For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,
hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
-- 2 Corinthians 4:6

Richmond, Indiana



[The online version is posted here with the permission of the author, who wishes to remain anonymous.]


It has been a blessing for me to become acquainted with the faith, testimonies, life and character of members of the Conservative Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends. The decision to write this account came out of my hope that others will seek to learn more about the Conservative witness.

None of the standard Friends' histories gives much attention to Conservative Friends, and I have found none that I could call sympathetic to the Conservative point of view. This little book, while attempting to be accurate, also tries to offer a Conservative perspective that may be difficult to find in other accounts.

It will be obvious to anyone who reads these pages that Conservative Friends have from the beginning been tried by isolation, schism and outward decline. Despite all these difficulties, they have preserved a living testimony to the essence of Friends' faith: that Jesus Christ is truly risen and speaks now to those who will listen and follow.

A history, by its nature, treats only superficially what is most important about Conservative Friends: their faith and their spirituality. These can perhaps only be understood firsthand, by spending time and worshiping among members of the Conservative Yearly Meetings. This I encourage all who wish to go further into the Conservative experience to do.

Several Friends read drafts of this book and made valuable suggestions and corrections. I am especially grateful to my wife, Marilyn Neyer, and to Thomas Hamm, archivist of the Friends Collection at Earlham College's Lilly Library, who was constantly helpful with advice on sources.

NOTE ON THE TEXT. As a rule, when a Yearly Meeting is mentioned without further description the reader should assume that the Wilburite or Conservative body is meant. When Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is mentioned without further description, the Orthodox body is meant.


Conservative Friends emerged through a series of separations in the Orthodox branch of the Religious Society of Friends. To give some background to these separations, we must sketch very briefly the origins of Orthodox Friends.

The Religious Society of Friends began the nineteenth century as a united body. Apart from some small schisms in the 1600s, and another small secession of non-pacifist "Free Quakers" in the American Revolution, the Society had been, from its early days, remarkably uniform in doctrine and practice. To a great degree, however, outward harmony masked inward spiritual decline. As the first generation of Friends had passed away in the early 1700s, the Society had increasingly become a hereditary group defined less by its faith than by its way of life. The institution of birthright membership produced many nominal members who did not share the experience of convincement that had gathered early Friends. Growing wealth and comfort in the Society inevitably resulted in more worldliness. Both inward devotion and outward adherence to the Discipline were fading.

Ministers and other leaders among Friends had been decrying this trend from at least the mid- 1700s. Rather than seeking a renewal of faith within the Society, however, the leadership attempted to deal with the problem by tightening enforcement of the Discipline that governed details of Friends' outward conduct. Plainness of dress and speech became the hallmarks of a "consistent" Friend. The plain life, at its best, served to protect the inward and outward life of Friends from corruption by the world's temptations. As one book of Discipline stated:

...this singularity is not without its use. It is in some respects like a hedge about us, which, though it does not make the ground it encloses rich and fruitful, yet it frequently prevents the intrusions by which the labor of the husbandman is injured or destroyed.[1]

Increasingly, however, husbandry of the "hedge" became the chief work of the Society's leaders. The result was, predictably, a strict but often empty way of life.

The externality of many Friends' lives, worsened by widespread ignorance of the elements of Christian faith, and by the emphasis on outward practice as the measure of "soundness," created a crying need for renewal among Friends. In response to this need, two opposite tendencies in faith and thought began to emerge.

LIBERAL TRENDS. The doctrines of individualism, independent thought, and religious freedom, popularized in the late eighteenth century, strongly influenced some Friends. This was particularly true in America, where the popularity of the American and French revolutions and the influence of tracts such as Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason made freedom of religious belief an article of faith for many. Two expressions of these trends, one in Ireland and one in America, gave evidence of the new thought and its influence on Friends.

In the final years of the eighteenth century, a number of Irish Friends, most notably Abraham Shackleton, began openly to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ and the veracity and authority of the Holy Scriptures. (One of the sources of Shackleton's doubts, and those of other dissidents such as Hannah Barnard, was the conflict, as they saw it, between Friends' peace testimony and God's commanding the Hebrews to make war on the Canaanites.) In their efforts to weed out heresy, Irish Friends disowned Shackleton and several ministers. Mass disownments and departures of Friends caused whole meetings to be laid down. The Irish schism was the largest separation that Friends had known.

Beginning around 1817, a group of New England Friends who styled themselves the "New Lights" denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and used claims of immediate inspiration to justify a variety of flamboyant and provocative behavior (going to meeting wearing swords was one example). The New Lights rapidly disintegrated after most of their number were disowned for misconduct, but the outbreak of heterodoxy in the midst of the Society left many American Friends shaken.

ORTHODOX REACTION. These upheavals aroused some Friends, particularly in England, to a sense that Friends' doctrines must be upheld if the substance of Friends' faith was to be preserved. These Friends, who eventually became known as the Orthodox party, were from the beginning a diverse group. Some were traditional Friends, concerned to uphold the "ancient testimonies" of the Society, with a renewed emphasis on a living faith founded on the indivisibility of the inward and outward Christ. With Friends of earlier times, they sought to found their lives on obedience to the immediate guidance of the indwelling Christ. Others, particularly among wealthier and more educated Friends, were influenced by the Evangelical revival in the Protestant world. In addition to the atoning work of Jesus (important to all Orthodox), they emphasized the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the primary authority of the Holy Scriptures. More strongly than the first group, they tended to see outward belief as the foundation, rather than the expression, of Christian faith. In time, the tensions between these groups would lead to the separations that produced a distinct body of Conservative Friends. For the time being, though, all were united in their concern to defend the Society's witness to Jesus Christ, which they saw to be at the heart of Friends' faith, against the inroads of infidelity. Allen and Richard Thomas summarize the beliefs that united Orthodox Friends:

With some slight differences of opinion they held to the simple statements of the Gospels concerning the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ and to his essential oneness with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, though they preferred not to use the word Trinity, as being non-scriptural. While not calling the Bible the "Word of God," which they reserved for Christ, they firmly believed in its inspiration. While the Spirit was primary, they maintained that the Scriptures bore testimony to the Spirit and the Spirit to the Scriptures, so that to be completely furnished both are needed. They held that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was necessary for the sins of the whole world, and that through this sacrifice the gift of the Spirit is given to every man that cometh into the world. They believed that the light of Christ shone into the hearts of all, and that every one would be judged according to the light given to him.[2]

An early evidence of Orthodox concern and influence was Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's adoption of a new Discipline in 1806, in which denial of the divinity of Jesus, the immediacy of divine revelation or the authority of Scripture were made disownable offenses.

THE HICKSITE-ORTHODOX SEPARATION. In America, Orthodox ministers' warnings soon focused on Elias Hicks, a popular minister of New York Yearly Meeting. Though he couched his sermons in Friends' traditional language, he at various times denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, the value of the atonement, and the inspiration of Scripture. Beginning with Stephen Grellet in 1808, a series of Orthodox ministers (including Thomas Shillitoe, Joseph Hoag and Anna Braithwaite) labored with Hicks or denounced his doctrine. The campaign against Hicks polarized American Friends into Orthodox and "Hicksite" parties. The Hicksites as a group were not so much believers in Hicks' doctrines as in individual freedom of religion. Many were orthodox Christians, but opposed the imposition of doctrine by religious authorities. Samuel Janney, who later became a prominent Hicksite minister and historian, wrote of the Orthodox:

My doctrinal views, at that time, were similar to theirs; but I was so well assured that...other ministers, whose sentiments on some points differed from theirs, were good Christians, that I did not suffer myself to fall under the dominion of that censorious, uncharitable spirit which was laying waste our religious Society. The doctrines that I then held were those called Orthodox, but I could not endure the spirit of bitterness and party zeal by which those doctrines were too often accompanied.[3]

The Hicksites found support for their position in Friends' traditional opposition to religious creeds. Both Orthodox and Hicksite Friends opposed creeds, but for increasingly different reasons: Orthodox Friends felt that right doctrine was insufficient for a living faith, Hicksites that it was unnecessary.

The growing conflicts between the Hicksite and Orthodox parties finally led, in 1827 and 1828, to a convulsive schism that split five American Yearly Meetings (Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Indiana and Ohio), and permanently divided the Society into two groups, each claiming to be the to be the true Religious Society of Friends. Since this history is concerned with the Orthodox branch, we will pass by the complex and unhappy story of this separation, and move on to developments among Orthodox Friends.

Histories of Friends during this period commonly attribute the rise of the Orthodox party almost exclusively to the influence of Evangelicalism on Friends. This view ignores the alarming effect that the New Lights controversy and the Irish separation had on traditional Friends, and discounts the great diversity of belief within the Orthodox camp. As a result, it gives little basis for understanding the separations that afflicted Orthodox Friends in following years, and that play such a large part in the history that follows.

  1. Ohio Yearly Meeting Discipline, 1922, p. 79.
  2. Thomas and Thomas, p. 128.
  3. Janney, p. 21


The Hicksite separation did not restore peace among Orthodox Friends. Soon after the separation, a conference of delegates from all the American Orthodox Yearly Meetings was able to produce a common Declaration of Faith (The Testimony of the Society of Friends on the Continent of America, 1830), but tensions within the Orthodox party soon became obvious.

As we have seen, the Orthodox included both traditional Friends, concerned to follow the promptings of the inward Christ in all things, and Evangelicals, who increasingly emphasized the importance of the outward work of Christ and the authority of the Holy Scriptures. Though these groups were united in their commitment to basic Christian doctrine, conservative Friends suspected that the Evangelical doctrine of justification through faith alone was weakening Friends' understanding of the importance of a life sanctified in "bearing the cross." They saw a tendency among the Evangelicals to elevate the Holy Scriptures above the guidance of the Holy Spirit as a religious authority. They feared that these trends, if they became dominant, could undermine the foundations of Friends' belief. Ann Jones, a conservative minister, expressed these concerns at London Yearly Meeting in 1836:

There are some among you who are encouraging a carnal wisdom, a head knowledge, an outward learning, which exalteth itself and is ever endeavouring, in its own strength, to find out the way of salvation by the study of Scripture. This spirit has spread even among those who are making a very high profession - men who are robbing Christ. They talk much of a belief in the atoning sacrifice, but are setting at nought and despising Christ in his inward and spiritual appearance.... The Lord hath a controversy with the spirit which hath crept into this Society, and which is sitting in the judgment-seat.[1]

Ann Jones was one of several ministers (Thomas Shillitoe and Joseph Hoag were others) who had opposed the Hicksites, but now felt that Evangelical developments posed an equal and opposite threat to the Society. By this time, the Evangelical element had achieved such influence in London Yearly Meeting that her warnings, and those of other conservative ministers such as Sarah Lynes Grubb, had little effect.

