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date: 22 September 2019

Quakers and Education

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys the enduring Quaker concern for education, from the beginnings in seventeenth-century Britain to its international presence in the twenty-first century. These include early Meeting and private schools, colleges of higher education with worldwide reputations, and educational establishments in the developing world. It considers how consistently and coherently certain core Quaker principles, including spiritual equality, usefulness, and plainness, have informed its educational policies. It examines changes of focus that not only reflect the state of Quakerism at a particular time (as when schools were established to reverse decline at the end of the eighteenth century), but also developments in the wider community (for example, the expansion of adult education in the late nineteenth century). In addition, the extent to which Quakers can be viewed as educational innovators is assessed.

Keywords: Quaker concern, education, schools, colleges, spiritual equality, usefulness, adult education, innovators

Quaker educational theory and practice

It is generally agreed that the Religious Society of Friends has never actually had a clearly defined philosophy of education, and terms such as ethos, atmosphere, or tendency have been preferred (Lacey 1998, xvi–xvii). This chapter explores how coherent or consistent have been the fundamental principles underpinning three and a half centuries of educational provision, and how they have been adapted in response to new ideas or the pressure of historical events. Quaker educational institutions have varied greatly in their interpretations of Friends’ principles, as has the extent to which they have been intertwined with the formal organization of the Society, especially in the United States, with its widely differing branches of Quakerism. On both sides of the Atlantic, some schools developed with formal oversight by a particular Meeting or group of Meetings, while others were founded by private individuals, with or without the direct support of their religious body.

Early Friends aimed to create an environment in which a child would be secluded from evil influences (Barbour and Frost 1994, 115). The avoidance of ‘contagion’ by ‘the world’ underpinned the Society’s desire for a ‘guarded education’, which persisted widely until the late nineteenth century. Initially founded on a positive view of human perfectibility, developed through preparing children for an approved way of life within a special community, by the early eighteenth century the model had shifted to the enforcement of rigid conformity through an exclusive education (Stewart 1953, 31; Pratt 1985, 51). Principles identified as underlying the Society’s educational provision arose from Quaker testimony, although the forms these took over the centuries changed. Quaker schools today commonly cite simplicity, equality, community, and non-violence as their founding principles. These can be traced back to the earliest period, but how consistently and coherently they have been applied is open to debate.

(p. 406) The testament to plainness, or simplicity, was expressed initially through a curriculum that was practical and ‘In the Truth’, and the suppression of extreme emotions to create a serious and serene individual. But for nearly two centuries, the attention paid to requirements such as plain dress, speech, and deportment, long after their original significance was lost, tended to make them mere badges of membership rather than evidence of an inward spiritual state (Brinton 1940, 94). In both Britain and America, these ‘peculiarities’ weakened in most schools from the 1860s.

Inspired by their belief in spiritual equality and the conviction that poverty, criminality, and other moral failings stemmed from a lack of education, Friends supported education for all, regardless of wealth, gender, or race. However, this did not automatically lead to equality in education, as seen in a report of the British Friends’ Educational Society in 1839, which stated that ‘the end object of instructing the poor should be to afford them the knowledge requisite to the due performance of the duties of their situations in life’ (Stewart 1953, 74). Similarly, although American Friends were undoubtedly prominent in the extension of schooling to African–Americans from the late eighteenth century, it was many years before the Society’s own schools and colleges became fully integrated (Lacey 1998, 124–5). The belief in spiritual equality also meant that, in theory, both genders were given the same educational opportunities, as seen in the cofounding of Meeting schools for girls as well as boys. More traditionally, women were seen as the nurturers of the next generation, responsible for socializing children into their community’s values (Davies 2000, 119–22). However, in the past, female teachers were paid considerably less than their male counterparts and there were significant differences between the curricula for boys and girls.

Although non-violence or the peace testimony has been another fundamental principle, the level of physical punishment used in British Quaker schools in the early nineteenth century has been described as ‘astonishing’, in a Society devoted to many humanitarian concerns, with whipping, birching, caning, and solitary confinement widely deployed (Stewart 1953, 197). However, by 1839 the British Friends’ Education Society announced that corporal punishment was no longer being used in Quaker schools, apparently putting the Society many decades ahead of other schools in the same period (Brinton 1940, 74).

As Quakerism has interacted with internal developments and trends in the wider world, its institutions have adjusted to meet new situations. Whereas in the past Friends were preoccupied with keeping outside influences at bay, a later dilemma was how far their schools should develop as centres of academic excellence, or, through closer adherence to Quaker principles, appeal to a more restricted constituency and thereby imperil their survival. Some have argued that Quaker schools have lost their way, departing from their original purpose of transmitting their distinctive cultural and spiritual heritage. Nevertheless, although the ‘Quaker heritage’ of institutions still claiming a connection with the Society may be hard to pinpoint, most still lay claim to a certain ethos, emphasizing not only intellectual achievement but also the importance of social service.

