QHR: How It Came About & Presenter Previews

Why is the Quaker History Roundtable like an Alaska cruise?

[Note: for inquiries about the Roundtable, email me at: contact@nullnewquakerhistory.net ]

Of course, it’s really not. Except in one respect: such cruises are mostly taken, so I’m told, by retired folks. And the Quaker History Roundtable is also a retirement project: mine.

I’ve been retired for four-plus years, and interested in Quaker history for about fifty. I’ve done research, attended conferences of historians, and written my share of articles and books on related topics. I’ve also organized some conferences. (For more about me, go here: http://afriendlyletter.com/chuck-fager/ )

Retirement is supposed to be when, with time growing short, one gets to work on the bucket list. And on my list, making some sense of the last century — half of which I spent among Friends — is pretty high. Much higher than going on a cruise. Working on Quaker history has been continually stimulating for me, and often fun. And not much has been done on the 20th century among Quakers — despite the fact that a LOT went on.

Seventeen years past the end of that century, I figured it was time to start filling that gap. So about a year ago I began sounding out scholars and others I’ve met and heard about who are also Quaker history geeks, and suggested we do some work, then get together and share and discuss it; many were interested. And I had enough savings to underwrite it, so I did.  Many thanks are due to the Earlham School of Religion for agreeing to host it, and cooperate on the arrangements. Fortunately, history geeks are relatively simple to arrange for, logistics-wise: they mostly talk and argue (er, discuss), then eat and talk & “discuss” some more.

And when it’s done, I’ll compile the book of papers from it, a task that’s much easier and less expensive than it was a few years ago, still to the amazement of yours truly, who wrote his first three books on an ancient instrument called a typewriter.

For reference: a typewriter, circa 1950

That new volume will be a record of our fun, will hopefully extend our reach of our work, and I hope will stimulate some others to dig into the rich  and largely unexplored record of American Quakerism. After all, while I’m immensely grateful to all those who sent in proposals for presentations, it’s also true that we’ve barely scratched the surface.

And before anyone asks, quite properly, why I was so parochial as to focus on American Quaker history, when the increasingly conventional wisdom is that more of the action is outside the US borders and in the global south, here’s the answer: this is what I know, it’s what I felt I could handle organizationally, and what I could afford. I urge those who want to fill in the recent history of Quakers outside the US and the “First World” to get busy and do it, or help it get done. I hope I’ll be around to read and hear some of the results.

But enough about me, except for the admission that if you use the contact form to send in an email, I’m the one it comes to. Soon you’ll have the chance to read early “field reports from some of the Roundtable participants.


Glimpses of the presentations, which are still taking shape.

Several QHR presenters have taken part in email interviews about their Roundtable projects. Here are excerpts. (Watch for more!)

GUY AIKEN is completing a doctorate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia

— A summary/abstract of your topic

This paper uses original research in the archives of the AFSC, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and the Bundesarchiv Berlin (Lichterfelde), to probe the tension between peace and justice in the AFSC’s major humanitarian projects between the Great War and World War II.

Neutrality is a tenet of humanitarian organizations generally, and the early AFSC was no exception. In order to feed over five million German children in the early 1920s and over sixty thousand coalminers’ children in Appalachia in the 1920s and 30s, and to rescue upwards of six thousand Jews and non-Aryans from Nazi Europe during the Holocaust, the AFSC had to maintain a posture of absolute political (and religious) neutrality. Neutrality was also often the posture of middle-class churches preaching the Social Gospel, which influenced the staff and volunteers of the AFSC in the 1920s and 1930s.

But neutrality can also be a logical consequence of a certain interpretation of Quakerism, one that finds the Spirit leading in the single direction of peace among all people, who individually, each and every one, have that of God in them. This paper argues that the neutrality which humanitarianism, the Social Gospel, and a certain kind of Quakerism demanded often precluded the AFSC from pursuing the justice that peace requires.

A glance at AFSC social-justice projects after World War II poses the question of whether the AFSC came to discard neutrality once the US federal government assumed the burden of mass humanitarianism both at home and abroad.

— How did you get interested in this topic?
Reading Thomas Kelly with Max Carter at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in the spring of 2009 led me to pursue a PhD at the University of Virginia with an initial focus on Kelly and Rufus Jones that broadened into a consuming interest in the AFSC’s German child-feeding, or the Quakerspeisung. On a four-month research fellowship in Philadelphia, to research the AFSC in Germany, I became engrossed as well in the AFSC’s work in Appalachia in the 1920s and 1930s.

— One or two things you’ve learned so far that are colorful, surprising or challenging

One of the AFSC’s workers in Germany was a German immigrant to the United States who, according to her application to the AFSC, boarded with my great-grandfather in Worcester, Massachusetts, for eight years upon arriving in the country as an orphan.

— How has your research changed your view of the topic (if it has)?