Friends who sought to maintain the traditional doctrines of Friends were alarmed at London Yearly Meeting's general epistle for 1836, which for the first time presented the Evangelical views as the official position of Friends. A paragraph on the Holy Scriptures stated that they were "the only divinely authorized record of the doctrines of true religion" and "the appointed means of making known to us the blessed truths of Christianity." William Hodgson captures the conservatives' objections to these statements:

[They are] a direct abandonment of the principle always promulgated in [early Friends'] writings, that "the appointed means" for the soul of man to obtain a saving knowledge of God, is a being taught in the school of Christ, through obedience to the "Inspeaking Word," and faith in the revelations of His Holy Spirit immediately in the heart; which will always be consistent with Scripture.[2]

One of the first Americans to become concerned about these trends was John Wilbur, a minister from South Kingston Monthly Meeting in New England Yearly Meeting. A visit to England in 1831- 1833 exposed him to some of the most "advanced" of the Evangelical ministers in London Yearly Meeting, and convinced him that these ministers were beginning to rely less on the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit in their ministry and everyday life than on their own strength and reason. He publicly laid out his concerns in a series of letters to his friend George Crosfield, published in England in 1832. (These letters, published with Wilbur's Journal, give the best short summary of the conservatives' doctrinal views. Most conservatives took Barclay's Apology as the standard full-length statement of Friends' belief.)

Wilbur blamed the new trends on the Hicksite separation. Some Friends, he said, had been so distressed by Hicksites' elevation of "the Light," unchecked by Scripture or sound doctrine, that they had fallen into the opposite error of rejecting the ultimate authority of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. They had reacted to the Hicksites' slighting of Jesus Christ in the flesh by focusing almost exclusively on Jesus' outward work. They had reacted to the Hicksites' denigration of the authority of the Holy Scriptures by elevating the Scriptures above Christ himself in authority. This swing toward the outward aspects of Christianity had led them to rely on their own reason in the conduct of everyday life (for which the Holy Scriptures cannot give moment-by-moment guidance), with the inevitable result that they were being led out into pride and seduction by the world.

Wilbur was disturbed by the Evangelicals' campaigns for religious education among Friends, such as the establishment of "First-day Schools," and by their willingness to cooperate with non- Friends in Bible societies and reform projects. The first, he believed, would put Friends in the position of teaching religion according to a program, rather than according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The second would break down the "hedge" that protected Friends, particularly young Friends, from the seductions of the surrounding world.

Wilbur was particularly prophetic in stating that this rejection of the primary authority of the Spirit of Christ would eventually undermine one of Friends' most basic testimonies, the immediate reliance on Christ's guidance in worship and ministry. In 1832, about forty years before the emergence of the pastoral system among some Friends, he wrote:

... if we as a people, were to change the place of the Scriptures, and exalt them above, and put them in the place of the teaching of the spirit of Christ, ... it must inevitably, and that before long, completely overturn and change our ancient faith and practice, concerning both silent worship, and the need there is of a continually renewed qualification in a gospel minister.[3]

Behind Wilbur's and the conservatives' many particular concerns lay a fundamental one: that Evangelical Friends were acting in their own strength, rather than seeking a radical dependence on the immediate guidance of the living Christ.

All of Wilbur's concerns found a focus in the person of Joseph John Gurney, a wealthy and scholarly minister of London Yearly Meeting. In his many published writings, Gurney stressed the primacy of Scripture as a religious authority and the sufficiency of faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice for salvation; in public life, he encouraged cooperation between Friends and other Christians in Bible Societies and philanthropic work. Gurney had been instrumental in producing London Yearly Meeting's 1836 statement on Scripture. To Wilbur, he seemed to personify everything dangerous in the Evangelical program. When Gurney visited the United States from 1837 to 1840, Wilbur privately communicated his concerns about Gurney's teaching to sympathetic Friends in New England and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings. (The Meeting of Ministers and Elders of London Yearly Meeting had found some difficulty in uniting in its support of Gurney's visit, due to the concerns of conservative members such as Sarah Lynes Grubb and Ann Jones.) Gurney, a polished speaker and an attractive personality, was greeted with great enthusiasm, and his tour of the American Orthodox Quaker world solidified the Evangelical tendency in most Orthodox Yearly Meetings.

NEW ENGLAND YEARLY MEETING. In 1842, the leadership of Wilbur's own New England Yearly Meeting, solidly in sympathy with Gurney, ordered South Kingston Monthly Meeting to discipline Wilbur. Their claim was that an individual Friend (Wilbur) had no right to attack a minister in good standing (Gurney) except through Friends' disciplinary channels. It is questionable that this applied to Wilbur, who had never denounced Gurney in print or in any public forum. When Wilbur's Monthly Meeting refused to comply, the Meeting was laid down by Rhode Island Quarterly Meeting, and its members attached to Greenwich Monthly Meeting, which quickly disowned Wilbur. When Wilbur's appeal of this underhanded procedure to the Yearly Meeting was unsuccessful, he and about 500 supporters (less than ten percent of the total Yearly Meeting membership) withdrew to form a separate New England Yearly Meeting in 1845.

This separation imposed a crisis on all other Orthodox Yearly Meetings, which felt the need to decide with which New England Yearly Meeting they would remain in correspondence, and thus to declare themselves as "Wilburite" or "Gurneyite" in their allegiance. In the minds of Friends of the time, there could be only one undivided Society of Friends. Consequently, the acknowledgment of epistles from two New England Yearly Meetings was unthinkable; it was necessary to decide which was the real Yearly Meeting and correspond with it only. Being in correspondence with another Yearly Meeting was not simply a matter of exchanging epistles, it also determined whether membership could be transferred between Yearly Meetings, and whether traveling ministers would be received.

NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING. As in New England, New York Yearly Meeting's leadership and the majority of its members were Gurneyite in sentiment, and the Yearly Meeting quickly acknowledged the "Larger Body" in New England as the true New England Yearly Meeting. In response, separations occurred in Scipio Quarterly Meeting beginning in 1847, and in Ferrisburg Quarterly Meeting in 1851. Scipio Quarterly Meeting, in a pamphlet published in 1848, used New York Yearly Meeting's own experience of the Hicksite separation to justify its secession:

If Friends had neglected to withdraw in 1828, when the ruling part of the Yearly Meeting had identified itself with the Separatists [Hicksites] of Philadelphia... it is very clear that the Yearly Meeting could have imposed the peculiar doctrines of the Separatists upon them, under as fair a plea of order and subordination as it could now force upon us doctrines that the Seceders [Gurneyites!] in New England have upheld.[4]

A separate, Wilburite, New York Yearly Meeting was first held in 1853. As in New England, the Wilburite Yearly Meeting was much smaller than the Gurneyite body.

The passage quoted above points to a pattern that repeated itself throughout the separations of this period. The Wilburites claimed that the defense of right doctrine was at issue, while the Gurneyites claimed to be defending good order, and denied that doctrinal issues were central.

OHIO YEARLY MEETING. While Wilburites formed a small minority in New England and New York, the conservative element in Ohio Yearly Meeting outnumbered the Gurneyite group by about two to one. Thrown into crisis by the appearance of two New England epistles in 1845, the Yearly Meeting, clerked by the Wilburite Benjamin Hoyle, endured nine years of painful sessions in a struggle to maintain unity. The Gurneyite minority felt that Hoyle ignored their dissent and pushed through minutes of a Wilburite character over their protests. By 1853, things had come to such an impasse that virtually no business was transacted at Yearly Meeting sessions. The 1854 sessions were more heated than ever - literally, due to one of the hottest summers on record, and figuratively, due to the presence of both Thomas Gould, clerk of the Wilburite New England Yearly Meeting, and Eliza Gurney, widow of Joseph John. In this strained atmosphere, the Gurneyite group finally broke ranks and appointed its own clerk, Jonathan Binns. This act marked the separation of Ohio Yearly Meeting into two Yearly Meetings, which for years afterward were referred to as the "Hoyle" and "Binns" Yearly Meetings. Both groups continued to hope for a reunification (The Wilburite Yearly Meeting did not disown members of the Gurneyite Yearly Meeting until 1863), but rapidly grew apart in the following years.

When London Yearly Meeting received epistles from two Ohio Yearly Meetings in 1855, it spent nearly three days deciding which Yearly Meeting to acknowledge. Though the Yearly Meeting was strongly Gurneyite, it recognized that the Gurneyite party had been out of order in appointing a new clerk. Allegiance finally won out over procedure, and the "Binns" Yearly Meeting was recognized. London Yearly Meeting's authority among Orthodox Friends guaranteed that most other Orthodox Yearly Meetings would follow suit.

BALTIMORE YEARLY MEETING. Baltimore Yearly Meeting was preponderantly Gurneyite and promptly acknowledged the Gurneyite New England Yearly Meeting in 1845, though Nottingham Quarterly Meeting preserved a small Wilburite nucleus. At Baltimore Yearly Meeting's 1854 sessions a tiny separation occurred when the Yearly Meeting accepted the "Binns" party as the authentic Ohio Yearly Meeting. Six men and six women remained behind after the adjournment of the day's sessions and formed a Yearly Meeting in support of the "Hoyle" Ohio Yearly Meeting. The Yearly Meeting, always very small, last met in 1868.

