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  Women in the Society of Friends
From its inception, the Religious Society of Friends accepted women equal with men in its ministry. George Fox, who founded the Society of Friends in the mid-17th century, noted in his journal Peter's quotation of the prophet Joel, "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."

Within the Society's first decade women weren’t only acknowledged as vocal ministers but encouraged toward the business of the Meeting as well–albeit separately. Many could read and write and kept detailed journals of their lives. It’s from these journals that we learn much about early Friends and life in their homes.

Howard Brinton in Friends for 300 Years points out that "the assignment of important executive responsibilities to women was a bold step in the 17th century," thus qualifying them to become leaders within and without the Society of Friends, including many areas of social reform and concern–Education, Peace, Race Relations, Environmental problems, Health Care, Prison Reform, and Women's Rights.

Two of these Quaker women, Elizabeth Gurney Fry and Lucretia Coffin Mott, were way ahead of their time and brought about major reforms.

Elizabeth Gurney Fry was a champion of prison reform.Elizabeth Gurney Fry was born into a distinguished English Quaker family in 1790 in Gurney Court, off Magdalen Street, Norwich, in Norfolk. As a child, she lived at Earlham Hall. Her father, Joseph Gurney, was a partner in Gurney's bank while her mother, Catherine, who came from the Barclay family, the founders of Barclays Bank, died when Fry was 12. As one of the oldest girls in the family, she took responsibility for the care and training of the younger children.

At age 18, the preaching of William Savery, an American Quaker, deeply moved her. Motivated by his words, she took an interest in the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. She collected old clothes for the poor, visited those who were sick in her neighborhood, and started a Sunday school in the summer house to teach children to read. She felt called to devote her life to help those in need. To her administrations of comfort, time, money, and material aids, she added something even more valuable. She taught the disadvantaged how to care for themselves.

While aiding an ill family on her father's estate, she discovered that the children couldn’t read. She began a free school which soon became not only a learning place for the estate children but for the village. In the early 18th century the ability to read insured a higher paying job. She made Bible reading an important part of her curriculum. Fry felt if people could read of God's love for them, it would comfort them and increase their confidence and ambition.

She met Joseph Fry, a Quaker banker and 13 years her senior, when she was 20. They married on August 19, 1800 at the Norwich Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St. Mildred's Court in the City of London. They bore 11 children between 1801 and 1822. However, when she married Joseph, it was with the understanding that he wasn’t to interfere with her charitable work. He did aid his wife in his later years in her fight for the disadvantaged.

Stephen Grellet, a friend of the family, prompted Fry to visit Newgate prison. She had heard of the deplorable conditions at Newgate Prison where children lived with their mothers, there was no medical aid, no beds, little food and the prisoners had only the clothing they wore when they entered. Though cautioned to stay away from the prison, Fry went ahead with her work anyway.

She returned the following day with other women who brought sewing goods, cleaning materials, learning tools, as well as food and clothes for some of the prisoners. Again, she knew that equipping these women with skills would benefit them when they left prison. She and her friends returned many times. At some point during the visit, Fry read the Bible to the prisoners. She told them God loved them and would help them. They knew he had already helped them by bringing her to them. She visited the women's section and saw a filthy room filled with hostile, angry inmates. She heard a baby crying and sick women moaning. Some of the women grabbed at the food, clothing, and blankets she brought. She stood quietly and talked with them, all the while noting what they needed. And her list was long.

She was unable to further her work for nearly four years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties in the Fry bank. Fry returned in 1816 and eventually founded a prison school for the children imprisoned with their parents. She began a system of supervision and required the women to sew and to read the Bible. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This led to the eventual creation of the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, widely described by biographers and historians as constituting the first "nationwide" women's organization in Britain.

Lucretia Mott was America's first feminist.Lucretia Coffin Mott (1783-1880) was a contemporary of Elizabeth Fry. However, Lucretia, an American, met Fry only briefly in 1840 when she was in London for the World's Anti-Slavery Convention. Born on January 3, 1793 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the daughter of a sea captain, Lucretia grew up in Boston.