I started with an image in mind of the AFSC’s work in Germany as nothing but heroic. Deeper research into the AFSC’s mission to the Gestapo in December 1938, in particular, together with exposure to the organization’s Appalachian work, led me for a time to be extremely critical of their neutral stance. Finally, in writing the dissertation on which this paper for the Roundtable is based, I arrived at what I hope is a more nuanced view, by turns admiring, critical, and ambivalent.

— How do you hope your work will enlarge our understanding of recent Quakerism?
I hope it will show the enormous influence of the Social Gospel on liberal Quakers and the severe testing of the peace testimony that the early AFSC occasioned for its workers.
— Is there a graphic related to the paper you can share? Or maybe a striking quote?

“We do not ask who is to blame…” – Rufus Jones, AFSC mission to the Gestapo’s “Statement of Aims,” 1938


GREG HINSHAW is Superintendent of the Randolph Central School Corporation in Winchester, Indiana:

— Abstract/Summary Of Project
The Five Years Meeting of Friends, created in 1902 and known since 1966 as Friends United Meeting, has, from the beginning reflected the larger trends within what has become known as mainline Protestantism. Its creation was contemporary to growth and institutionalizing centralization in other denominations. From the beginning it was, by far, the largest such group of Quakers in the world, and its focus on foreign missions, publications, church extension, and peace and temperance work also mirrored that of the larger churches, which were its fellow members in the Federal Council of Churches. The theological conflict it faced in the first third of the century, the dominance of modernist, center-left leaders, the resurgence of neo-evangelicalism within its ranks after World War II, and its precipitous decline in North American membership since the 1960s all show its connections to the larger mainline. In numerous other ways, large and small, virtually all of the successes and failures of the Five Years Meeting reflect not so much its Quakerism but its attempts, intentionally or not, to serve as a Quaker version of establishment Protestantism.

–How did you get interested in this topic?

I am a lifelong, multi-generation member of Friends United Meeting from a local meeting that has, for most of its history, taken a measured view of FUM. I have served a total of a dozen years on the General Board of FUM and for the last nine as a member of its Executive Board. I was asked to write the chapter on FUM for the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies at the suggestion of Tom Hamm.

One or two things that are colorful, surprising, or challenging:
Theological tension has been present within FUM almost from the beginning, though a broad centrist core, largely centered in Indiana, Western, Wilmington, and North Carolina, has dominated the organization for all of its history. As membership in these core areas has rapidly declined, the fortunes of the organization have shifted.

— How has your research change your view of the topic?

I have a much clearer understanding of the presence of conflict and strategy within FUM over many decades. I also have consistently encountered themes that swing from a triumphalism at being the “biggest” to embarrassment at having seemingly exchanged some elusive original form of Quakerism for a generic Protestantism.

— How do you hope your work will enlarge our understanding of recent Quakerism?

FYM-FUM Quakerism has always been the largest form of Quakerism is the world, and, considering the membership in Kenya, may remain so for many years, but it has received very little scholarly attention, a deficit that is mirrored by a dearth of comprehensive scholarship on mainline Protestantism in general. I hope that this paper will be the start of further historical work on the place of FYM Quakerism in North America and in the world both in Quaker and larger mainline contexts.

— Two striking quotes:

“Midwestern Quakers have adapted some of the practices of mainline denominations. They have pastors, planned meetings, and more conservative politics.” -Indianapolis Star, November 14, 1992

“A recent study of the Five Years Meeting by a professional group brought forward the report that the body is effectively organized to prevent action and decision. The current mood in Quakerism is to be shy of all leadership, either in recognizing it, or assuming it.”
-“The Image of the Friends Pastor, no date, Lorton Heusel’s files



DOUG GWYN, the author of several books, including Apocalypse of the Word and The Covenant Crucified. My current favorite is his recent study, Personality & Place, a “theological history of Pendle Hill,” which goes well beyond describing one Quaker center’s evolution to paint a revealing portrait of the larger Quaker movement for which it has been the crossroads for four generations.  Doug is currently doing research at Pendle Hill:

Title and summary: Blowin’ in the Wind: Friends General Conference Gatherings, 1896 to Present

The annual FGC Gathering is a unique phenomenon.  It may be used as a registering instrument to trace what has inspired or disturbed liberal-progressive Friends year by year.  I am currently writing a history extending up to 1950, utilizing affect theory and rhetorical analysis to understand the evolution of what I am calling FGC’s “heroic period.”

I am not a Gathering regular, and have often viewed it skeptically as mere “zeitgeist,” a Religious Society of Trends.  But I always come away from Gatherings energized and intrigued.  I decided that I need to explore this further — even to take “zeitgeist” more seriously.  Chuck Fager’s recent work on Progressive Friends and Tom Hamm’s work on 19th-century Hicksites added to some helpful frameworks for interpretation.

The most surprising part of my research so far has been to find how confident and optimistic the first Conferences were that the world was finally “coming our way,” that their Quakerism was the “normal” religion for the new century. A more realistic and resilient vision emerges after World War I.