PHILADELPHIA YEARLY MEETING. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, like Ohio, had a substantial Wilburite majority and, like Ohio, labored to avoid a separation. When the separation occurred in Ohio, Philadelphia recognized the Wilburite group as the legitimate Ohio Yearly Meeting. This so dissatisfied the Gurneyite party in the Yearly Meeting that division seemed imminent. In 1857, the Yearly Meeting arrived at a drastic means of maintaining unity: it cut off formal correspondence with all other Friends bodies, neither sending nor receiving epistles. By this expedient the question of which other Yearly Meetings were to be recognized was avoided, and a separation was averted. Though it avoided taking sides organizationally, Philadelphia continued to be, in practice, a Wilburite Yearly Meeting containing a minority Gurneyite faction. The Wilburite and Gurneyite groups functioned almost as separate bodies, meeting in different meetinghouses and staying out of one another's way (except at Yearly Meeting sessions), while retaining the fiction of a united Yearly Meeting. In Philadelphia, the Twelfth Street Meeting was predominantly Gurneyite, the other meetings predominantly Wilburite. Frequent intervisitation between Philadelphia and the officially Wilburite bodies kept Philadelphia Yearly Meeting part of the Wilburite circle.

FURTHER SEPARATIONS: MIDDLEITES AND PRIMITIVE FRIENDS. Concern for purity and unresolved questions over which Friends' bodies should be recognized continued to divide the Wilburite Yearly Meetings, all of which, except Baltimore, suffered further separations in the years following the Wilbur-Gurney schism. Two Wilburite groups quickly emerged. One, seeking to avoid division and to maintain unity with the larger Society of Friends wherever possible, was hesitant to acknowledge other Wilburite groups established by schism. Ohio Yearly Meeting, for example, initially refused to acknowledge epistles or visiting ministers from any Yearly Meeting except Philadelphia (the only other Wilburite Yearly Meeting not established by separation). This put Ohio Yearly Meeting in the strange position of refusing to recognize the Wilburite New England Yearly Meeting, whose recognition had been the original issue leading to the Ohio separation. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, along with Ohio, was guided by this outlook.

The other party, concerned with faithfulness at all costs to what they saw as the pure Friends tradition, were not averse to schism if it seemed necessary in order to preserve Friends' testimonies. They viewed the first group as compromisers, and derisively labeled them "Middleites." Philadelphia Yearly Meeting came in for particular scorn for allowing a Gurneyite party to continue in its midst. The more purist party came to be called "Primitive Friends" for their unbending desire to preserve the "ancient testimonies" of Friends. (For convenience, the unfortunate terms "Primitive" and "Middleite" will be used hereafter to distinguish these groups.)

FALLSINGTON GENERAL MEETING (officially "The General Meeting of Men and Women Friends for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, etc.") was first held in 1860, when a small group of Wilburite Friends separated from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. They condemned Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's refusal to acknowledge other Wilburite bodies, and believed that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting gave de facto approval to Gurneyite "separatists" by routinely allowing transfers of membership between itself and Gurneyite Yearly Meetings. Fallsington General Meeting, though very small, served as something of a parent body to other Primitive groups, corresponding with them and accepting the members of meetings that died out. When the small Baltimore Yearly Meeting laid itself down in 1868, its one Monthly Meeting was attached to Fallsington General Meeting. At one time Fallsington had member meetings as far away as Iowa.

NEW YORK AND NEW ENGLAND SEPARATIONS: OTISITES AND KINGITES. The small Wilburite New York Yearly Meeting suffered further separation in 1859, dividing into "Otisite" and "Kingite" factions, named after James Otis and John King, the clerks of the two Yearly Meetings that resulted from the separation. The immediate cause of separation was a controversy over the publication of Joseph Hoag's Journal, from which the Otisites wished to delete portions deemed critical of Job Otis. (Each party eventually published its own edition of the Journal.) The deeper reasons for this separation are not completely clear, but in general the Otisite party ("The Yearly Meeting of New York," held at Poplar Ridge) was Primitive in outlook, and wished to maintain unity with the "Smaller Bodies" such as Fallsington General Meeting, while the Kingite party (which retained the "New York Yearly Meeting" title) was Middleite, seeking to achieve recognition by Ohio and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings.

The Kingite-Otisite separation quickly spread to New England Yearly Meeting. In 1863, a Kingite group resisted the Yearly Meeting's acknowledgment of epistles from Fallsington, Baltimore, or either New York body, on the grounds that these were schismatic meetings. The result was, of course, a division into two Yearly Meetings. The Otisite body took the name of "Annual Meeting of Friends for New England." The Otisite party was concentrated in Nantucket, and Otisite Friends throughout New England joined Nantucket Meeting.

The Otisite New York and New England Yearly Meetings continued in correspondence with other Primitive bodies; the two Kingite Yearly Meetings remained out of correspondence with every other Friends group including one another, rejecting the Primitive Yearly Meetings and rejected by the Middleite Yearly Meetings. The Kingite New York Yearly Meeting died out around 1880. The fates of the other three will be told at a later point.

The Kingites' belief that Yearly Meetings themselves established by schism should refuse to acknowledge "schismatic" groups seems comical at first sight, but did make some sense. Their position was that only doctrinal differences were a legitimate basis for separation. The separations that had produced the Wilburite Yearly Meetings involved (they said) questions of doctrine, while separations within Wilburite bodies were over points of order and should not be countenanced.

A notable virtue of the Primitive and Otisite meetings was their refusal to enter into the bitter and degrading property disputes that typically marked divisions among Friends. These meetings were content to withdraw and attempt to start afresh, leaving behind without argument their former meetinghouses and even the names of their former Yearly Meetings.

IOWA SEPARATIONS. Indiana Yearly Meeting was solidly Gurneyite, and did not undergo a separation at the Yearly Meeting level. A small separation did occur in several meetings in Iowa, then under the care of Indiana Yearly Meeting. This division began in 1854 at Lynn Preparative Meeting, which was made up largely of Wilburite immigrants from Ohio Yearly Meeting. When the overseers of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting, of which Lynn Preparative Meeting was a part, learned that Caleb Gregg, a recorded minister at Lynn, had privately expressed unity with the Wilburites in Ohio, they sent a complaint against Gregg to Lynn Preparative Meeting. Lynn Meeting declined to support the complaint, and the overseers appealed to the Monthly Meeting, which took the matter under consideration. At this point Caleb Gregg and his supporters appointed their own clerk and declared themselves to be Red Cedar Monthly Meeting. The following month the larger Red Cedar Meeting disowned Gregg and laid down Lynn Preparative Meeting. Wilburite sympathizers in other meetings soon joined the separation, leading to the formation of an independent Wilburite Salem Quarterly Meeting.

This group was severely weakened when Ohio Yearly Meeting established Monthly Meetings in Iowa, leading to the establishment of Hickory Grove Quarterly Meeting in 1867. Many in Salem Quarterly Meeting defected to meetings under Ohio's care, which seemed more legitimate because they were sanctioned by a Yearly Meeting. These departures led to the laying down of one of the three Monthly Meetings of Salem Quarterly Meeting in 1860. The small remaining group underwent an Otisite-Kingite separation in 1862. The Kingite party apparently died out; the Otisite group joined Fallsington General Meeting in 1873.

OHIO YEARLY MEETING SEPARATIONS. In Ohio Yearly Meeting, a party led by Joshua Maule separated from the Wilburite Yearly Meeting in 1863, again over the Yearly Meeting's refusal to recognize the other Wilburite Yearly Meetings. The "Maulite" group (officially Ohio General Meeting) itself divided in 1867, when the "Maulite" body chose not to acknowledge an epistle from Fallsington General Meeting. The proFallsington party (almost all in Salem Monthly Meeting) withdrew, and most of its members joined Fallsington General Meeting. In 1870, Maule and his family left the "Maulite" group, continuing to meet for worship in their own home without any affiliation. Ohio General Meeting disbanded in 1871, and most of its members returned to Ohio Yearly Meeting.

By about 1870, some stability had returned to the small world of Wilburite Friends. The two large Middleite Yearly Meetings, Ohio and Philadelphia, stayed close to one another through intervisitation, though official correspondence was ruled out by Philadelphia's policy. Three Primitive- Otisite bodies (Fallsington General Meeting and the Otisite New England and New York meetings) kept fellowship with one another, while the two Kingite Yearly Meetings in New England and New York continued in utter isolation. Except for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the Wilburites were cut off from interaction with the larger Society of Friends, though New England and Ohio Yearly Meetings, at least, had initially attempted to maintain correspondence and been rebuffed by most other Yearly Meetings, including London, whose rejection placed them officially outside the Orthodox Quaker pale. It is worth noting here that the Wilburite habit of isolation and withdrawal was originally imposed from without, by other Yearly Meetings' rejection.

The Wilburites' genius for schism is sobering. Groups that were already small repeatedly divided for reasons that are difficult to understand today. Factions with only one Monthly Meeting styled themselves "Yearly Meetings" to lend authority to their position. The Wilburites' zeal for the preservation of fundamental Friends' testimonies seemed often to go along with a harsh and unbending spirit. The question of how a clear corporate witness can be fruitfully combined with a loving and reconciling spirit has never been resolved among Wilburite Friends.

Since Wilburite and Gurneyite Friends did not differ on most of the doctrines of the Christian faith, many have found their differences hard to understand. The Gurneyites themselves seem to have been perplexed at times: an Ohio Gurneyite said of the Wilburites in 1860, "No one can get any good reason for their bitterness out of them."5 A modern Friend, even one with Conservative sympathies, might have difficulty distinguishing between the Wilburite and Gurneyite Friends of the 1840s and 1850s. All were orthodox Christians, all upheld the traditional Friends' ways of worship and ministry, all continued to live the plain life. Gurneyite Friends quickly moved to set up the First Day and Bible School classes so strongly opposed by Wilburites, but otherwise there was little outward difference between them. Ann Branson, a minister in Ohio Yearly Meeting at the time of the separation, recognized this outward similarity and viewed it as one of the dangers of Gurneyism for Friends:

Gurneyism was a more specious snare to lay waste Quakerism, than ever Hicksism was. Hicksism is open infidelity, but Gurneyism is calculated to slide us off the foundation so imperceptibly that we shall not know it.[6]

Beginning in the 1860s, rapid changes in the Gurneyite world richly confirmed Wilburites' warnings of where Gurneyite doctrine would lead.

