throughout the year, here and on our Facebook page.

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Preservation news: highlights of 2015

Though we are well into January, here’s a look back at some of the exciting and varied work done over the past year to preserve the Library’s collections for future generations of users.

We were delighted to have back the final two volumes in our Swarthmore Manuscripts conservation project, dis-bound, conserved, photographed and sewn into slender fascicles, thanks to a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. This was the last phase of a programme, carried out over several years, to preserve one of our most well-known, and well-used, collections, a key resource for the study of early Quakerism and seventeenth century history. Cause for celebration – and an opportunity to explore the Swarthmore Manuscripts through a forthcoming Quaker Strongrooms blogpost later this year.


A folio from Swarthmore MSS Vol. 6 before repair

A folio from Swarthmore Manuscripts volume 6 (MS Vol. 358) before repair. Photograph by Elizabeth Neville

One of the most frequently consulted items in the Library reading room is a bound set of The Friend: the Quaker weekly journal, published continuously since 1843. Rich in articles, reports, biographical detail and photographs, the heavy leather bound volumes take a great deal of use. Despite careful handling (including using an unbound set or microfilm for any copying), the sheer weight of the volumes means that simply lifting them off the shelves and opening them causes strain to their structure and consequent damage. Three volumes of The Friend were re-cased in 2015.

The Friend 17/2/1939

The Friend 17 February 1939 (volume repaired 2015)

Users of the Library will know that the reading room also houses a wealth of 19th and 20th century books of vital importance for Quaker studies, including an unparalleled collection of Quaker biographies (men’s and women’s shelved separately – an unusual feature of our 1920s classification scheme with unexpected resonance for researchers in the era of gender studies!). Ostensibly less rare and vulnerable than the older closed stack material, many of these heavily used books show signs of wear and tear. Last year we started a programme of repair to books on the open shelves: 25 of them were repaired, re-sewn and re-bound or re-cased, always retaining unique characteristics, such as former owners’ bookplates, inscriptions, or special bindings.

Friends School Whittier portrait provenance inscription

One of the reading room books conserved in 2015, from the library of John Bright (Proceedings at the presentation of a portrait of John Greenleaf Whittier to Friends’ school, Providence, R.I. … 1884)

Our ongoing retrospective cataloguing project provides the opportunity to note the condition of items being catalogued. Under the direction of the project cataloguer, our fabulous NADFAS team of volunteers has been visiting the Library once a fortnight for several years to prolong the life of many 19th and 20th century pamphlets by removing staples and re-sewing. As they steadily progress through the collections, they highlight more serious problems that require professional conservation. Several dozen have received treatment over the past year – cleaning, skilful paper repair (and removal of damaging old repairs, such as the dreaded sticky tape), re-sewing and re-casing, as necessary.

Conserved pamphlets

A handful of the pamphlets conserved in 2015

A rather more visually appealing conservation project was Benjamin West’s Elements of drawing, a set of engravings from West’s paintings published in 1820, the year of his death. The engravings (not previously catalogued) were welcomed as a donation to the Library in 1935, because of West’s Pennsylvania Quaker origins. We know of only one other copy in the country, held at the British Library. The sheets were dry cleaned, treated for foxing, repaired and rehoused in a clamshell box.

Sheet from Elements of drawing (1820) after treatment

Sheet from Elements of drawing (1820) after treatment. Photograph by Sussex Conservation Consortium

We continued our programme of conservation of the Library’s tract volumes – over 600 bound volumes of pamphlets dating back to the 17th century. They have a varied and fascinating provenance, including many identifiable as from the personal libraries of early Friends. And they present the conservator with equally varied problems. Is the volume’s structure still working? Can it be handled and contents still read without risk of further damage? How can we preserve the volume, which may have folded, damaged or protruding contents, while retaining important original features and ensuring that any treatment is reversible? Over the past year 16 tract volumes have received professional conservation treatments, including sewing, surface cleaning, paper repairs, attaching loose items, strengthening and consolidating leather covered spines, boards and corners, re-hinging boards, and repairing joints and headcaps.

