Gest Fellow Kathryn Falvo is a Ph.D. student in History at Penn State University. Her project is entitled “Spurning the Protection of Man: Quaker Women and Travel in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries.”
I’ve spent this last month at Haverford researching the lives of traveling Quaker women, who ventured beyond their communities, states, and even continents to participate in the wider Quaker world of the 18th and 19th centuries. Although the original project was to simply understand Quaker women’s motivations, my time at Haverford has showed me how complex this particular kind of traveling is. With the information gained here (and with future visits to Philadelphia) I hope to round out my thoughts for a full dissertation on the topic.
Unlike other Christian women who travel for their faith, Quaker women (particularly in these early years) were rarely evangelistic. Their movements read like a catalogue of social calls, moving from small meetinghouse to the dwellings of various Friends. Traveling Quakers take vigil over the sick, participate in local social affairs, and have religious conversations with small gatherings of Friends. In short, they participate in the domestic life of the places they visit. Rather than visiting strangers in an attempt at conversion, these women visit known Quaker strongholds to strengthen an already existing fellowship. Through these visitations, they maintain a socially and politically close knit community – even across the Atlantic and through years of national and international warfare.
As I am finding out though, travel meant different things to this community as the eighteenth century passed into the nineteenth. In the 18th century, religious visits called to the tradition of the “Valiant Sixty,” the original Quakers who were sent out with a biblical mission to spread and strengthen the Quaker faith. The goal of the Valiant Sixty was to visit rural areas to strengthen small Quaker communities, and bound together a wider church with love and fellowship. Eighteenth century travelers, both male and female, (literally) followed in these footsteps. They established a mapped network of travel routes, lodging contacts, and small meetings, and created a cohesiveness to the faith. As the century turned, however, various larger social changes altered the significance of this travel. Traditional gender roles changed as the market economy changed, placing more demanding domestic expectations on women and keeping them at home more frequently. As marriage ideals changed, some women became more hesitant to leave their husbands for long periods of time. Similarly, relationships between parents and children changed, and leaving children for extended travels was considered far more irresponsible than it had been a few decades earlier. Changing technologies (like railroads) and the emergence of travel as a leisure activity altered the ways that women moved and the financial responsibility of the church and ministers.
At the same time that their opportunities were limited, though, women found the traditional networks laid by earlier Quakers to be a useful tool for the political endeavors of the 19th century. As antislavery picked up steam and the Grimké sisters propelled the feminist movement into action, travel became politicized in a way that it had not necessarily been before. In this sense, travel was a traditional of the Quaker faith that helped propel women into political action and can help explain (alongside the liberal policies of the faith more generally) why some of the biggest names in feminist history – like Lucretia Mott and Angelina and Sarah Grimké – came from the Quaker faith.
I spent my month here pouring over manuscripts left by various female travelers. The best access to their thoughts and experiences is through their journals, which document their religious and worldly experiences. Fortunately many of these were published and are now housed in Haverford’s rare book collection. Others found their way into Friends Miscellany or other Friends’ journals. By printing and publicizing them, the Quaker community showed its support for female travelers and the importance of the religious/social work they achieved. However, it also shows the biases of this community. Published journals are usually only from women who traveled abroad, and are highly politicized. Less printed journals exist after the turn of the 19th century. Haverford also houses many of the unpublished diaries of traveling women – women like Ann Shipley, for example, who traveled through the Southern United States thirty years before the Civil War, and remarks upon the horror of seeing slavery firsthand. I was also able to make use of an extensive letter collection, detailing the communications of women with one another while abroad and reading the advice passed from generation to generation about travel. Some women kept detailed accounts of their routes and the miles they traveled – a number-focused booklet that sheds new light on the meaning of distance and religious devotion.
While here I received fabulous insights from the archivists, historians, and librarians at Haverford. Walter Hjelt Sullivan pointed out to me the original religious importance of travel for the early Quaker church, which had previously been too far out of my radar. Margaret Schaus led me to consider the meaning of calculated pilgrimage in different areas, opening up my thought process to other eras and demographics. Susan M. Stuard showed me valuable student work on Charity Cook, a rather elusive (though crucial) traveler in the 19th century. Emma Lapsansky-Werner pushed me to consider the meaning of “community” in various eras, and challenged me to think about the particular family circumstances of women on the road. John Anderies pointed me to a substantial map collection, a necessary visualization of the routes Quakers took, and helpful for understanding the movements of various women as meetings emerged and dissipated in different eras. Ann Upton showed me the Friends’ Rules of Discipline, and pointed me towards a wealth of secondary and published material. Diana Peterson aided me with some of the more difficult biographical work, hunted manuscripts down for me, and even traced a few slang words from the 19th century when we were stumped with Quakers’ writing. I can’t express enough gratitude for the work of these excellent historians. I have been extraordinarily grateful for such a wonderful opportunity.