(p. 407) Quaker education in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries

Both practical and spiritual imperatives inspired the concern to educate the children of members, with an overarching objective to inculcate the Quaker way of life. Apparent ambivalence towards education amongst early Friends, which arose from hostility towards the classical training of clergy and mistrust of ‘brain knowledge’, did not mean they were against learning altogether. Evidence of Quaker involvement in education in England from the early 1660s includes, for example, the prosecution of Thurston Read of Colchester for teaching without a bishop’s licence in 1663 and 1664 (Davies 2000, 124). In 1668, when British Quakers, facing renewed persecution following the Restoration of the monarchy, had begun to organize more effectively, George Fox (1624–91) founded two Quaker schools: Waltham Abbey for boys and Shacklewell for girls. By 1671, there were fifteen boarding schools kept by English Friends. The practice of sending members’ children to Quaker schools was soon well-established, although as there were not enough schools run by Friends to cater for all, many attended schools run by non-members. In 1690, London Yearly Meeting urged Quarterly and Monthly Meetings to establish schools so that children would not be contaminated through association with non-Friends.

The blueprint for Quaker education was Fox’s idea that education should be ‘civil and useful’, therefore the curriculum, which emphasized the vernacular, comprised fundamental subjects that everyone needed to know in order to be ‘useful’. Literacy was important to members of the Society for a number of reasons: to allow oversight of their own business interests; to enhance employment prospects; to record the sufferings of members as a lesson to others; and to enable the reading of approved literature. In addition, with no specially educated clergy to interpret and mediate God’s word and to enable the keeping of meticulous records, it was desirable that all members should be literate. Practical training was also valued as a statement of plainness, to acknowledge the dignity of labour, and avoid the temptations of idleness. Even wealthy Friends were urged to combine manual labour with intellectual learning for their children’s education. Appreciation of the natural world was strongly encouraged and scientific subjects were taught in Friends’ schools from an early date. The study of nature satisfied a commitment to being ‘In the Truth’, relying on factual knowledge rather than emotion or imagination, and was also treasured as a revelation of God’s work as Creator of order and beauty (Cantor 1999, 4).

University education was not regarded as necessary to qualify for the ministry, being seen as over-emphasizing human, rational learning at the expense of divine inspiration. This has led to the view that the early leaders completely rejected a classical curriculum, but Fox, for one, never claimed that the existence of divine inspiration made learning unnecessary (Woody 1920, 7–12). Moral and religious training and the establishment of schools was promoted, while knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew was valued as (p. 408) a means of reading the Scriptures and a vehicle for global communication, promoting business success, and international understanding.

Artistic accomplishments, such as music, drama, fiction, and dance, seen as ‘vain customs of the world’, were all excluded from the curriculum. This remained the case until the second half of the nineteenth century. Children were constantly exposed to religious influences through bible readings, Meetings for Worship, and the use of Friends’ writings as educational texts, rather than through formal religious instruction, which carried the danger of interference with the Light of Christ (Stewart 1953, 31; Brinton 1940, 57). However, as early as 1657, Fox published his first Catechisme for Children, followed by other instructional texts aimed at transmitting a more explicit but simple definition of Quaker faith and practice and reprinted many times in the ensuing century and a half ([]).

From early in the Society’s history, children were regarded as being in the care of their Meeting and great efforts were made to provide schooling for the children of poor members. Education would help them gain employment thus avoiding dependence on the Meeting, as well as discouraging idleness, which could lead to wanton behaviour. In 1674, London Friends set up a school at Devonshire House for the children of poor Friends, undertaking to provide free tuition for all those sent by their Monthly Meeting. In North America, a free school for the poor was established by Philadelphian Friends in 1697.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, especially after 1681, when William Penn (1644–1718) received the charter to develop Pennsylvania, Quaker presence in the British colonies expanded rapidly. Schools were often set up immediately after the establishment of a Meeting (Hamm 2007, xii). Educational ideas circulated throughout Britain and America by means of Epistles and Advices emanating from Yearly Meetings, by travelling ministers and representatives to various meetings, and by books and pamphlets. Penn’s letter to his wife and children, written when he left England for America in 1682, was an important influence on Quaker educational practice on both sides of the Atlantic. He strongly recommended practical training to develop diligence and frugality. Primers and elementary grammars commonly used in Friends’ schools combined instruction with religious and moral precepts. Textbooks for classical languages were produced, illustrated with Scriptural examples rather than ‘heathenish’ stories.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, there were at least twenty boarding schools exclusively for Friends in Britain and Ireland. In Pennsylvania, about forty schools under the care of Monthly Meetings had been set up. During this era of Quietism, the Society’s mission was to sustain and preserve rather than proselytize and expand, in contrast with the vigour of the early movement. In Britain, the number and quality of ministers fell and with theological teaching increasingly regarded as a barrier to the Light Within, religious training for Quaker youth was neglected (Wright 1995, 15). In North America, after 1740 new Quaker leaders emerged who, disturbed by the effects on members of increasing prosperity, called for a return to primitive purity through a tightening of discipline and more protection from ‘the world’ (Hamm 2003, 31–2). On either side of the Atlantic, the tendency of the religious community was to isolate itself, until the end of the eighteenth century brought calls for reform.

