The Religious Society of Friends, also referred to as the Quaker Movement, was founded in England in the 17th century by George Fox. He and other early Quakers, or Friends, were persecuted for their beliefs, which included the idea that the presence of God exists in every person. Quakers rejected elaborate religious ceremonies, didn’t have official clergy, and believed in spiritual equality for men and women. Quaker missionaries first arrived in America in the mid-1650s.
Quakers, who practice pacifism, played a crucial role in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. In the 1640s, George Fox, then a young man and the son of a weaver, left his home in the English Midlands and traveled around the country on a spiritual quest. It was a time of religious turmoil in England, with people seeking reform in the Church of England or starting their own competing churches.
Throughout his journey, as Fox met others searching for a more direct spiritual experience, he came to believe that the presence of God was found within people rather than in churches. He experienced what he referred to as “openings,” instances in which he felt God was talking directly to him. Fox shared his religious beliefs and epiphanies with others, speaking to increasingly larger gatherings. Even though some viewed his views as a threat to society and he was jailed for blasphemy in 1650, Fox and other early Quakers continued to share their beliefs.
In 1652, he met Margaret Fell, who became another leader in the early Quaker movement. In northwest England, her home, Swarthmoor Hall, served as a gathering place for many of the first Quakers. Fox and Fell married in 1667. Meanwhile, “Quaker” emerged as a derisive nickname for Fox and others who shared his belief in the biblical passage that people should “tremble at the Word of the Lord.” The group eventually embraced the term, although their official name became Religious Society of Friends. Members are referred to as Friends or Quakers. The Quaker religion is one that many people don’t know about, making them curious. Here are some of the common misconceptions about Quakers.
"Quakers are extinct."
There are several Quakers in the United States and most other countries worldwide. Quakers are an active, involved faith-based community living in the modern world, a diverse people consisting of several distinct branches. They continue their traditional testimonies of peace, equality, integrity, community, and simplicity, which they interpret and express in various ways. Today, many Friends include stewardship of our planet as one of their testimonies. Quakers don’t often advertise their presence in a community, although there may be a Meeting announcement in the local newspaper. However, Quakers are constantly working behind the scenes by supporting various events and serving underserved populations.
"Quakers are the same as the Amish."
No, Quakers aren’t Amish, Shakers or Puritans. They come from a different tradition than these other groups. There are some similarities shared with these groups, but there are similarities with other religions.
"Quakers wear strange clothes."
Quakers used to wear strange clothing, but not any longer. In the past, some Quakers choose to wear plain or straightforward clothing. Yes, that’s where the Quaker Oats man came from in his traditional Quaker garb. Women wore simple dresses with no adornment or frills. Although gray is most seen, they were able to wear colors. Some Quaker women wore bonnets. Quakers wore plain clothing because expensive clothes were used to show social inequality and make statements about wealth. Only a select few could afford costly adornments, which could then be used to intensify differences between people based on class, where people in fancy clothing would not want to be seen socializing with others dressed tattily. This was part of the inspiration for the Quaker testimony to equality.
"Quakers live in communes."
No, Quakers live in various communities throughout the world. Some live in cities, others in rural areas. Some Quakers do explore and live in alternative housing such as intentional communities or cohousing, and some Quakers are also interested in living off the land and off the grid.
"Quakers talk funny."
A couple of centuries ago, Quakers often used the terms thee and thou in speaking. Early Friends practiced plainness in speech by not referring to people in the “fancy” ways that were customary. Often, Friends would address high-ranking persons using the familiar forms of “thee” and “thou” instead of the respectful “you.” Later, as “thee” and “thou” disappeared from everyday English usage, many Quakers continued to use these words as a form of “plain speech,” though the original reason for this usage had disappeared. Their usage was also grammatically distinctive, saying “thee is” instead of “thou art,” a holdover from a dialect formerly standard in the north of England. Today, there are still Friends that will use these terms with other Quakers.
"Quakers call Sunday School, First Day School."
Early Friends objected to the names of the days and months in the English language because many of them referred to Roman or Norse gods, such as Mars (March) and Thor (Thursday), and Roman emperors, such as Julius (July). As a result, the days of the week were known as “First Day” for Sunday, “Second Day” for Monday, and so forth. Similarly, the months of the year were “First Month” for January, “Second Month” for February, and so on. This is no longer a priority for many Friends today, though the tradition is kept up by some, especially in the term “First-Day school” for Sunday Schools organized by Friends. Many Friends organizations continue to use the “simple calendar” for official records.
The Quaker religion predates the United States of America. Quakers came to present-day America because they wanted to escape religious persecution. They wanted to praise God without fear of judgment and consequences. Most people believe that Quakers no longer exist, but some Quakers are walking amongst the rest of the world in modern society. People also believe that Quakers and Amish are the same people, but that’s also not the case. Quakers are just like everyone else, trying to practice their religion the way they want.