She was an abolitionist, social reformer and proponent of women's rights and is credited as the first American "feminist."

Born into a Quaker family, she was the second child of seven by Thomas Coffin and Anna Folger. At the age of thirteen she was sent to the Nine Partners Quaker School in Dutchess County, New York, run by the Society of Friends, where she eventually became a teacher. Her interest in women's rights began when she discovered that the school paid male teachers twice as much as female ones. On April 10, 1811, she married James Mott, another teacher at the school. They had six children. Their first child died at age five. Ten years later, she became a Hicksite Quaker minister.

She began traveling around the country in 1820 lecturing on religion and social reform, in particular temperance, the abolition of slavery, and peace. Lucretia gave countless addresses and lectures throughout her life. In "Famous American Women", it was said of her, "A fluent, moving speaker, she retained her poise and femininity before the most hostile audiences". Her last address was given at the age of 87,six months before she died.

Like many Friends, Mott considered slavery an evil. She and her fellow Friends refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. With her skills in the ministry, she began to speak publicly for abolition, often traveling from her home in Philadelphia. Her sermons combined anti-slavery themes with broad calls for moral reform. Her husband supported her activism, and they often sheltered runaway slaves in their home as part of the Underground Railroad.

By the 1830s, Mott had gained considerable recognition as an abolitionist. It was around this same time that she and her husband became friends with William Lloyd Garrison, who helped draw Mott and her husband deep within the abolitionist circle. In December 1833, Garrison called a meeting to expand the New England Anti-Slavery Society. James Mott was a delegate at the Convention, but it was Lucretia Mott who made a lasting impression on those present. She tested the language of the Constitution and bolstered support when many delegates were precarious. Merely days after the conclusion of the Convention, at the expressed urging of the other delegates, Lucretia and her husband founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The extensive participation of blacks in the organization tightly bound the actions of Friends to the Philadelphia black community.

Mott continued her unwavering work for the abolitionist cause, despite social persecution. She kept a tight household budget to allow she and her husband to entertain guests and still donate to charities. Many praised her for her ability to maintain her household while still contributing to the cause. Many members of the abolitionist movement opposed female participation. Participants in the Congregational General Assembly drafted a pastoral letter warning women that to lecture directly defied Paul’s instruction for women to keep quiet in the church and maintain the properties of the "clinging vine."

Lucretia Mott received endless criticism for her leading role in the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. Protestors threw rotten produce at their doors while others burned books and roamed the streets of Philadelphia in search of Mott.

Mott spoke at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in June 1840. In spite of her status as one of six women delegates, Mott was not formally seated at the meeting because she was a woman. Mott was however honored to the highest degree, as she was given a throne-like chair from which she could properly view all the proceedings. Delegates approached her in groups of two or three to become acquainted with Mott.

At a convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, Mott called for "Equality before the law for women". The U.S. Congress named the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) after Lucretia Mott when it was introduced. Women's rights and suffrage movements as organized political campaigns grew directly from that convention.

In the 1850's, she helped to found Woman's Hospital and the School of Design for Women, now Moore College of Art, both in Philadelphia. In 1864 Mott and several other Hicksite Quakers incorporated Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia, which today remains one of the premier liberal arts colleges in country.

In 1866, Mott,along with several other leading feminists, including Susan B. Anthony, founded the American Equal Rights Association. She was also a leading voice in the Universal Peace Union, founded that same year. As one of the organizers of Free Religious Association, she worked to secure voting and educational opportunities for freedmen in 1867.

Mott felt moved to speak to President Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, urging him to pardon six Modoc Indians who had been condemned to death for refusing to resettle in California. He told her they wouldn’t all be executed. And two were.

Lucretia Coffin Mott died of pneumonia on November 11,1880 in Abington, Pennsylvania. She’s buried in the Friends Fairhill Burial Ground in North Philadelphia. Newspapers at the time described her as "the most venerated woman in America." In 1983 she was posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

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