(p. 409) A new concern for education: the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries

Increasing dissatisfaction with the state of Quaker education in Britain in the late eighteenth century was stimulated by a dwindling membership and a perception of spiritual ‘deadness’. By the 1770s, attempts to revitalize Quakerism were underway, with education seen as playing a key role, by nurturing community solidarity, transmitting Quaker beliefs and attitudes, and responding to new social and economic demands. Across the Atlantic, the war years of the American Revolution brought hardship for Quaker communities, due to their close ties with Britain and anti-war stance (Hamm 2003, 35). Nevertheless, a renewed concern for education also gathered pace. The largest Yearly Meeting, Philadelphia, adopted an annual query in 1778 requiring Monthly Meetings to report on the state of education, and there was a rapid growth in Friends’ schools in Pennsylvania and beyond.

The opening of Ackworth in 1779, a coeducational boarding school for the children of members ‘not in affluence’, partly funded by London Yearly Meeting, marked the start of a new phase in Quaker education in Britain, ending a period of decline during which the concern for education had mainly been kept alive by the efforts of dedicated individuals, who felt ‘called’ to educational service (Lacey 1998, 97). In the first few decades of the nineteenth century, more Quaker boarding schools under the care of local Meetings were established, including Sidcot (1808), Islington (1811), and Wigton (1815). Several schools, such as Ayton (1841), were set up to educate the children of parents disowned by the Society, in an attempt to reverse the decline in Members. Manual labour as part of an education continued to be important, both in Britain and North America. The rules of West Lake Friends’ Boarding School in Canada, founded in 1841, stipulated that boys should labour for two hours a day (Brinton 1940, 107). In keeping with the commitment to education for both genders, parallel or dual establishments were usually set up, although accommodation and classes remained separate for most of the nineteenth century.

The number of private schools for the children of wealthier Friends also increased. Academic studies tended to replace manual labour, however, so that the presence of physical work on the curriculum effectively branded the school socially as well as economically inferior (Stewart 1953, 75). Esther Tuke (1727–94) established a girls’ school in York in 1785, to provide an education ‘rather superior to that of Ackworth’. Financial difficulties forced its closure in 1814 but it was revived in 1831 as the Mount School. Meanwhile, a private school for boys in York, Bootham’s, had become a Quarterly Meeting school in 1829 (Sturge and Clark 1931, 4).

Whereas the earliest education efforts had been directed towards the establishment of elementary schools, many of them transitory, by the early nineteenth century American Friends began to found academies or high schools to allow Quaker children to continue their education and to ensure a supply of teachers for the lower schools. The first, in (p. 410) 1784, was in Rhode Island and was later called Moses Brown. Some grew out of elementary schools but developed into boarding schools, because of the difficulty in creating the desired religious environment in a day school. The majority offered education to both genders, although not co-educational in the fullest sense.

A lack of advanced training caused problems in securing teachers for Quaker schools. The profession was not highly regarded and because keeping costs down was always a priority, teachers were usually chronically underpaid (Lacey 1998, 90). It was hard for them to support a family, so in America a plot of ground was often included in the remuneration package to encourage longer service at a school. The monitorial system of Joseph Lancaster (1778–1838), with instruction placed in the care of older pupils to reduce expense, allowed schooling to be provided more cheaply and led to the development of the apprentice teacher (Hole 1978, 12). Increasing pressure to improve Quaker schools led to teacher training being taken more seriously. In Britain, the first male apprentice at Ackworth was given an extra year’s tuition then articled to the school for six or seven years, receiving board and lodging plus a small payment, but in addition to teaching, was expected to have charge of about seventy boys outside the classroom. From 1836 at the Mount School in York, a few girls were admitted annually who, in return for lower fees, stayed on as trainee teachers, while in 1848 the Flounders Institute was established to prepare male teachers to teach at secondary level.

