- The Friends (or Quakers) movement represented the most radical wing of Puritanism, the 17th-century attempt to "purify" the Church of England. Founder George Fox (1624-1691) began to preach in 1647 after experiencing an inner illumination. Fox believed that revelation did not end with the Bible and was available to everyone; a believer could directly contact the living Spirit via an inner light. He opposed almost all forms of church hierarchy, ritual, or fixed liturgy, and he was a pacifist.Fox was arrested under the Commonwealth (1649-60) when his movement had hardly begun. Later, he began attracting followers, known as Friends. Their congregations were known as meetings. Rather than worship, they would quietly wait for the Spirit to speak to them. The messages and guidance they received was tested by the teachings and example of Jesus. While waiting, they were occasionally overcome by bodily movements, which gave them their popular name of Quakers.Friends sought to lead simple lives. They did not wear colorful clothing, wigs, or jewelry, and they continued to use the familiar case (thee, thou) long after it disappeared from popular speech. They involved themselves in social causes including the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and most notably peace. Their PACIFISM regularly caused problems with the wider society whenever the country they lived in went to war.In 1667, the Friends organized a set of monthly (congregations), quarterly (district), and yearly (national) meetings. Persecuted in England and then New England, Quakers found an early haven in Pennsylvania, founded by Quaker William Penn (1644-1718). The first Quakers arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682. Though never attracting a mass following, they slowly spread across North America.They began to be organized in America in 1681, when a General Meeting of Friends was held in New Jersey. It evolved into the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which continues as the oldest Quaker association in North America. Other yearly meetings were organized across the country in the 19th century The movement was hit by several schisms; one group called for a radical focus on the Inner Light, and another aligned itself with the Holiness movement. Yearly meetings split and realigned, and three large national communities eventually developed: the Friends United Meeting, the Friends General Conference, and the Evangelical Friends International. Those favoring unity were eventually able to create an ecumenical social service organization, the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC).In the late 19th century, Quakers began participation in the global Protestant missionary movement, and yearly meetings are now found on every continent. Their greatest success was in Kenya, where the East Africa Yearly Meeting of Friends became the largest Quaker association in the world. The organizational center of the society of Friends remains in England, where the FWCC and the London Yearly Meeting are headquartered.Further reading:■ William Wistar Comfort, The Quaker Way of Life (Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1945)■ Wilmer A. Cooper, Living Faith: A Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 2001)■ George Peck, What Is Quakerism? A Primer (Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill, 1988)■ Quakers Around the World (London: Friends World Committee for Consultation, 1994)■ Catherine Whitmire, Plain Living: The Quaker Path to Simplicity (Notre Dame, Ind.: Sorin Books, 2001).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.