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Friends (Quakers) and Women
by Bill Samuel
Originally published August 1, 1998 at Suite101.com
At the beginning of the Friends movement in the 17th century, Friends were controversial for a number of reasons. One of the major ones was the belief of Friends that ministry came through women as well as men.
In the early years of the Friends movement, there were a number of Friends traveling in the ministry often called the "Valiant Sixty" (there were actually more than 60 of them). These Friends evangelized Great Britain, Jamaica, what is now the United States, and a number of other places. There were women as well as men in this work.
Friends in those years were often beaten and jailed for their witness. In a few cases, they were even executed. Perhaps the most famous Quaker martyr was Mary Dyer. In Boston, a law was passed in 1658 banishing Quakers under "pain of death." When Mary Dyer learned that two of her friends were jailed in Boston, she went to visit them in 1659 and was thrown in jail. She and her friends were released, but assured they would be executed if they returned. Less than a month later, she returned to Boston. She was imprisoned, saw her two friends hanged, and was to be executed herself, but was reprieved at the last moment with the rope around her neck. Still not deterred, she returned yet again and was hung on June 1, 1660.
Undoubtedly the most influential of the earliest Quaker women was Margaret Fell. From Swarthmoor Hall, the estate where she lived, she provided hospitality to traveling Friends' ministers, helped coordinate the traveling ministry, administered the Kendal Fund which provided material support for ministers and imprisoned Friends, and did many other things to promote the Gospel as understood by Friends. After the death of her first husband, she married George Fox, generally considered the founder of the Friends' movement. Fell and Fox noted that theirs was a marriage of equals.
Margaret Fell wrote Women's Speaking, a tract to show that the ministry of women was "Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures." Selected epistles she wrote to Friends may be found on the Quaker Writings Home Page.After the first period of Quakerism, Friends moved into a quietist period in which they looked more inward. Women remained very important within the Religious Society of Friends, but few became well known in the larger society. In the 19th century, many Friends broke out of the quietist mold and became active in both evangelistic and social reform endeavors. A number of Quaker women, and women nurtured in Quaker families but did not remain Friends, made a great impact during this period (including the later years of the 18th century and the early years of the 20th century, for my purposes here), including:
© by Bill Samuel. Do not reprint in whole or in part without prior permission of the author, except for limited quoting in accordance with "fair use" principles. You are welcome to link to this page.
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