Despite the decline of the more extreme manifestations of Quietism within the majority of the Quaker community, a ‘guarded education’ was still desired. Many of the schools set up in this period were deliberately located in rural settings, seen as healthier but also to minimize contact with the ‘world’. Westtown in 1799, for example, was deliberately located a day’s journey from Philadelphia. In Britain, Ackworth scholars were not even allowed an annual holiday until 1847, to avoid bad influences. ‘Plainness’ had developed into a fetish, and to ensure the correct moral message was imparted, the Society produced its own textbooks and other reading material.

From the early nineteenth century, many American Friends migrated westwards, often from the slave states in the South, travelling to states such as Ohio and Indiana. They also left the east in search of better economic opportunities. Philadelphia remained a major centre of Quakerism, but the number of Friends in the east declined. Frontier life was difficult and isolated; reinforcing Quaker values without a concentration of Friends in the immediate neighbourhood made it even more important to establish schools, to instil the Society’s values. By 1850, the Indiana Yearly Meeting noted ninety-six elementary schools in its environs, with academies also established. Most of these became part of the public school system and the Friends’ Quaker Boarding School in Richmond eventually developed into Earlham College (Bacon 1986, 89).

Bitter schisms shook the Society in America from 1827. The divisions into Hicksite and Orthodox Friends had an impact on the provision of education, as each branch sought to safeguard the transmission of its message.

(p. 411) The changing character of Quaker education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

By the second half of the nineteenth century in Britain, the Society was shedding some of its ‘peculiarities’. Education had also become a national concern, to which many Friends gave service. Forster’s Education Act in 1870, named after former Quaker William E. Forster (1818–86) who was responsible for carrying it through Parliament, paved the way for universal elementary education, while the opening up of Oxford and Cambridge to non-Anglicans in 1871 led to an increased demand for an education that would prepare pupils for university entrance.

Leighton Park School was set up by the Friends’ Public School Company in 1890 to discourage affluent and ambitious parents from sending their sons to non-Quaker public schools and there was little in its curriculum to distinguish it from the latter. Other Quaker schools were also losing their distinctiveness, with severe ‘Quaker dress’ being phased out, and the plain speech that demanded teachers be addressed by both names giving way to the use of titles such as ‘Miss’ and ‘Sir’ (Stewart 1953, 226). The curriculum was widened to embrace the arts, with, for example, singing allowed from the 1860s. Friends were responding to competition from other educational establishments, especially as the number of non-Friends at Quaker schools increased. By 1901, only 55 per cent of pupils in British Quaker schools were the children of Friends. Moreover, a highly critical report in 1879 into the quality of girls’ education in Quaker schools blamed the poor training and pay of women teachers, leading to pressure for improvements, as provision outside the Society was catching up (Stewart 1953, 236).

In America, too, a decrease in both the birth rate and membership of the Society meant more non-Quakers being admitted into their schools. By 1940, only Friends’ Boarding School in Barnesville, Ohio maintained its Friends-only policy (Brinton 1940, 57). From the 1840s, splits occurred within Orthodox Friends, into Gurneyites and Wilburites. Gurneyites, in the majority, were more open to religious movements outside the Society, whereas Wilburites prioritized the retention of Quakerism’s unique characteristics. These differences affected the way each understood its mission to educate; for example, no college was founded by the Wilburites, while in the Midwest, the participation of some Gurneyites in ‘The Great Revival’ introduced strong emotions and sudden conversion experiences into Quaker meetings, which producing further internal conflict (Barbour and Frost 1994, 188). In the early twentieth century, yet more disputes arose between Holiness Quakers and Modernists. The number and diversity of Quaker schools and colleges increased substantially in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, reflecting the divergent groups within American Friends. In areas where an evangelical tendency was foremost, the distinctiveness of Quaker education diminished, lessening the need for exclusivity, and allowing many schools to be absorbed into the public (p. 412) system. Friends’ schools in the East were more likely to survive, albeit with a majority of non-Quaker students.

Higher education and the religious society of Friends

The Society’s attitude towards higher education was initially influenced by hostility towards university training for ‘hireling priests’. During the Quietist period, many feared that ‘head knowledge’ would obscure the leadings of the Light Within. By the early nineteenth century, however, a concern to develop opportunities for advanced learning was gaining momentum, although expressed differently within the various Quaker communities. In Britain until 1871Friends were excluded from university education, which primarily prepared men for the Anglican ministry, while in America until the 1830s there was little interest in establishing Quaker colleges of higher education.