I hope this work will offer Friends a useful sense of the trajectory that leads to Gathering as we know it today.

Inspirational quote: “Quakerism is a cheap religion.  I fear that we may come to value it at its cost.”  Clement Biddle, Swarthmore Conference, 1896.


From EMMA LAPSANSKY-WERNER, Haverford College. Her scholarly interests have ranged widely, including co-authoring the text, The Struggle for Freedom: A History of African Americans, and editing a book on Quaker Aesthetics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption, 1720–1920. She has even been known to use Quaker mystery novels in her classes. Here she is exploring another aspect of Quake communal experience:


Since as early as William Penn in the 1680s, Quakers have held the conviction that a carefully-planned living environment and community-governing structure can build, nourish, and sustain individual virtue. In modern times, many Friends continue to subscribe to that conviction. Thus, Quakers have consistently experimented with “intentional” communities (some would call the “communes”) based on that conviction. This paper explores the dreams, goals, and experience of several such Quaker intentional communities in the United States, from the 1930s to the present day. It invites future scholars to shine their light on these experimental communities.


— How did you get interested in this topic?

Having met several members of Philadelphia’s Friendship Cooperative Houses, Inc, which thrived from 1946 into the 1960s, I was fascinated by their narratives of their experience. The 30+ interviews I conducted with founders and members FCH, Inc, soon developed an interest in comparable institutions such as the Celo Community in western North Carolina; Pennsylvania’s Pendle Hill Quaker Study Center;  and Costa Rica’s Monteverde Community, among others. The efforts of the visionaries who imagined the relationship between community life and individual virtue inspires me, and sparks my imagination.


— One or two things you’ve learned so far that are colorful, surprising or challenging

I love to explore the borders along Quakerism/capitalism that have been such an important part of Friends’ history. One of the founders of the FCH, Inc community described his goal thus: “to do a little good and make a profit.” I find it interesting to view the issues through that lens.


— How do you hope your work will enlarge our understanding of recent Quakerism?

Quaker life, from its beginnings, has struggled (sometimes creatively, sometimes viciously) with the tension between individual “authority” and community “authority”? I like to think that contemplating how we’ve navigated those rutted roads in the past might help us think well about how to navigate them in the future.


H. LARRY INGLE is retired from teaching history at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. He secured his reputation as a leading Quaker historian with a pair of firsts: Quakers In Conflict, the first account of the Orthodox-Hicksite separation of 1827; and First Among Friends,  first genuinely scholarly biography of George Fox.

His most recent book, Nixon’s First Cover-Up, takes the wraps off the most recent Quaker president’s use (& misuse) of his Quaker heritage in a notorious political career. Here his sights are set on another noted 20th century America Friend.


The title is, Pickett vs. Chambers: A Case Study of Elite Class Power. It  presents the context and describes the efforts by AFSC executive secretary Clarence Pickett to marginalize ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers within the Quaker community after his 1948 testimony implicating New Dealer Alger Hiss for passing along copies of government documents for shipment to the Soviet Union.

Clarence Pickett, AFSC Executive Secretary, 1929-1950.

It demonstrates how Pickett’s testimony in Hiss’s second perjury trial called into question Chambers’s veracity and then cast doubt on his commitment to Quakerism in the secular public media. In the process my paper pulls the curtain back on one method used by weighty Friends to isolate “conservative” Quakers and make them uncomfortable, even unacceptable, on even rural meetings’ backbenches.

— How did you get interested in this topic?:
Long fascinated by Chambers, I became more so after researching my 2015 book on Nixon’s First Cover-up.

— One or two things you’ve learned so far that are colorful, surprising or challenging:
I was surprised by the depth of Chambers’s experience with Quakerism, recounted in his classic memoir Witness, itself worthy of designation as a Quaker journal. And I was both surprised and shocked by Clarence Pickett’s gall in assuming that he had the standing to challenge a Friend as he did Chambers with impunity. And then he never mentioned nor explained anything about the whole affair in his memoir.
— how has your research changed your view of the topic (if it has)?
It makes me wonder if my rather lofty view of Quakers is supportable or not.

— How do you hope your work will enlarge our understanding of recent Quakerism?
It should certainly give other scholars a different, more realistic, set of questions to ask their material.
— Is there a striking quote  related to the paper you can share?

Excerpt from a Pickett letter to the editor of the Saturday Review, 14 Jun 1952, on  the impact of Chambers’s willingness to toy around with Reinhold Niebuhr’s version of  neo-orthodoxy: “This all leaves one feeling that religious assurance is yet to come to this troubled spirit [Chambers’s], and that the race with catastrophe is not over.”

Above: the mug shot of Alger Hiss, former U.S. diplomat & consultant for the AFSC, who was convicted of perjury after being accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union.

Watch for more previews of QHR presentations here. And if you’re interested in attending the Quaker History Roundtable, (there is no attendance fee), email Chuck Fager at:  contact@nullnewquakerhistory.net



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