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Quakers - The Conscience of American History


Outside of the Radnor Meeting House, built in 1718
When I found out that Teddy and I were due to cover the Quakers in early colonial America, I let out a "Yee-haw!" of excitement. The Quakers are a group I admire. Throughout history, they have spoken out against suffering and injustice in America.

Quakerism started in England in the 1640s. The Quakers were not treated well in England, and several, seeking a land of freedom, made the trip over to the New World. Unfortunately, their treatment here was not much better than it had been in England.

Despite the troubles they faced in the New World, the Quakers found ways to gather together and settle. William Penn was a Quaker who founded the state of Pennsylvania as a place of religious and political freedom, in an attempt to build a more fair society.

Quakers have long fought against injustice in society. They were some of the first people to organize and speak out against slavery. They treated the Native Americans with respect and kindness. They fought for women's right to vote. They treated men and women as equals.
Olney Friends School students striking poses in
We were lucky enough to visit the Olney Friends School, a Quaker boarding school in a small town called Barnesville, Ohio. Teddy and I had a chance to spend two days visiting with the students and attending class. Though the majority of students here are not Quakers, the Quaker spirit is definitely evident at the school. No one is forced to become a Quaker, but there are some Quaker practices that each student participates in. For example, there are two, 15-minute sessions each day for silent worship. The students and teachers hold hands in a ritual before every meal. Only when you feel someone squeeze your hand do you begin to eat. All the chores are done by the students - the school has never hired janitors, and instead of voting to make decisions about the school, the students discuss issues until they all come to an agreement. The students we met were all interesting, caring people. They seemed committed to the Quaker principle of showing love to the world and to each other. Whether or not they officially call themselves, "Quakers," they are living tributes to the ideas of Quakerism.
Worshipping in silence at a Quaker Meeting
The current number of Quakers in the United States is only 118,000 - pretty small. Knowing this, and reflecting upon my time with the Quakers, I remembered the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I now realize how absolutely right she is.


Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org


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