One common motivating factor in the development of higher learning for Friends was the perennial problem of finding suitably qualified Quaker teachers. As many Friends became more affluent, their higher social standing brought increased opportunities for mixing with ‘the world’, adding to pressures for better educational standards. Many parents chose to send their children to non-Quaker schools, despite frequent exhortations from London Yearly Meeting against allowing the Society’s youth to mix with non-Quakers. Clearly, there was a need to train more teachers competent to teach at a higher level, leading to the establishment of the Flounders Institute in 1848, which, in 1858, adapted to the examination requirements of London University (Lacey 1998, 102). For other advanced learning, however, British Friends chose to support non-sectarian educational initiatives, such as the development of London University from 1836, rather than to establish institutions of their own.

In America, a tradition for religious bodies to found private colleges was well established, and this was the route taken by American Quakers. To understand the development of Quaker-born colleges, the separations occurring from the late 1820s must be taken into account. Oliver describes three phases in the establishment of Quaker colleges in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Oliver 2007, 265–6). The first, in the 1830s and 1840s, saw the founding of Haverford (Pennsylvania), Earlham (Indiana), and Guilford (North Carolina), all originally Orthodox academies providing secondary education, only later officially becoming colleges, in 1856, 1859, and 1888 respectively. Second, three colleges set up between 1869 and the end of the century, William Penn (Iowa, 1873), George Fox (Oregon, 1891), and Whittier (California, 1896), had also begun as high schools, but the other three, Swarthmore (Pennsylvania, 1869), Wilmington (Ohio, 1870), and Bryn Mawr (Pennsylvania, 1885), were established as colleges from the start. Swarthmore was the only college set up by Hicksites. In the third phase, from 1892 to 1917, Malone (Ohio, 1892), Asuza Pacific (California, 1899), and Barclay (Kansas, 1917) began as Bible colleges or training institutions for Christian (p. 413) workers. Friends’ University (Kansas) was set up in 1898 as a college from the start.. In addition, Cornell (New York, 1868) and Johns Hopkins (Maryland, 1873), although not intended as Quaker institutions, were founded by Quakers.

The reasons for the establishment of colleges varied, although with one factor in common: the desire, through higher education, to strengthen the community of whichever tradition out of which the college had grown. Their development has largely followed mainstream trends towards a secular curriculum rather than maintaining a specifically Quaker education (Hamm 2007, xvi). Because of early financial difficulties in most colleges, non-Quakers had to be attracted, leading to the introduction of aspects of non-Quaker college life such as fraternities and athletics, and a subsequent weakening of Quaker ‘peculiarities’. The exceptions, Malone and Barclay, were founded in reaction to the Modernist movement in the late nineteenth century, but were heavily influenced by non-Quaker religious fundamentalism. Overall, cultural shifts in the late nineteenth century meant that barriers between Quakers and the rest of American society were breaking down, with expertise rather than religious orthodoxy being demanded from their colleges.

Quakers of all types have played a significant role in the development of higher education for women. In Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex, with Suggestions for its Improvement published in 1798, British Quaker Priscilla Wakefield (1751–1832) argued for a rational and moral system of education so that women could fulfil their obligation to be useful citizens and financially self-supporting (Leach and Goodman 2001, 166–8). Although her ideas had little impact at the time, in the second half of the nineteenth century, female Friends worked towards the realization of Wakefield’s aspirations through the struggle to obtain higher qualifications for women on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, five out of the first eight students studying medicine at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850 were Quakers, while in Britain, female Friends supported the establishment of Girton, the first Cambridge college for women (Bacon 1986, 151; O’Donnell 2001, 45). Moreover, in America, all the Quaker colleges, with the exception of Haverford (male) and Bryn Mawr (female), admitted students of both genders. Swarthmore was especially radical in terms of providing fully coeducational higher education from the start together with equal participation on its management board and the employment of female faculty (Densmore 2007, 57)

Involvement in education outside the society, late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