By their very nature, broadsides – large single sheet publications – are unlikely to survive as long as books. Which makes volume 67 of the Hawkins Collection particularly remarkable. Frequently consulted, it was an unwieldy composite of three substantial works (George Fox’s Great mistery of the great whore unfolded, the Battle-door for teachers & professors to learn singular & plural Fox’s wonderful defence of plain speech, and For the King and both Houses of Parliament, the 1660 appeal to King Charles on behalf of those suffering for their testimony against oaths) sewn together with a whopping 58 broadsides, mainly published during the years 1659 to 1661. The volume’s structure was damaging to its contents, the sewn-in broadsides with multiple foldings were dirty and torn – and a nightmare to unfold for use. After careful consideration of treatment options, the broadsides were withdrawn from the binding, flattened, repaired, and stored in a new clamshell box alongside the conserved volume, preserving the original components of the earlier binding. You can read more about the fascinating story of the Hawkins Collection in an earlier blogpost.

Unless otherwise stated, all this conservation work was made possible by our BeFriend a Book fund. We are hugely grateful for the generosity of BeFriend a Book donors, who have enabled so much to be done to preserve the Library’s unique and irreplaceable collections.


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Readers’ stories: Quaker women of the north east

The fifth in our series of readers’ stories is by Liz O’Donnell, who first used the Library 20 years ago. Her original research focused on local Quaker women in the north east in the 19th century, but she found valuable additional resources here at Friends House. We’re glad to see her back in the Library working on her latest project – researching the life of Newcastle Quaker Teresa Merz (1879-1958)

Liz O'Donnell

In 1994, at the age of 42, I had the astonishing good fortune to be awarded a three year PhD studentship at the University of Sunderland. I was to be the first student of the newly-established Centre for Quaker Studies (now located at Woodbrooke Centre for Quaker Studies), set up through the enthusiasm of the late David Adshead, then a Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Sunderland. I was also granted three years’ leave of absence from my teaching post in a college of Further Education and supported by a modest bursary jointly funded by the university and Sunderland Meeting. My area of interest was the link between women Quakers and ‘first-wave feminism’ in the 1860s, and it was this that brought me to the Library of the Society of Friends for the first time in April 1995, clutching a letter of recommendation from David and a long list of sources that I wanted to consult.

To be honest, it was not primarily an interest in the Society of Friends which led me to apply for the studentship. For my MA dissertation a few years earlier, I had examined Newcastle Ragged and Industrial Schools, started in the 1840s in response to the large number of child vagrants on the city streets. The same surnames – Richardson, Watson, Priestman, for example – cropped up repeatedly in the schools’ management committees, and eventually the penny dropped – the leading figures were all Quakers. Further poking around revealed the same people involved in every social and political reform movement of the period. I thought I knew a lot about the economic and social history of north-east, but I could not recall reading anything that specifically highlighted the importance of Quakers in the development of the region’s civic culture. I was particularly fascinated by the activities of women Friends and their place in the fight for women’s rights. I wanted to shine a light on this corner of hidden history, but family and work got in the way until, in the early summer of 1994, I spotted the advertisement for the Quaker studentship in the Guardian. By October, I had set out on my research adventure.

Jane Sturge, Sarah Ann Richardson, Catherine Richardson, Elizabeth Spence Watson and Emma Pumphrey at Gables 1918

Jane Sturge, Sarah Ann Richardson, Catherine
Richardson, Elizabeth Spence Watson and Emma Pumphrey of Newcastle Monthly
Meeting (1918). Friends and relations, they all feature prominently in my thesis. From the private collection of Kate Palmer