  1. Hodgson, Vol. I, pp. 298-299.
  2. Hodgson, Vol. I, p. 307.
  3. Wilbur, p. 592.
  4. Hodgson, Vol. II, p. 178.
  5. Tallack, p. 76.
  6. Branson, p. 228.


DEVELOPMENTS IN THE GURNEYITE BRANCH. Three distinct groups emerged among Friends in the Gurneyite Yearly Meetings.1 A small conservative group, committed to Friends' traditional testimonies on worship, ministry and the plain life, would, for the most part, have been at home in the Wilburite Yearly Meetings.

A second group might be called "reform" Friends. These sought to encourage a more vital spiritual life among Friends by a cautious introduction of music, prayer meetings, and other innovative worship forms, and by a relaxation of the discipline (for example, eliminating disownment of Friends who married non-Friends). At the same time, they were committed to the waiting worship and inspired ministry that had always been central to Friends' practice. The reform movement of the 1860s was successful in the sense that the decline in membership that all branches of Friends had experienced throughout the century was slowed and in some cases reversed.

In the 1870s a third group of "revival" Friends, most of whose leaders had previously played no significant role in the Society, introduced methods, forms and doctrine taken from the Evangelical revival movement that was sweeping the midwest at the time. Emotional testimonies, altar calls, and claims of instantaneous conversion and "holiness" experiences quickly came to characterize the meetings that they held among Friends and the general public. These revival meetings produced a large influx of new members and attenders into the midwestern Gurneyite meetings. The leadership found that these new members were confused by, and impatient with, the waiting worship of Friends meetings, so different from the revival meetings that had brought them to Friends. In an effort to manage the increase and hold on to the new members, Friends began to introduce formal pastoral leadership, arranged sermons, congregational singing, and other familiar features of Protestant services. In a short time, these innovations had rendered many Friends meetings outwardly indistinguishable from their Protestant neighbors. (Most of the membership gains of the revival period proved to be transient. From the conservative point of view, Friends who accepted the revival movement sold their inheritance and in the end received nothing in return.)

Opposition to the revivals was not based on any objection to outreach or evangelism per se. The widespread belief that conservative Friends were uninterested in evangelism has little foundation. The journals of Friends ministers throughout what is sometimes called the "Quietist" period show that travelling ministers routinely appointed public meetings, and that these were well attended by non- Friends, including the unchurched.

At first, the conservatives did not uniformly oppose the revivals. Several (including Joel Bean, clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting[2]) initially expressed cautious optimism at the new spiritual vigor that the revivals seemed to be introducing. When it became clear that the revival party was rapidly gaining control of the midwestern Gurneyite Yearly Meetings, and that the result would be the obliteration of Friends' former doctrines and practices, the conservatives vigorously opposed its innovations. By that point the revival movement had gained an unstoppable momentum, and the influence of conservative Friends was swept aside along with that of the reform party.

Unlike the Wilburite separations of the previous generation, the conservative separations that began in the 1870s were essentially reactions to the revival movement and the introduction of programmed, pastoral ministry that it brought with it. William Hodgson (himself a Primitive Friend), writing in 1876, expressed the conservative view when he decried meetings purposely appointed for "prayer," in man's will and time; meetings occupied more or less in hymn-singing, and other such excitements of the natural feelings;

meetings held for the "study" of the Bible by merely intellectual or literary means, and discarding or overlooking the light of Christ in the soul as the primary instructor and true interpreter; with an inordinate dependence also upon the circulation of superficial tracts, leaflets, and hymns, and an indulgence in ornamentally embellished texts and even crosses, and other religious toys and triflings, which have prevailed so greatly since the introduction of the modern doctrines, and seem like byways back to Babylon.[3]

Except for North Carolina, all of the Yearly Meetings in which conservative separations occurred had come into being after the separations of 1845-1854. Three new Gurneyite Yearly Meetings were established by Indiana Yearly Meeting: Western in 1858, Iowa in 1863, and Kansas in 1872. Canada Yearly Meeting was established by the Gurneyite New York Yearly Meeting in 1867.

IOWA YEARLY MEETING. A revival meeting at Bear Creek Meeting in 1877 produced a separation in Bear Creek Quarterly Meeting that rapidly spread through the rest of Iowa Yearly Meeting. Thomas Hamm gives a vivid picture of this revival:

Benjamin B. Hiatt... called on all who wished to lead a new life to come to the front seats. About twenty people scrambled forward, some climbing over the benches - Friends who remained at their seats were visited there by others and had prayer groups form around them. Some prayed aloud, some wept, some broke out in anguished testimonies, some sang snatches of hymns. Horrified, conservative Friends began to move toward the doors of the meeting house. As they did, one elderly woman climbed upon a bench and spoke in meeting for the first and only time in her life: "The Society of Friends is dead. This has killed it."[4]

Conservative Friends formed a separate Bear Creek Quarterly Meeting in Fifth Month 1877. Thus the Yearly Meeting, held in Ninth Month 1877, received reports from two Bear Creek Quarterly Meetings. When the Yearly Meeting rejected the conservative body's report, conservative Friends withdrew and formed their own Yearly Meeting. Their opening minute summarizes the concerns of the conservatives of this period:

In consideration of many and various departures in Doctrine, Principle and Practice, brought into our beloved Society of late years by modern innovators, who have so revolutionized our ancient order in the Church, as to run into views and practices out of which our early Friends were led, and into a broader, and more self-pleasing and cross- shunning way than that marked out by our Saviour, and held to by our ancient Friends... And who have so approximated to the unregenerate world that we feel it incumbent upon us to bear testimony against all such degenerate innovations in order to maintain our ancient Doctrines, Principles and Practices, and sustain the Church for the purpose for which it was so peculiarly raised up.[5]

Initially, only Bear Creek Quarterly Meeting was represented. Separations in the Gurneyite Iowa Yearly Meeting continued, resulting in the addition of Salem Quarterly Meeting in 1879 and Springdale Quarterly Meeting in 1883.

WESTERN YEARLY MEETING. Revival meetings, officially sanctioned by the Yearly Meeting, began in 1871. In 1876, the conservative leadership of Plainfield Quarterly Meeting closed down a revival held at Sugar Grove Meeting. When the resulting dispute was brought to the Yearly Meeting in 1877, the Yearly Meeting decided in favor of the revival party. Conservative members, seeing that their cause was lost, withdrew from the Yearly Meeting sessions. The first session of the conservative Western Yearly Meeting was held in 1878, with some Friends from Indiana Yearly Meeting (which did not itself suffer an official separation) joining. The Yearly Meeting began 'with a First Day School Committee, a sign of how the new conservatives differed from strict Wilburite thinking.

KANSAS YEARLY MEETING. The separation in Kansas Yearly Meeting was again a response to revival meetings. The first conservative Kansas Yearly Meeting sessions were held in 1879, including only Spring River Quarterly Meeting; a group from Cottonwood Quarterly Meeting joined later the same year. Cyrus Harvey, a recorded minister, was influential in establishing the Yearly Meeting, and served as clerk for its first ten years. Harvey edited the Western Friend, a lively conservative periodical that regularly published attacks on the revival movement among Friends.

CANADA YEARLY MEETING. The separation in Canada Yearly Meeting began in Pelham Quarterly Meeting in 1877. In this case, the triggering event was apparently the proposed adoption of a revised Discipline, based on one adopted in 1877 by the Gurneyite New York Yearly Meeting, Canada Yearly Meeting's parent body. The revisions, which eliminated advocacy of plain dress and criticism of the "hireling ministry," came to Canada Yearly Meeting sessions for adoption in 1878. At the opening session, Adam Spencer, the conservative clerk of the Yearly Meeting, stepped down as clerk and withdrew from the Yearly Meeting. Other conservatives followed his example over the next two years. The Yearly Meeting, with most of its conservative members gone, adopted the revised discipline in 1880. The first conservative Canada Yearly Meeting was held in 1881, in Norwich, Ontario. Adam Spencer served as clerk until 1887.

WILBURITE RECOGNITION. Ohio Yearly Meeting, which had not recognized any of the earlier Wilburite separations, was more welcoming in its attitude toward the new conservative Yearly Meetings. In 1881, the Yearly Meeting appointed a committee to consider "the situation of the remnants of Friends in various parts of the land." Members of the committee visited the new Yearly Meetings and in 1883 recommended that Iowa, Kansas and Western Yearly Meetings be acknowledged. The recommendation was "very fully united with" by the Yearly Meeting. In 1885, the Yearly Meeting united with the committee's recommendation that New England Yearly Meeting (the Kingite branch) and Canada Yearly Meetings also be recognized. Ann Branson was active on the committee, and her Journal for 1882 records:

I ventured to express in this committee my belief, that our Yearly Meeting ought to place on its records a Minute, stating that we as a Yearly Meeting had grievously erred in not having, many years ago, recognized officially the Smaller Body (so called) of New England, as the legitimate Yearly Meeting. That I believed it was human policy, and a fearful cringing spirit, that prevented us from doing our duty towards these Friends. And now, after a lapse of thirty-six years, they having become very much reduced, and somewhat scattered, no doubt in a great measure, owing to the indifferent treatment they have received from their brethren of Ohio and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings, some want to send a committee to see if they are in a condition to be acknowledged as a Yearly Meeting.[6]

The suggested apology was never made, but the Yearly Meeting's acceptance of New England Yearly Meeting along with the four new conservative Yearly Meetings was a belated acknowledgment of the Primitive position that the Yearly Meeting had rejected in the 1850s.

The year after Iowa Yearly Meeting was recognized, Ohio Yearly Meeting began to consider transferring its Hickory Grove Quarterly Meeting, located in Iowa, to Iowa Yearly Meeting. This was finally accomplished in 1917, more than doubling the membership of Iowa Yearly Meeting. With the transfer, Scattergood School, established by Hickory Grove Quarterly Meeting, also came under the care of Iowa Yearly Meeting. Another "acquisition" was Pasadena Monthly Meeting in California. A group of Conservative Friends had begun meeting for worship in Pasadena in 1886, and had been established as a Monthly Meeting by Hickory Grove Quarterly Meeting in 1894.