From the beginning of Quakerism, individual Friends viewed the extension of learning to all, regardless of class, race, or gender, as a religious obligation. In nineteenth-century Britain, Quakers were associated with prison schools, the Ragged Schools movement, (p. 414) and the drive towards universal elementary education. As with other reform and philanthropic movements, Friends appear to have had an impact out of all proportion to their small numbers in the wider society, and whether as individuals or as a community have often been associated with educational ideals that appear years ahead of their time. However, the assumption that Friends were inevitably in the vanguard of new educational ventures must be treated with caution. Too narrow a focus on Quakers and education brings the danger of claiming the Society was inevitably at the forefront of all developments, but even during the Quietist period, Friends were affected and influenced by the social, cultural, and economic realities of the period in which they lived. By the end of the eighteenth century, they were just as likely to be collaborating with educationalists of other denominations as they were to be initiating exclusively Quaker institutions (Lunn 2007, 217). By examining the full context, their efforts can be viewed as part of a wider consciousness. Similar educational philosophies emerged in the same period apparently unrelated to each other, suggesting roots in a common culture (Lacey 1998, 176–204). For example, the views of Johann Amos Comenius (1592–1670) on the importance of learning through observation and investigation, and the educational philosophy of John Locke (1632–1704), which stressed the development of moral character over book learning and endorsed a practical and science-based curriculum, bore striking similarities to those of William Penn, although there is no evidence that Penn read either. John Griscom (1774–1852), a New York Quaker scientist and educator, travelled around Europe in the early nineteenth century, visiting a wide variety of institutions to observe their educational practices. His journal, published in 1824, influenced educational practices among Friends and others, for example, on the Reformatory movement.

Quaker Meetings first demonstrated their commitment to making education available to the poor by supporting less-affluent members, but the provision for poor children outside the Society was a favourite form of philanthropy. In New York in 1801, women Friends organized non-denominational schools for the poor; these were eventually adopted by the city and developed into the New York public school system. True to their ideals of spiritual equality, Quakers established schools for both genders, for example, Anthony Benezet (1713–84) founded the first public school for girls in the American colonies in 1754, teaching French, Latin, the classics, composition, and gymnastic exercises. Individual Friends also developed new educational strategies, some of which became very influential, to aid provision for the poor. John Bellers’s (1654–1725) ‘Colledge of Industry’ (1696) advocated teaching trades to the unskilled unemployed within a self-sustaining community, combining manual training with careful moral supervision of the young (Brinton 1940, 94). Although his ideas were only partially realized in the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell, others interested in changing society through education were influenced by them, most notably Robert Owen at New Lanark, Scotland between 1800 and 1825. The educational theories of Quaker Joseph Lancaster (1778–1838) were also widely applied. Concerned that the poor were denied education because of the cost of schoolmasters, he devised a method of teaching whereby a single teacher could be in charge of three hundred or more children in one schoolroom, the younger children being taught in small groups by the older, known as monitors. (p. 415) The monitorial system dominated popular education in Britain and parts of America for decades.. However, Quakers were not unique in displaying a religiously motivated interest in educating the poor; other denominations were similarly committed.

In 1671, George Fox, writing to Friends in Barbados, exhorted them to ‘teach, instruct and admonish Negroes, Tawnies and Indians’ (Brinton 1940, 87). Anthony Benezet (1713–1784), a convinced Friend originally from France, believed that education of the poor was a religious and social duty for the well-to-do, dedicating his life to this cause. He had already taught both freed and slave African–American children in the evenings for twenty years when he inspired the establishment of the Negro School in Philadelphia in 1770, providing a basic education free of charge and overseen by a committee appointed by the Monthly Meeting. In 1837, Philadelphia Quakers established the Institute for Coloured Youth, offering a more advanced curriculum, which later expanded to provide industrial, mechanical and agricultural courses (Lacey 1998, 121–3). After the Civil War, some Quakers helped provide schools for freed slaves. In 1866, for example, there were nine new schools in Columbus, Mississippi (Barbour and Frost 1994, 198), while Indiana Yearly Meeting established and supported Southland College, an industrial and teacher-training school for black people in Arkansas.

Despite these pioneer efforts, the Society did not carry the doctrine of racial equality to its logical conclusion, generally favouring separate schools for the different races with few exceptions. In 1832, the admittance of black pupils to a girls’ school in Connecticut led to the proprietor Prudence Crandall (1803–90), a Friend and abolitionist, being thrown into jail and the school almost destroyed by an angry mob (Brinton 1940, 91). The emphasis on practical training in the institutions which they established for African–Americans, moreover, suggests that Quakers subscribed to the accommodationist ideas of Booker T. Washington and even in the twentieth century, Quakers were slow to admit minority students into their own schools (Lacey 1998, 70). Earlham was apparently the first Quaker college to admit a black student, in 1880, while Malone, a Bible college established by Quakers in 1892, admitted African–American students from the start, but it was not until the 1920s that Haverford College began to do the same, and Wilmington College did not integrate until the 1950s (Hamm 2007, xx).

There is no evidence for Friends’ involvement in the education of Native Americans until the late eighteenth century, despite Fox’s encouragement. In 1796, three Friends established schools for Oneidas, training the children in gender-appropriate skills, such as smith work for the boys and spinning for the girls (Woody 1920, 263). Similar initiatives followed in the nineteenth century.