This was ‘only’ 20 years ago, but technologically it was a very different world for researching and handling large amounts of data. Yes, personal computers were around, but I had written my MA dissertation on an Amstrad word processor and had very limited experience of using the new technology as anything other than a glorified typewriter. The internet was slowly coming into its own, but digitised archival records were limited and there was no facility for tracing individuals and making genealogical connections without leaving the comfort of your own home. Part of my thesis involved an analysis of 619 activists in Newcastle Monthly Meeting of Women Friends between 1785 and 1903. The meeting records, on microfilm at Tyne and Wear Archives, yielded a lot of information but I needed material only available at the Library of the Society of Friends at Friends House – the Dictionary of Quaker Biography, a full run of Annual Monitor and The Friend, for example. Eventually I managed to dig out biographical details for 527 women, enabling me to understand something of their domestic lives, economic status, and so on (this is not the place to examine my methodology; suffice it to say that it involved index cards, colour coding and a lot of floor space!).

The Library also yielded essential sources in the form of private papers, tracts and other publications. I recently found the list I brought with me for a visit to the Library in late January 1997 – it included F. Smith, On the Duty of a Wife (1810); Henry Corder, A Short Life of Elizabeth Spence Watson (1919); A Map of the Meetings Belonging to the Quarterly Meetings of Lancaster, Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham and York (1773); and a long list of women about whom I lacked sufficient details. Many of the names had been ticked, indicating that I was successful in my quest to find them.

Teresa Merz carte de visite

Teresa Merz as a girl. Her mother was the sister of Elizabeth Spence Watson.
From the private collection of Ben Beck

When I finished my studentship and returned to work, visits to Friends House Library unfortunately tailed off, but my research interest in Quakers did not. I have had several articles published in Quaker Studies and contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies, for example, as well as giving talks to many local history societies and taking an active part in my local bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 (those women activists again!). These undertakings have often involved a flying visit to the Library from my home in Northumberland. And over the last couple of years, now working part-time, I have at last been able to go back to the stories of the women of Newcastle Monthly Meeting. I am currently looking into the life of Teresa Merz (1879-1958) – suffragist, volunteer with the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee in Serbia, member of the War and Social Order Committee and indefatigable amateur social worker in Newcastle-upon-Tyne until two days before her death – intending to rescue her from undeserved obscurity and enjoying a renewed relationship with the ever-helpful and friendly staff and marvellous resources of the wonderful Friends House Library.

Dr Elizabeth A. O’Donnell

Thesis title: Woman’s Rights and Woman’s Duties: Quaker Women in the 19th Century, with special reference to Newcastle Monthly Meeting of Women Friends (PhD, University of Sunderland, 2000)


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White Feather Diaries latest instalment and researching World War I

The latest instalment of The white feather diaries, an online project of British Quakers, goes live today. Updated daily on @wfdiaries, they tell of the challenges faced by five people who followed their consciences as the horror of World War I enveloped their lives. All of them were, or became, Quakers – Bert Brocklesby, John Hoare, Hilda Clark, Howard Marten and Laurence Cadbury.

The date is late 1915: the threat of conscription is imminent and opposition to war is censored. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Quakers work for individual conscientious objection to be recognised by the state.

The white feather diaries storytelling project contains an up-to-date twist, posing questions for readers. How important is it to challenge majority opinions if you hold a different view? Are there times when it is easier to keep quiet rather than speak out? How can we support people facing abuse because of their beliefs? Parallels are drawn between events a century ago and the choices we make in the world of today.White Feather

If you’ve followed the project before, or read about it on here, you’ll know that The white feather diaries include rich background material about the diarists, their contemporaries, and the issues they faced, some of it researched here in the Library.

We highlighted some of the Library’s resources for World War I research in a series of Quaker Strongrooms blogposts last year.

Since then World War I interest and work continues to flourish, and the Library welcomes all who want to delve deeper. A wide range of researchers – peace activists, academics, playwrights, curators, novelists, Quaker meetings, local historians, genealogists and others – have been busy using the material highlighted in last year’s blogposts and other World War I resources offered by the Library. We’ve been able to add more archival material from the period to our online catalogue, such as the huge archive of the Friends Emergency & War Victims Relief Committee, and the small but fascinating collection of FAU motor stores records. World War I Friends Ambulance Unit record cards have been digitised and put online for all to see. And Cyril Pearce’s magnificent Register of conscientious objectors, the product of many years research in this Library and elsewhere, has at last been added to the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website, where it can be freely searched.