It is tempting to wonder whether early recognition of the smaller bodies of Wilburite Friends by Ohio and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings might have helped to bring about a stronger, more united, and more influential Wilburite branch of the Society of Friends. We might also wonder whether, if Orthodox Friends had not separated at all during this period, a conservative presence could have prevented the wholesale departures from Friends' practice and belief that emerged in the Revival period. These questions are intriguing but unanswerable.

NORTH CAROLINA YEARLY MEETING. The North Carolina separation did not come until 1904, much later than the others. (By 1900, North Carolina was the only surviving Yearly Meeting that had never suffered a separation.) The revival spirit and the pastoral system came into North Carolina later and more gradually than in the midwestern meetings, and thus polarization was less severe. By 1882, some Friends, mostly in Eastern Quarterly Meeting, were objecting to revival meetings and a drift toward pastoral ministry. Their protests to the Yearly Meeting continued for twenty years, but never went so far as a separation. In 1890, these Friends asked, for reasons of conscience, to be excused from paying the portion of the Yearly Meeting budget devoted to evangelistic projects; the request was granted.

The immediate cause of schism was the attempt to introduce a "Uniform Discipline" in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. In 1902, most of the Gurneyite Yearly Meetings organized themselves into an umbrella organization, Five Years Meeting. Part of this process was the adoption of a Uniform Discipline by the member Yearly Meetings. Conservative Friends in North Carolina felt that the new Discipline encouraged the move toward programmed, pastoral worship, particularly by taking the recording of ministers out of the hands of Monthly Meetings and moving it to the Yearly Meeting level. When the Yearly Meeting adopted the Uniform Discipline in 1902, a group of Friends from Eastern Quarterly Meeting withdrew. They first met as a separate Yearly Meeting in 1904 at Cedar Grove Meeting in Woodland, North Carolina. Their minutes stated that they

felt that it was right for them to maintain the doctrines of the immediate and perceptible guidance of the Holy Spirit, and of the Headship of Christ over all things to His Church; also the waiting worship and inspirational ministry which are and must ever be the outgrowth of these doctrines.[7]

The new Yearly Meeting actively encouraged likeminded members of the "larger body" to join it, producing the addition of Southern Quarterly Meeting in 1911.

All of the conservative Yearly Meetings but Ohio acknowledged the new North Carolina Yearly Meeting immediately. Ohio Yearly Meeting moved more cautiously, not acknowledging North Carolina until 1911.

The separation in North Carolina, though painful, was accomplished with much less bitterness and social division than accompanied the other conservative separations. Members of the two Yearly Meetings generally remained on good terms with one another, and at one point two brothers (Algie and Mahlon Newlin) simultaneously served as clerks of the two Yearly Meetings. North Carolina offers an encouraging example of how Christian love toward other bodies can be maintained, even when a separation is necessary to maintain the integrity of Friends' testimonies.

THE EMERGENCE OF "CONSERVATIVE" FRIENDS. Ohio's acceptance of the new Yearly Meetings signified a broadening in its view of what constituted a faithful Friends' witness. Many of the new members might have been denounced as Gurneyites a generation before. On some points, such as their acceptance of religious education, most of the newer Yearly Meetings differed from the traditional Wilburite position. The new circle of seven Yearly Meetings (with Philadelphia an unofficial eighth) could now better be described as "Conservative" than "Wilburite." Conservative Friends were distinguished from other Orthodox Friends by their commitment to "waiting worship and inspirational ministry" and their continued adherence to aspects of the plain life. The more subtle differences between the Wilburites and Gurneyites of the 1850s had faded in importance in the face of the radical changes that caused the wave of Conservative separations. (From this point on, it may be misleading to call the Evangelical Friends "Gurneyites," since so many had left behind the waiting worship and ministry that Joseph John Gurney had always considered essential to Friends' practice. The descendants of the Gurneyite Yearly Meetings, most of them overwhelmingly pastoral in practice, will nonetheless continue to be labelled "Gurneyite" here for convenience.) Even among Conservatives, the traditional plain dress and speech were dying out by the turn of the century, though they continued to be the mark of a Conservative minister or elder well into the twentieth century, and have never entirely disappeared.

FRITCHLEY GENERAL MEETING. The revival movement and the pastoral system never took hold in London Yearly Meeting, though the Yearly Meeting had been overwhelmingly Evangelical in sentiment throughout the 1800s. During the 1850s, the Yearly Meeting Discipline was relaxed, leading to a complete revision of the Discipline in 1860, in which the prohibition against marrying non-Friends was dropped, and plain dress and speech were declared optional. Beginning in 1862, English conservative Friends, united in their discomfort with Evangelical theology and their adherence to the plain way of life, began to hold a series of conferences several times a year for worship and mutual support.

The movement for separation was led by John G. Sargeant, who in 1864 moved to the village of Fritchley in Derbyshire and established a meeting there without seeking recognition by London Yearly Meeting. In 1868 Sargeant visited Wilburite bodies in the United States, where some American conservatives encouraged him to establish a larger separate body. (Sergeant made his Primitive position clear by avoiding Philadelphia and Ohio Yearly Meetings, while visiting all of the Primitive bodies in America.) Back in England, Sargeant promoted his vision of an alternative to London Yearly Meeting at conservative conferences in 1868 and 1869. Though the majority of English conservatives chose to remain with London Yearly Meeting, a small group separated, and the first session of Fritchley General Meeting met in 1870, adopting London's Discipline of 1802 as its own. The General Meeting was always small, but slowly grew in numbers until at least 1900. Almost all of its members lived in or near Fritchley, though a meeting existed in Bournbrook, a suburb of Birmingham. A number of Friends moved to Fritchley or surrounding towns in order to be part of the Meeting.

Fritchley was unusual among conservative meetings in maintaining an active dialogue with London Yearly Meeting Friends. John Sargeant visited and corresponded with "Friends of like mind" throughout England and Scotland, and several times was released by his meeting to witness among meetings not in unity with Fritchley. This practice was continued well into the twentieth century by other Fritchley ministers.

Initially, Fritchley General Meeting only corresponded with the Primitive-Otisite groups in America. As barriers broke down between Primitive and Middleite groups, Fritchley entered into correspondence with all Conservative Yearly Meetings, though it was very cautious in doing so - Ohio Yearly Meeting received its first epistle from Fritchley in 1927. Way for this correspondence may have been opened through James Henderson, a minister of Ohio Yearly Meeting, who visited Fritchley Friends in 1920.

  1. See Hamm, pp. 99-120.
  2. Joel and Hannah Bean, both prominent conservative ministers, abhorred the idea of separation, and remained with the larger lowa Yearly Meeting when most conservatives separated in 1877. In 1882 they moved to California to escape the tide of revivalism in Iowa. They were eventually deposed as ministers, then disowned by the revivalist Yearly Meeting. The Beans' tragic story is well told in Le Shana, pp. 47-61, 83-105.
  3. Hodgson, Vol. II, p. 398.
  4. Hamm, pp.84-85.
  5. Cook, pp. 85-86.
  6. Branson, p. 348.
  7. Morse, p. 50.


After the many upheavals of the nineteenth century, the twentieth century was one of relative outward peace for Conservative Friends. Change went on, however, with a steady decline in numbers, the death or assimilation of all but three Yearly Meetings, and new questions of identity and the meaning of the Conservative witness in a changed world.

Following Ohio Yearly Meeting's acknowledgment of North Carolina Yearly Meeting in 1911, the seven Conservative Yearly Meetings enjoyed a period of harmony, united in polity, practice and belief. In 1911, representatives of these Yearly Meetings met in Barnesville, Ohio, to consider publishing a joint statement of Conservative belief. Job Gidley, a minister and clerk of New England Yearly Meeting, promoted and may have initiated this project. The conference produced a Brief Synopsis of the Principles and Testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends, which was adopted by all seven of the Yearly Meetings in 1912 and published in 1913. This document, which gives a clear summary of Conservative Friends' belief at that time, is briefly described in Appendix A.

Unlike the Gurneyite and Hicksite Yearly Meetings, Conservative Friends have never formed a common organization. (In 1900 the Hicksite Yearly Meetings formed Friends General Conference; in 1902 the Gurneyites formed the Five Years Meeting, already mentioned in connection with the North Carolina separation.) The 1911 conference that produced the Synopsis was probably the closest that Conservative Friends have ever come to officially coordinated action.

THE WORLD WARS AND THE BREAKDOWN OF ISOLATION. The First World War was a turning-point in Conservative Friends' relations with other Friends' bodies and with the larger world. Conservative Friends were more united in their refusal to participate in war than were either the Hicksite or Gurneyite branches, and large numbers of young men endured the sometimes brutal conditions of the non-combatant camps run by the United States Army. In the camps, they found their convictions and sufferings shared by non-Conservative Friends as well as Brethren, Mennonites, and others.

In 1917, representatives of the Orthodox Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Friends General Conference, and the Five Years Meeting founded the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to support and advocate for conscientious objectors, and to organize relief work in Europe. Conservative Friends supported the AFSC from the first, and gave generously to its first fund drive. (Members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting gave far more per capita than any other Friends body; members of the Conservative Yearly Meetings, despite the fact that they had no formal ties to the AFSC, contributed more per capita than did members of the Five Years Meeting.) Conservative Friends worked in AFSC's post-war relief programs in Europe, and returned with a wider view of the world and other Friends.

The Second World War further increased cooperation with other Friends. Religious objectors to war were now able to work in Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps run by the traditional "Peace Churches" rather than by the Army. The AFSC organized and ran CPS camps for Friends, and Conservatives served in the camps or actively supported them. When the AFSC developed "CPS Fund Bonds" and "Peace Stamps" as alternatives to the government's Defense Bonds and Defense Stamps, students at Ohio Yearly Meeting's Olney School organized a drive to sell Peace Stamps. The era of shunning non-Conservative Friends and their organizations was clearly over.