Quakers and adult education

It has been claimed that the greatest contribution of British Quakers in the field of education was to basic adult education (Wright 1995, 80). However, Lunn warns that the history of their involvement in the expansion of education has too frequently presented a partial (p. 416) ‘insider account’, focusing on their perceived distinctiveness rather than acknowledging that Friends were ‘both riding and contributing to the wave of a wider tide of social concern and action’ (Lunn 2007, 206). Adult education in Britain actually began in the 1660s, with Dissenting Academies providing university learning for non-conformists. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was set up in 1699 by Anglicans to encourage literacy in adults, while the Methodist ‘circulating schools’ of the 1780s attracted adults as well as children. In the first half of the nineteenth century, subscription libraries, Mechanics’ institutes, literary and philosophical societies, all added to the opportunities for non-sectarian education for working-class adults. Individual Friends contributed to these early forms of adult education, for example, in 1798 a Methodist minister and a Quaker formed the first adult Sunday school for women lace-makers. However, it was not until the 1830s that their own First-Day Schools, instigated by Evangelical Quakers, began to spread. Part of Home Mission Work, they were not necessarily seen as a way of direct recruitment into the Society, although it was hoped to bring some into the fold. Conservative Friends expressed reservations about adult schools but Jones saw them as the means by which the Society’s social conscience was deepened (Jones 1921, 95). American Quakers showed a similar concern for adult education, including their provision targeted at African–American and Native American people.

The establishment of educational settlements by British Quakers in the early twentieth century grew out of the adult school movement, as fewer adults were attracted to Sunday classes providing only basic education and Bible study. The first two settlements were set up in 1909. By 1921, fourteen were affiliated with the Friends’ Educational Settlements Association. Meanwhile, following a peak of 113,789 in 1910, membership of adult schools plummeted to 50,761 within a decade. Paradoxically, the emergence of educational settlements may actually have hastened the decline of Quaker adult schools, by offering a wider curriculum, professional teachers, and other activities (Freeman 2007, 195). Although clearly influenced by the university settlement movement of the later nineteenth century, where university students lived and worked amongst the urban poor, the Quaker initiative tended to have non-residential staff, focusing more narrowly on education. Some did perform broader functions, however, working to improve living conditions and providing material relief in areas of high unemployment during the Depression, particularly in South Wales. In the interwar years, with financial support from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, these settlements were significant providers of adult education, seen by their supporters as an important means to forge links between Quaker Meetings and the wider community, by promoting a sense of spiritual fellowship. From the late 1930s, there was increasing competition from other adult education providers with better resources, while the term ‘settlement’ became associated with Victorian paternalism. After the Second World War, many Quaker settlements were subsumed into community centres, which emphasized informal communal activities rather than formal educational provision, while others closed altogether, with just a few surviving as independent institutions. At the start of the twenty-first century, the Society still promotes ‘lifelong learning’ and some of its earliest ‘settlements’ continue to offer a community education service, albeit very different from that envisaged at the beginning of the movement.

(p. 417) As well as basic adult education as a social service or form of outreach, British Quakers also became concerned with religious education for members who had completed formal education. This could take the form of lectures, conferences, libraries, reading circles, and adult Bible classes, but at the beginning of the twentieth century there was a call on both sides of the Atlantic to establish permanent centres of study. The idea of a British Quaker college was first mooted in the late nineteenth century, to, in the words of George Cadbury, ‘infuse a new spirit and energy into the Society’ (Lunn 2007, 212). The 1895 Manchester Conference was an important stage in the readjustment of Quakers to the demands of the modern world. John Wilhelm Rowntree (1868–1905), a leading voice at the gathering, called for Friends to prepare to apply their Christian spirit to the needs of society and in 1903, Woodbrooke opened in a building donated by Cadbury in Selly Oak, Birmingham, supported by an endowment from Rowntree.

In America, the Haverford Summer Schools held in 1900 and 1904 marked the start of a new phase in religious education for adult members (Brinton 1940, 51). From 1918 the John Woolman School at Swarthmore offered courses in religious and social subjects, while in 1918 a graduate school for the study of religious subjects was set up at Haverford College. Pendle Hill was founded in 1930 at Wallingford, Pennsylvania, where in addition to attending lectures and discussion groups, students, in keeping with the ethos of earlier times, shared domestic duties. Adult Sunday Schools for members have also developed as an important function of programmed meetings in the twentieth century, as well as vacation Bible schools, retreats, and camps. Unprogrammed meetings of Wilburites and Hicksites, on the other hand, having been slow to embrace the First Day Schools movement in the nineteenth century, tend to offer religious education for adult members through discussion groups before or after meetings for worship (Hamm 2003, 118–19).