Quaker Strongrooms blog will return to explore some more World War I themes in 2016, as the anniversary of the introduction of conscription approaches.

Meanwhile, for an insight into the lives of individuals who confronted the horror of World War I a century ago, drawing parallels with our own lives and times, you can follow the latest White feather diaries. Engage with them online on https://www.facebook.com/wfdiaries and @wfdiaries.


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The life of a photograph and an extraordinary woman

Anne Knight, photograph by Victor Franck, c.1855 (LSF MS BOX W2)

Anne Knight, photograph by Victor Franck, c.1855 (LSF MS BOX W2)

The Library’s Visual Resources Development Officer, Melissa Atkinson, talks about one enduring image in our collection.

I am fascinated with historical material culture and how it translates into modern society. When a researcher in the Library is interested in any of the visual resources such as a poster, piece of crockery or a photograph, I am keen to see how they reinterpret the material for today’s audiences.

When the United Nations contacted me about a photograph of an elderly woman staring defiantly into the camera, clutching a placard on her knee which states:

By tortured millions
By the Divine Redeemer
Enfranchise Humanity
Bid the Outraged World

I wondered about the extraordinary journey this photograph, and the woman in it, had taken.

Anne Knight

Anne Knight (1786-1862) was born in Chelmsford to a Quaker family. From all accounts she was a formidable advocate of abolition of the slave trade without compensation for the slave owners. She also supported free trade and universal suffrage and campaigned fervently for women’s rights. Her sympathies were also with the European republican movements. By 1830 she was deeply involved in the attempt by Quakers to end slavery and spent much of her time arranging public meetings, distributing leaflets and organising petitions. As a member of the Chelmsford Ladies Anti-Slavery Society, she formed the first organisation for women’s suffrage in Britain, the Sheffield Female Reform Association.

Although the British Slavery Abolition Act came into power in 1834, this did not eradicate the problem globally, and British abolitionists still wanted to exert influence, especially over the situation in the United States. Anne Knight’s 1855 protest demanding the abolition of the slave trade, depicted in the photograph, still resonates with the world today.

New audiences

To mark International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the United Nations in New York had an exhibition entitled ‘Powerful women against slavery” in the UN General Assembly entrance this spring which included this photograph. UN Information Centres globally will have the option to use this ready-made exhibition which includes an online study guide via the website –

The 2015 theme is Women and Slavery which celebrates the mental and physical strength of women and the unimaginable abuses they had to endure.

This image of Anne Knight is from her personal archive (LSF MS BOX W2). The photograph was taken at Saint des Vosges circa 1855 by Victor Franck. The original photograph, known as a carte-de-visite (visiting card), measures 64mm × 100mm (2.5 inches x 4 inches). This format of the carte-de-visite was very popular as they were affordable and easily mass produced. Victorian obsession with collecting made these cards into a novelty and they were traded between friends and large Victorian families. Popular figures of the time such as royalty became collectibles which led to the publication and collection of photographs of prominent persons.

The Library of the Society of Friends holds Anne Knight’s personal papers including diaries, correspondence and notes (references MS Box W2, MS Box G2/3, and MS Vol S 486).
One of our readers was inspired by her journey for his architectural creation for the Burgess Stream project in central Chelmsford. You can read about the historical research behind his architectural design work here: http://christophertipping.co.uk/central-chelmsford-anne-knight/

This blogpost is about the life of a photograph and the woman within it. Anne Knight with her incredible influence and universal admiration for human dignity. If Anne Knight was around today she may have mixed emotions about the current state of women’s rights and modern slavery. Knight would have to admit that there has been improvement and progression to raise the world’s attention for universal suffrage but only so far. I think Anne Knight would look you straight in the eye and say we cannot forget the past but there is still a long way to go to improve the future.

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