Quakers, Haverford, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

One of my favorite parts about writing stories for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s website PhilaPlace.org is learning about the history of places I pass almost every time I am in Philly. In my last post I talked about the Wanamaker family that owned the Macy’s building, but recently I wrote about a site that hits a little closer to home.

This past week I wrote a story about the Arch Street Friends Meeting House (which you can read here: www.philaplace.org/story/1629/). On Monday I was able to do my research for this story at Haverford, where I spent most of the day in special collections reading. It was really cool to be able to explore the library more than I do when I am writing papers for my classes. I also knew very little about Haverford’s Quaker history before writing this story. Every thing I knew came from brief discussions with the Quakers on campus and the Quaker style meetings held throughout the year. If you had told me there were different groups within the Society of Friends I’m not sure I would have believed you.

The Society of Friends was nicknamed the Quakers because of the way they supposedly quake during prayer meetings. Since I had already been to the Quaker Meeting House at Haverford I knew to expect a simple plain room with benches facing the center, but I had no clue that Quakers did not believe in hierarchies. Thus there are no tiers and the members all face the center. This way there is no group that is in a position of power. At the same time there are members of the Society, both men and women, who were recognized as gifted speakers and sat on their own bench. When the Arch Street Friends Meeting House was built the Black members were also designated their own bench. Once everyone arrived the participants would sit in silence until someone felt moved to speak.

Philadelphia’s connection with Quakers goes back to the beginning. William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, was a Quaker. He made sure he bought the land from the natives even though the land was already given to him by the King of England. He also made sure that the natives could still use the same paths and meeting places that they had previously used, even if someone had a house on that property. The Quakers went on the create many organizations that aided all types of people. The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery was started by Quakers, and in the 1830s, they created the Institute for Colored Youth.

The Quakers also founded many schools, including Haverford and Swarthmore. On June 18, 1830 there was a meeting to discuss the creation of a college for orthodox boys. This school turned into Haverford College, which was opened in 1833. The Hicksites, a fraction that separated in 1827 due to Protestant evangelical influence, responded by building Swarthmore College. The Quakers went on to create more schools for boys and girls in and around Philadelphia.

It is really cool to know a little bit more about the history of the Quakers and the school I go to. Overall, I have really enjoyed learning about Philadelphia’s past this summer at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Claire Michel ’18