Mission as education

Although the earliest Friends, including George Fox, exhibited missionary zeal, as the movement developed so did a reluctance to send missionaries overseas, partly because of opposition to a paid ministry. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that some urged members to follow the biblical injunction to take the Gospel message to the heathen. Rachel Metcalf was the first British Quaker missionary, working in India in 1866 and soon Quaker missionaries, from America as well as Britain, were travelling to other parts of the world, including China, Ceylon, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. In the absence of educational opportunities in these countries, an important part of the Society’s mission was the provision of schools.

Quaker schools in the Middle East date back to the start of missionary activity in the 1860s. A girls’ training school was first inaugurated at Ramallah, Palestine, in 1869, a boys’ school following in 1901. Remarkably, both survived the disruption of multiple foreign occupations, world wars and intifadas, despite fluctuating school rolls, periods of closure, and influxes of refugees. In 1990 the schools became coeducational, the Girls’ (p. 418) School encompassing the kindergarten and elementary departments and the Boys’ School becoming a high school ([]) From the 1970s Friends have also provided support for a pre-school play centre and several kindergartens elsewhere in this troubled region, such as the Gaza Strip, as well as training adults to deal with the many cases of trauma seen in Palestinian children. Schools at Brummana, Lebanon, developed from the late 1860s through the efforts of Elijah G. Saleeby and Theophilus Waldmeier (1832–1915). Waldmeier, a German–Swiss missionary who became a Quaker in 1874, expanded educational provision at Brummana with the support of British Friends, making it available to both genders in separate schools until coeducation was introduced in 1902. Like the schools at Ramallah, Brummana endured decades of disruption caused by conflict in the region. The school allows pupils to follow their own beliefs, but the ethos of the school has been based on the principles of the Religious Society of Friends, emphasizing non-violence, equality, respect for individuals, and service to the pupils’ communities, as well as intellectual excellence ([]).

The largest concentration of Quakers at the beginning of the twenty-first century outside the United States is in Kenya, where about 200 secondary and 1,000 primary schools have been founded, as well as a university. From the arrival of the first Quaker missionaries in 1902, Friends have played a major role in secondary education and vocational and agricultural training, centred on the mission established at Kaimosi, as well as establishing a theological college there ([]). Elsewhere in Africa, the Great Lakes School of Theology at Bujumbura in Burundi, set up in 1999, provides theological training for students from Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda.

From the early twentieth century, Friends established schools in many countries in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean, including Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba, although Cuban schools were taken over by the Castro government in 1959. Since 1920, Quakers have also been present in Bolivia, where membership comprised the third-largest Quaker population in the world by the early twenty-first century (Barbour and Frost 1994, 272–5). The Society has been important in providing schooling for the indigenous people, the Aymara Indians making up the majority of its members there, with further initiatives developing out of the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund which began operating formally in 2003. There are also individual schools in Japan, Australia, India, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe.


This chapter has offered only a brief account of the many ways in which the enduring commitment of the Religious Society of Friends to education has been expressed. Schools and colleges with roots in Quakerism continue to profess the importance of certain principles, despite Quakers usually being a tiny minority of those attending. (p. 419) Quakers have also helped to develop educational opportunities for all and new forms of teaching, including an involvement in progressive education in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as developing resources for the wider educational community, for example, in peace studies and conflict resolution. Although it may be inaccurate to claim that Friends have stood alone as educational innovators, their reputation as significant educators deserves recognition.

Suggested further reading

Clarke, G. (1987) John Bellers: His life, times and writings. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Find this resource:

Davis, R. (1953) Woodbrooke, 1903–1953: A brief history of a Quaker experiment in Religious Education. London: Bannisdale Press.Find this resource:

Freeman, M. (2004) The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust: a study in Quaker philanthropy and adult education 1904–1954. York: William Sessions.Find this resource:

Havilland, M. M. (2006) ‘Westtown’s Integration: “A natural and fruitful enlargement of our lives”’, in Quaker History 95:2, pp 19–33.Find this resource:

Heath, D. H. (1979) The peculiar mission of a Quaker school. Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill.Find this resource:

Kashatus, W. C. (1997) A virtuous education: Penn’s vision for Philadelphia schools. Wallingford. PA: Pendle Hill.Find this resource:

Mather, E. P. (1980) Pendle Hill: A Quaker experiment in education and community. Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill.Find this resource:

Rasmussen, A. M. B. (1995), A history of the Quaker Movement in Africa. London: British Academic Press.Find this resource: