Put God at 
the center of your life.

 

 
The Quaker movement began in England in the mid-17th century. At its forefront stood George Fox, who had searched throughout England asking prominent clergymen and professors to help him find answers to some of life's basic questions. None of them had the answers he sought. "Then I heard a voice which said, 'There is one even, Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ " and with revelation, Fox began the long arduous creation of what would become The Religious Society of Friends.

He began to tell of his experience in a powerful and persuasive way, focusing on the concept that there’s "that of God" in everyone. He also believed that the Divine Being operates directly upon people’s lives, and that spiritual life begins when a person becomes aware of this and obeys God. Fox based his belief on John 1:19 of the Bible: "That was the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world."

Soon , an energetic group of young followers, known as the "Valiant Sixty," gathered around him and spread throughout England to search out "that of God in every man." Thousands of others joined them. Eventually, Quakerism swept England like the a storm, attracting ordinary people, as well as intellectuals like William Penn. But these early Quakers didn’t want to start a new sect or denomination. Instead, they wished to recover the way of life revealed in the New Testament, then reinterpret and relive it in the present world. They carefully avoided calling themselves "a church." Instead, they became a "society of Friends."

They took the name Friends from John 15:14 in which Jesus told his followers, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." However, their enemies called them Quakers because many of them trembled when they rose to speak. They gathered quietly together to wait for God in Meetings for Worship in their homes, barns, and sometimes within inns or out in open fields. By doing so they believed that the true church wasn’t a building made with human hands. Eventually, they built simple "meeting houses."

Quakers traveled not only throughout England but to America to spread the Friends’ message. After they arrived in the New World in the mid-17th century, the Puritans persecuted and killed them. Baptist leader Roger Williams, whose followers were already refugees of Puritan intolerance, sheltered some Friends in Rhode Island. At one time half the population of the Rhode Island Colony was Quaker. And it had Quaker governors for 36 consecutive terms, spanning over a hundred years. North Carolina and the Jerseys also became strong Quaker colonies with Quaker governors and legislators.

In 1681 William Penn accepted a grant of land from King Charles I which eventually became Pennsylvania. It was here that he began his "Holy Experiment." For decades Pennsylvania stood as a model of democracy, fostering liberty and harmony for all. Under Quaker leadership the colony flourished and prospered. Penn made friends with the Indians and purchased land from them.

Within the Pennsylvania Colony, Quaker merchants established strict standards of honesty in business. Penn’s "Holy Experiment," centered in Philadelphia, "the City of Brotherly Love," and lasted until non-Quakers gained control of the state legislature and began a war against the local Native Americans.

Because of the dedicated efforts of Friends like John Woolman of Mount Holly, New Jersey, Quakers had freed their slaves by the time of the Revolutionary War. Friends were among the most active and vocal abolitionists, working also in the "Underground Railroad" to help slaves escape to freedom. Quakers have also made important contributions in prison reform, education, social work, racial equality, the peace movement, and the women's movement.

The Quaker faith is what’s known as a roots and fruits religion. We, as Friends, have deep spiritual roots which grow in strength in our Meetings for Worship and extend into our daily lives. For over 300 years, we’ve maintained a consistent peace witness and are concerned about the treatment of our fellow man. As early as 1796, Samuel Tuke founded the first asylum for the insane in York, England to show the world that mental illness could be treated humanely. The work of Elizabeth Fry at Newgate prison in the early 19th century became the forerunner of modern prison reform. Today, we continue to carry on our witness for peace.

And today, as then, we still carry on our witness for peace, and, as then, still gather for worship in our Meeting Houses.

Read more about George Fox and William Penn.

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Some Philadelphia Area Institutions Founded by Quakers:

Any school with ‘Friends’ in the name—Germantown Friends School, Friends Select, etc.

Westtown School
Bryn Mawr College
Haverford College
Swarthmore College
The Female Medical College – Now MCP
Cheyney University
Wharton School of Finance and Commerce
Tyler Arboretum
Friend’s Hospital
Wills Eye Hospital
Retirement Communities of Kendal and Crosslands
American Friends Service Committee – AFSC
Strawbridge and Clothier
Lukens Steel


Westtown School


Tyler Arboretum

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