Friday, January 21, 2011

On Early Quaker Activism

Lauren Rousseau, the protagonist in Speaking of Murder, is member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. I also happen to be a long-time Friend. I've been reading the journal of John Woolman recently and have been much inspired. Woolman was an early American Quaker activist, who ventured forth from Philadelphia (a hotbed of Quakers) to visit neighboring colonies as part of his personal ministry. Many of the beliefs that he described in 1760 resonate even today.

Woolman spoke for equality and counseled against slavery. He felt that that if those who had much would live more simply, the oppressed would not have to work so hard. He refused first-cla
ss passage on a ship to England because the luxury had been created on the backs of others. He wore a natural-dyed hat so that hat makers wouldn't have to work with toxic dyes (and then worried about how others would view his 'singularity' in wearing it).

an strived that the way he lived his life would be in alignment with his spiritual beliefs. One of the things he did to earn a living was writing wills. But when a client wanted to leave his slaves to his children, Woolman refused to write that section of the will and tried to gently persuade the owner to instead free the slaves. He was never condemning, never angry, always patient. And always firm.

I admire Woolman's spirit and, frankly, his bravery. I know I could be doing more to stand up for my own beliefs and the Quaker testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality, and integrity in public and in my dealings with the government. I do a pretty good job in my personal life, but John Woolman never limited himself to that sphere. Does Lauren Rousseau? How do you live out your personal beliefs in the public domain?


  1. Edith, I always enjoy your postings on this topic. I'm not sure how well I do in terms of peace and simplicity, but I'm good about equality and integrity. Not bad for someone raised as a French Catholic, eh?

  2. I think you're an exemplary Quaker, give yourself more credit!

  3. Thanks, Ramona and Allan (I mean, Winston...).