DEATHS AND REUNIONS OF CONSERVATIVE YEARLY MEETINGS. The twentieth century saw the disappearance, through attrition or reabsorption, of four of the seven Conservative Yearly Meetings that had approved the 1912 Synopsis, as well as the Orthodox Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Increased communication with non-Conservative Yearly Meetings paved the way for the reunion of three of these Yearly Meetings with bodies from which they had been separated for more than one hundred years.

Kansas Yearly Meeting, always small, dwindled to one Monthly Meeting, Spring River. The Yearly Meeting laid itself down in 1929, and Spring River Monthly Meeting joined Iowa Yearly Meeting in 1930.

Western Yearly Meeting laid itself down in 1962 Its only surviving Monthly Meeting, Plainfield, continued for some years as an independent meeting with loose ties to Conservative Friends, but eventually died out.

In 1945, New England. Yearly Meeting joined with the (Gurneyite) Yearly Meeting of Friends for New England and with a number of independent Monthly Meetings to form a united Yearly Meeting. A concern for eventual reunion had first been voiced at Yearly Meeting sessions in 1925, and the Yearly Meetings had steadily become closer since that time. The closing minutes of New England Yearly Meeting in 1944 stated:

Whatever may have been the necessity for the division when it occurred, we feel that at this present time the lack of corporate unity of Friends in New England is a deterrent to the spiritual growth and service of Friends. There is, we believe, such spiritual unity now existing, notwithstanding some strong differences in point of view, that the time has come for the uniting of all of the established groups of Friends in New England.[1]

Beginning around the time of the First World War, barriers between the Orthodox and Hicksite Philadelphia Yearly Meetings began to soften, as evidenced by the Yearly Meetings' cooperation in projects such as the AFSC. In 1941, the two Yearly Meetings began holding joint business sessions in addition to their separate sessions. By 1950, nearly half of the Monthly Meetings in the Orthodox Yearly Meeting were "united" bodies, sharing membership in both Philadelphia Yearly Meetings. In 1955, the two Yearly Meetings formally united into one body.

Beginning in 1944, Canada Yearly Meeting met in joint sessions with the Gurneyite Canada Yearly Meeting and Genesee Yearly Meeting (Hicksite); the minutes of the three Yearly Meetings were printed together. In 1955, the Yearly Meetings officially united to form Canadian Yearly Meeting.

The disappearance of these Yearly Meetings as distinct Conservative bodies left three surviving Conservative Yearly Meetings: Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina. Though Kansas and Western Yearly Meetings died out for lack of numbers, New England' Canada, and Philadelphia were viable Yearly Meetings when they reunited with other Friends bodies. In all three cases, the reunions had been preceded by a long period of increasing closeness and work toward reunification. The bodies involved had come to feel that the differences between them had narrowed since their original separation, or at least that these differences were not as important as they had once thought. The near- disappearance of the plain life among Conservative Friends undoubtedly played a role: Friends could no longer point to outward differences in their ways of life as justifications for continued separation.

In New England and Canadian Yearly Meetings, the effect of the reunions was straightforward: the rapid disappearance of the Conservative witness, as if the Conservative Yearly Meetings that entered into reunion had been swallowed without a trace. The Conservative Yearly Meetings were substantially smaller than those that they joined - in New England, Conservative members were outnumbered by about thirty to one. Conservative Friends, characteristically slow and deliberate in their approach to decision-making, tend to be overrun by the relatively "fast" methods of other Friends. We need also to acknowledge that the Conservative Yearly Meetings had undergone substantial assimilation before reunion - and that this assimilation in large measure made reunion possible.

In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, some Monthly Meetings that had maintained a Conservative identity before the 1955 reunion were able to continue as relatively Conservative meetings. The Tract Association of Friends, a Philadelphia-based publisher of Conservative materials, continued its work. (The Tract Association, founded in 1816, has never been formally affiliated with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.) Long experience of maintaining a separate identity in a nominally united body may have served Conservative Friends well in the new Yearly Meeting. It is clear, though, that the Yearly Meeting as a whole lost its Conservative identity. In 1954, the last year that the Orthodox Yearly Meeting held full sessions as a distinct body, its Minute of Exercise read, in part:

If we open our hearts, God will open our whole being to testify to the Gospel of His Son.... It is the heart of Jesus Christ that raises up in us Him who is able to do what we cannot do in our own strength. His is the testimony against all war, not ours. His is the testimony that we shall love one another. Knowing Jesus, we experience a profound repentance.[2]

Such a corporate testimony to Jesus Christ as our present Teacher and source of our strength has never again been heard from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

THE END OF THE PRIMITIVE MEETINGS. The handful of Primitive meetings that survived into the twentieth century continued to decline in numbers. Though the Otisite New York Yearly Meeting was laid down in 1896, its one surviving Quarterly Meeting (Scipio) continued independently for twenty years until it united with Canada Yearly Meeting in 1916. The Otisite branch of New England Yearly Meeting reunited in 1911 with the Kingite branch, which had been part of the Conservative circle of Yearly Meetings since 1885. Fallsington General Meeting dwindled to one Monthly Meeting (Falls), which in 1950 joined with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Falls Monthly Meeting (itself a union of Orthodox and Hicksite Monthly Meetings), ending its separate existence.

Fritchley General Meeting took up official correspondence with London Yearly Meeting in 1937, and united with London in 1967. (London Yearly Meeting encouraged Fritchley Friends to continue to hold their General Meeting, "believing that its devotional nature can continue to bring inspiration to the whole Yearly Meeting."[3] Despite this encouragement, no further General Meetings were held.) With the passing of its founding members, Fritchley General Meeting had become less distinguishable from other rural English meetings. London Yearly Meeting had changed also; the revival movement in America had shocked British Friends and broken the hold of Gurneyism on the Yearly Meeting, leaving it more appreciative of the Conservative position.

HALCYONIA MEETING. One of the factors in Fritchley General Meeting's decline was the departure of a large proportion of its membership (mostly members of Bournbrook Meeting) to Borden, Saskatchewan beginning in 1904. In 1909, this group constituted itself as both Halcyonia Monthly Meeting and Western Canada Yearly Meeting. In 1937, Halcyonia Monthly Meeting joined Canada Yearly Meeting, and Western Canada Yearly Meeting disappeared. In 1955, when Canada Yearly Meeting joined in creating Canadian Yearly Meeting, Halcyonia Monthly Meeting did not feel clear to join in the reunion and withdrew. This isolated group still meets for worship.[4]

FAIRHOPE AND MONTEVERDE MEETINGS. In 1915, a group of Conservative Friends from Ohio and Iowa who had settled near Fairhope, Alabama asked Stillwater Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting for authorization to set up a meeting for worship. Authorization was given, and after a few years as a Preparative Meeting, Fairhope Monthly Meeting was established in 1919.

In 1950, about half of the membership of Fairhope Monthly Meeting moved as a group to Costa Rica. Disturbed by the military draft and increasing militarism in the United States, they chose Costa Rica because it had abolished its army in 1948 and was welcoming foreign settlers. The group settled a 3000-acre tract of forested land in the mountains, which they named Monteverde. In 1952, Monteverde Friends were released from membership in Fairhope Monthly Meeting at their own request, and established an independent Monteverde Monthly Meeting. The Monteverde community has prospered, and maintains contact with Ohio Yearly Meeting through visitation and exchange of epistles.

Fairhope Monthly Meeting was badly weakened by the departure of the Monteverde Friends. After further declines in membership and diminished contact with Ohio Yearly Meeting, the meeting was laid down at its own request in 1967. The remnants of Fairhope Friends were the basis of an independent Fairhope Monthly Meeting, which continues with greatly reduced contact with Ohio Yearly Meeting.

CHANGING CUSTOMS. Throughout the twentieth century, many of the "ancient landmarks" that had distinguished Conservative Friends vanished. Some changes (such as the elimination of Friends' elementary schools) were driven by economic necessity; others (such as the abandonment of separate men's and women's business meetings) resulted from a deliberate decision that a practice had outlived its usefulness. In some cases (such as the abandonment of plain dress), change simply crept in over time without conscious choice.

At the beginning of the twentieth century plain dress was disappearing; by 1950, it was rare. In Ohio Yearly Meeting, which changed most slowly, the Query on "plainness of speech and apparel" was answered year after year with phrases such as "Plainness of speech and apparel, as recommended by the discipline, is much neglected."[5] The revised Book of Discipline approved in 1963 finally dropped all mention of plain dress and speech, substituting the Query "Do we observe simplicity in our manner of living, sincerity in speech, and modesty in apparel?[6] The great majority of Conservative Friends today dress simply and modestly, but are otherwise outwardly indistinguishable from their non-Conservative neighbors. For all but a few Conservative Friends, the plain speech has become an insider's language, used in the family and with other Conservative Friends, but not in conversation with the outside world.

Regular mid-week meetings for worship, held during the day on the fourth or fifth day of the week, were a powerful unifying force among traditional Friends. The effects of commerce and wage labor, along with increasing assimilation to the world, led to the decline of mid-week meeting as a general practice among Conservative Friends. A number of meetings still hold mid-week meetings for worship, but these are not as faithfully attended as First-day meetings.

Steady decline in membership led to the gradual closing of the primary schools traditionally run by each Meeting. Children's attendance at public school compromised the "guarded education" that had been so important in maintaining the integrity of the Conservative culture. When Stillwater Monthly Meeting in Ohio Yearly Meeting closed its primary school in 1941, it left only two primary schools in operation among Conservative Friends, one at Fairhope and one at Somerset (now Chestnut Ridge) Meeting in Ohio Yearly Meeting. Somerset's school, the last survivor, closed in 1971.

Well into the 1930s, strict Conservative Friends continued to ignore the conventional Christian holidays, but enough families were observing them that, in 1928, Ohio Yearly Meeting's Boarding School for the first time scheduled its winter break to include "the day which the world calls Christmas."

Beginning with New England Yearly Meeting in 1907, all of the Conservative Yearly Meetings eventually began to meet in joint session - that is, without separate men's and women's meetings for business. (Meetings for worship had always been held jointly, though generally with women and men sitting on opposite sides of the meetinghouse.) Ohio Yearly Meeting, the last to change, held its first joint Yearly Meeting sessions in 1950.

The complex politics of sending and receiving epistles at last came to an end. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting began the process in 1897 when it sent a general epistle "to all meetings bearing the name of Friends." In 1934, Ohio Yearly Meeting resumed regular correspondence with non- Conservative Friends bodies. The typical practice now among the Conservative Yearly Meetings is to send individual epistles to other Conservative bodies, and a general epistle to all Yearly Meetings of Friends. The history of Friends might have been very different if this practice had prevailed in the nineteenth century.

NEW MEETINGS, NEW THEOLOGIES. A phenomenon unique to the twentieth century has been the proliferation of independent, "unprogrammed" meetings, most of them urban or associated with college campuses. These meetings were often founded by Friends living at a distance from an established meeting, but they typically attracted members who were new to Friends. The Civilian Public Service camps in World War II and the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s brought in newly convinced Friends with a strong concern for social action. The theology and spirituality of these meetings were strongly influenced by writers such as Rufus Jones and Howard Brinton, who characterized Quakerism as a form of Christian mysticism. Most meetings were liberal in theology, politics and ethics. In many, Christian profession was no longer seen as a condition of membership, and some began to assert, for the first time in the history of any Friends body, that Quakerism was not essentially a Christian faith. Some of these meetings remained independent and unaffiliated. Some joined existing Hicksite Yearly Meetings, while others formed entirely new Yearly Meetings.

In Iowa and North Carolina Yearly Meetings, this movement produced an influx of new meetings, which brought both new energy and a substantially more liberal orientation. It would be inaccurate to view this process simply as a liberal invasion: those who joined Conservative Yearly Meetings were attracted to what they found in Conservative Friends, and were influenced by them.

Some of the social forces that helped the new meetings hurt the old ones. Conservative meetings were mostly rural, and were weakened by the twentieth-century shift in population from the country to the cities. (This does not mean that Conservative Quakerism can only thrive in rural settings. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was for many years essentially Conservative, healthy, and largely urban or suburban.)

Of the eight Monthly Meetings now in North Carolina Yearly Meeting, only two existed in 1945. (Three of the five Monthly Meetings active in 1945 no longer exist.) North Carolina Yearly Meeting has, in recent years, become a mixed body, with great diversity of outlook both within and between Monthly Meetings. Some North Carolina Friends adhere to the traditional theology of Conservative Friends and uphold aspects of the plain way of life; others participate in the liberal Piedmont Friends Fellowship and in Friends General Conference, the national body of historically Hicksite Yearly Meetings. (Durham Monthly Meeting is affiliated with Friends General Conference; Fayetteville and Friendship Monthly Meetings are affiliated with Piedmont Friends Fellowship.)

The effects of the new meetings were more dramatic and divisive in Iowa Yearly Meeting. Between 1960 and 1978, Iowa Yearly Meeting added seven new Monthly Meetings to its existing seven, though two were later laid down due to small membership. Several of these new Meetings had been meeting independently since the 1930s or 1940s. The contrast between old and new came to a crisis in 1984, when John Griffith, the nominee for Yearly Meeting clerk, informed Yearly Meeting representatives that he was not a member of Friends (though a regular attender), that he did not completely abstain from alcohol, and that he did not accept the atoning value of Jesus' death; he asked if, knowing this, they still wished to nominate him. The Yearly Meeting representatives reaffirmed the nomination.

At the 1985 Yearly Meeting sessions, Pasadena Monthly Meeting submitted a letter to the Yearly Meeting in place of a State of Society report:

Last Eighth Month we wrote to all the monthly meetings of lowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) stating that one who did not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior was appointed to serve as clerk of the Yearly Meeting. We used this example to ask if this was representative of the beliefs of lowa Yearly Meeting. All monthly meetings have answered and expressed their approval and support of this action. The answers we have received indicate that belief in Christ as Lord and Savior has become a doctrine that is subordinate to the concern for unity with, and tolerance of, unbelievers and their non-Christian doctrines... If we are to be united with Christ then we must separate ourselves from those who deny Him. We... do believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and believe with George Fox that he, Jesus Christ, can speak to our condition. Therefore we... do hereby withdraw our membership...[7]

Though, as Pasadena Monthly Meeting stated, all other Monthly Meetings supported the new clerk's appointment, their position was not reached without conflict and struggle. The State of Society report of Whittier Monthly Meeting, one of the older Meetings in Iowa Yearly Meeting, stated:

The past year has been a time of testing... We believe that God is central in our lives but we differ in the interpretation and acceptance of the belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. There is a deep concern that Friends maintain a basic Christ centered framework if we are to stand for something and continue as a Church. We seem to be at a crossroads for either growth or decline... Five people found they could no longer remain members of the Yearly Meeting and withdrew membership because they disagree with the theological beliefs of the appointed clerk and the large trend in agreement with him.[8]

Ohio Yearly Meeting gained two new Monthly Meetings in the 1960s. Uniontown Monthly Meeting, established in 1965 in western Pennsylvania, was notably active in peace work, but had ceased meeting regularly by 1980 (though it has not been laid down as of 1992).

Cleveland Monthly Meeting joined Ohio Yearly Meeting in 1966. It had begun as an independent worship group in 1925; its founding members included Kenneth Morse, a plain Friend. Cleveland Monthly Meeting belongs jointly to Ohio Yearly Meeting and Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, a liberal Yearly Meeting established in 1964. This large, active meeting has brought both vigor and tension to the Yearly Meeting. Some of its members are strongly oriented toward Ohio Yearly Meeting, others equally strongly toward Lake Erie Yearly Meeting; a few try to build unity between these diverse groups. This dual nature was reflected in Cleveland Monthly Meeting's consideration of acknowledging same-sex marriages, which deeply exercised Ohio Yearly Meeting for several years in the late 1980s. The fact that Cleveland Monthly Meeting considered such unions shows its liberal side; the fact that it patiently sought the advice and unity of the Yearly Meeting shows its Conservative side.

NEO-CONSERVATIVES AND CHARISMATICS. Beginning in the 1970s, Ohio Yearly Meeting in particular was affected by new conservative influences. An increasing number of Friends, many of them "refugees" from liberal meetings, began to look to Ohio Yearly Meeting as a haven of Christian Quakerism. A number of these Friends adopted plain dress and speech and a more classically Wilburite viewpoint than that of many longtime members of the Yearly Meeting. William Taber has characterized these Friends as "neo-Conservatives". Rockingham Monthly Meeting, established in 1978 in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was founded by a group of such Friends who joined Ohio Yearly Meeting. Friends who have adopted neo-Conservative ways remain few, but continue to be active and influential in Ohio Yearly Meeting. (North Carolina Yearly Meeting has also seen a small renewal of the neo-Conservative witness, and its Southern Quarterly Meeting originated a periodical entitled The Plain Friend, now published independently by a group of Ohio Friends. Unaffiliated meetings arising from the neo-Conservative "revival" also exist in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. These meetings might best be described as "neo-Primitive" in their concern not to be united with "compromised" Yearly Meetings. Edmund Goerke, a Friend from New Jersey, led an unsuccessful effort during the 1970s to organize a "Northeast General Meeting" along Primitive lines.[9])

The Charismatic movement that swept through the Christian church in the 1970s had its impact on Ohio Yearly Meeting, with complex results. The spiritual vitality introduced by the movement contributed to an increase in the number of recorded ministers, and imparted a more Evangelical style and content to much of the vocal ministry. Healing and intercessory prayer, somewhat neglected in the Conservative tradition, became a more regular part of the spirituality of Ohio Yearly Meeting Friends. Though some Charismatics left Ohio Yearly Meeting, many remained, and the Charismatic influence was to a degree incorporated into the traditional Conservative forms.

An increasingly important force for the preservation and spread of the Conservative witness has been the series of "General Meetings of Conservative Friends." The first of these, the fruit of a concern raised at North Carolina Yearly Meeting by Kenneth Morse, was held at Friendsville, North Carolina in 1931 [10]. A concern raised by Edmund Goerke led to another General Meeting in 1965, held in Barnesville, Ohio, which included representatives of all existing Conservative bodies including Monteverde Meeting and Fritchley General Meeting. Since that time, the General Meetings have continued to be held every two or three years. They are now under the care of Ohio Yearly Meeting's Wider Fellowship of Conservative Friends Committee, which began in 1967 as the "North Carolina Yearly Meeting Concern Committee" of Ohio Yearly Meeting. The General Meetings now draw mostly members of Ohio and North Carolina Yearly Meetings, along with many visitors. Many have found in the fellowship and worship a fresh affirmation of the unique Christian testimony that Conservative Friends have upheld through the years. The announcement of the 1991 meeting, addressed to "Conservative Friends and others of like mind," speaks to the life yet to be found in this testimony:

Our expectation is to gather under one Spirit in Christ Jesus, waiting in His Holy Covering and giving ministry under His Holy Unction, having our hearts and minds tendered, renewed with His peace that surpasses understanding.

  1. New England Yearly Meeting Minutes, 1944, p. 21.
  2. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes, 1954, p. 29.
  3. Lowndes, p. 114.
  4. Mary Hinde, personal communication.
  5. Ohio Yearly Meeting Minutes, 1935, p. 7.
  6. Ohio Yearly Meeting Book of Discipline, 1963, p. 23.
  7. Iowa Yearly Meeting Minutes, 1985, p. 44.
  8. Iowa Yearly Meeting Minutes, 1985, p. 42-43.
  9. John C. Smith, personal communication.
  10. Patrick J. Burns, personal communication.


Conservative Friends have changed dramatically over the years, especially in the twentieth century. Most of the "exterior hedge of preservation" that guarded Conservative Friends' witness has come down. The Conservative Yearly Meetings would have far more difficulty formulating a unified statement of faith today than they did in 1911. Wilburites of one hundred years ago might be unable to recognize among today's Conservative Friends the faith and way of life that they sacrificed so much to preserve.

Yet visitors among Conservative friends continue to feel that they have found something distinctive and precious, a faith and way of life that witnesses to the truth of George Fox's proclamation that "Christ is come to teach his people himself." What is it that defines the continuing distinctiveness of Conservative Friends in the late twentieth century? Three elements seem central to me:

A living corporate witness to Jesus Christ. Conservative Friends have sought to preserve, in their Christian Faith, a witness to both the outward, atoning work of Jesus and the ongoing transforming and teaching role of the inward Christ. They have lived out their faith most strongly by showing that the Christian's daily life can be an ongoing "practice of the presence of God." We still find, among Conservative Friends, many individuals who have ordered their lives so as to submit every detail to the immediate guidance of the indwelling Christ.

A continuing commitment to "a waiting, spiritual worship and a free gospel ministry." If Jesus Christ is truly Head of the Church, he will be head of our meetings for worship. Conservative Friends continue to gather for worship in the expectation that God can provide the ministry, inward and spoken, most suitable to the needs of the gathered body. For Conservative Friends, waiting worship and free gospel ministry are not "forms of worship" among a number of equally valid forms, but are an inevitable consequence of Friends' understanding of the immediate, powerful presence of the Living Christ.

A sense of the importance of separation from the world as part of a Christian witness. Most of the forms by which an outward separation was maintained have disappeared, and Conservative Friends struggle with how this separation is to be maintained and what it means today. Yet Conservative Friends remain clear that a measure of distance from the world is necessary if we are to witness to the world, and that the demonstration of a new and different way of life is an essential part of the proclamation of God's kingdom.

It is in this last area that the most difficult questions of Conservative identity arise. Have Friends benefitted by abandoning their distinctive outward way of life, or has something inward been lost along with it? Kenneth Morse's words are provocative:

Were the dear Friends who upheld all these testimonies mistaken? Is it only a coincidence that along with these so- called minor testimonies, the ministry...is lapsing? ... If the Quaker ministry has almost ceased, it is that the soil is not right ... There is still a need of taking up the cross.[1]

Some Conservative bodies wrestle with the question of affiliation with other Friends bodies. Are Conservative Friends still distinctive enough to be able to justify their separate existence? As we saw in the last chapter, the result of outright union with other Friends groups has always been the disappearance of the Conservative identity. At the 1989 sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, Wilmer Cooper warned Friends, who were then considering affiliation with Friends General Conference, to "be very sure who you are" before pursuing such an affiliation. This seems like the most pertinent advice to all Conservative bodies as they struggle with their relationship to the outside world.

What might the future be for Conservative Friends? A statistician would not be optimistic. Conservative Friends have been decreasing in numbers throughout their history. They now number around 1,600, and there is no evidence that their numerical decline has slowed.' Yet signs of new life and new direction can be found. Interest in the Conservative witness has grown steadily in the past twenty years, and Yearly Meeting sessions (particularly in Ohio) attract concerned Friends from throughout North America. The General Meetings provide opportunities for scattered Friends, who have found something essential in the Conservative way, to gather for fellowship and to worship their Lord together in spirit and in truth. The power that many have experienced in these gatherings suggests the possibility of an emerging network of Friends, affiliated in various ways with the Conservative Yearly Meetings, which may in God's time provide the foundation for new meetings and fresh proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Friends have understood it through the centuries.

Organizations and traditions are of no value in themselves; God blesses them to the extent that they advance the doing of God's will on earth. The truth that Conservative Friends have conserved - that Jesus Christ is truly alive, immediately present to each human soul to show the way and strengthen us to follow - cannot perish. Friends who remain faithful to the measure of Light that they have been granted today may leave the future in God's hands.

  1. Morse, pp. 61-62.


What follows is a summary of A Brief Synopsis of the Principles and Testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends, produced in 1911 at a conference of representatives of the Meetings for Sufferings of the seven Conservative Yearly Meetings in correspondence with one another (Canada, Iowa, Kansas, New England, North Carolina, Ohio and Western). Jesse Edgerton, a minister of Ohio Yearly Meeting, clerked the conference, which was held at Stillwater meetinghouse in 8arnesville, Ohio. The Synopsis was approved by all seven Yearly Meetings in 1912, and published in 1913.

GOD, CHRIST AND THE ATONEMENT. "We are assured that real Friends today believe... in the one only wise, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal God... And we own and believe in Jesus Christ, His beloved and only begotten Son, in whom He is well pleased; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin Mary: in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins; who is the express image of the invisible God, by whom were all things created... we desire also to affirm our belief in the virtue of His atoning sacrifice on Calvary, for the sins of all mankind."

THE INWARD WORK OF CHRIST is strongly emphasized: we must "submit to the manifestations of his will, made known in our hearts." Yet we are warned that the inward and outward work of Christ are inseparable. [Quoting John Crook:] " 'this new birth of Christ, formed within and dwelling in the heart, by faith, doth not limit or confine Christ to be only within, and not without also; but both within and without.' "

THE "TRINITY." "Friends believe in the 'Three who bear record in heaven, Father, Son and Holy Ghost,' and that these are one; yet we have ever been concerned to avoid the word 'Trinity' as applied to the Divine Being, as not found in the Bible."

FUTURE LIFE AND RESURRECTION. "With other evangelical religious denominations, we believe in the realities of a future and spiritual life... We fully accept and believe in the resurrection of the dead... with [Paul], we believe in the resurrection, not of the body, but of the spirit."

WAITING WORSHIP. God must be worshiped "in spirit and in truth... Therefore we endeavor, when thus assembled, to attain to a condition of quiet introversion of mind, waiting upon the Lord, with all our expectation directed unto Him, the great Head of the Church, whose right and prerogative it is to direct the service of all meetings for His own worship... In the performance of this spiritual worship, withdrawing from all outward and distracting things, as we are enabled to attain unto, and maintain a solemn, waiting attitude of spirit... we are brought into a state of mind susceptible to the gospel message, whether received immediately from the Holy Spirit, by its direct and powerful impression on our minds, or through some chosen and qualified, and anointed instrument."

MUSIC. "In the light of the Savior's definition of Divine worship... we can see no place for music in its performance, hence Friends do not have, nor use musical instruments for this purpose."

FREE GOSPEL MINISTRY. "Holding, as we do, the ministry of the gospel to be a gift of God, freely bestowed by Him, upon whomsoever He may call and qualify for His own work and service, regardless of sex; in the exercise of which, he or she is wholly dependent upon the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit... Thus we claim it to be by its very nature, entirely outside the domain of marketable commodities... The minister, if truly anointed, becomes simply the instrument, or medium, through which the gospel message flows... the minister's duty may be to speak, or it may be to keep silent... How reverently then, should the human minister wait to know the call, and putting forth of the Divine!"

BAPTISM AND.COMMUNION. "[We] believe that the one necessary and saving baptism is that of the Holy Spirit... We believe that in the fullness of the gospel plan, communion, like worship, is in spirit and in truth; and we hold it as a most precious privilege, that we may enjoy the reality of direct personal communion with God, through the Holy Spirit. Then when the reality, the substance, is possible, why or how can we be satisfied with the shadow?"

WAR. "Perhaps that testimony of our Society, best known to the world... is the one against war and bloodshed... The whole trend of the Savior's teaching is in opposition to war!!... Certainly we can imagine nothing more at variance with the gospel plan, than the hatred and violence of war!!... As we submit our hearts to the dominion of Christ, he will so fill them with love to him and to each other, that there will be no place for hatred, malice, and those other evil passions that precede and accompany the spirit of strife and war, but we will rather become peace-makers, who are to become the 'Children of God."'

OATHS. "We believe Christ meant just what he said, 'Swear not at all'... it seems evident that our savior meant to teach the importance of that plain and simple truth, and we believe truth in its simplicity, is more potent than when accompanied by an oath!! "

THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. "We accept, and believe in the authenticity, and Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures... [Quoting Barclay's Apology:] 'Yet we may not call them the principal fountain of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the first adequate rule of faith and manners; because the principal fountain of truth must be the truth itself'... Neither do we call the Bible the 'Word of God,'... [which] as abundantly shown in the Scriptures themselves, is a name applied to Christ, and not to the Bible... Friends in declining to call the Bible 'The Word of God' or the primary rule of faith, (assigning that place to the Spirit, which was the inspiration of, and can alone open the Scriptures to our understanding), do not undervalue its precious teachings... What we, in this age of materialism need, is not higher criticism, but a higher, deeper, broader faith in God, and in his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and a deeper reverence for things Divine, not omitting the Bible, which, in its entirety, is always precious to the humble, devoted Christian."

SIMPLICITY OF SPEECH AND DRESS. This section affirms the use of the singular "thee" instead of "you," and the avoidance of popular names for months and days of the week. "Besides these peculiarities of language, Friends have long been distinguished by the simplicity of their dress and manners... We believe that as our hearts are filled with the Divine love, and our lives brought under the government of Christ, our dress and behavior will come to conform to the simplicity of the gospel."

FREEDOM FROM SIN, GROWTH IN GRACE. "The power of God, through Christ, is inwardly revealed in the heart of man; first, as a convicter for sin, thereby condemning sin in the flesh; and secondly, begetting a hope of emancipation therefrom, through the mercy and power of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. He does not save us in our sins but from them. Now, as He saves us from sin, we believe there may be experienced an entire freedom from actual sinning... [Scripture shows] the necessity of a growth in grace, and in the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, in order that a state of perfection, or freedom from sin may be experienced."

CONCLUSION. "A faithful abiding on the Eternal Foundation, Christ Jesus, the Rock of Ages, is the only safe place for any Christian organization: and believing that the principles and testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends are, as expressed by some of our forefathers in the Truth, but 'Primitive Christianity revived,' we would bespeak for them an earnest and careful examination, by the sincere seeker after truth, without regard to his, or her, religious connections."


1890 1941 1991
Orthodox 76,142 FUM 70,390 FUM 41,433
EFA 18,315 EFA 26,434
Central YM 897 Central YM 292
_______ _______ _______
76,142 89,602 68,159
Hicksite 21,992 FGC 17,601 FGC 30,422
Indep. 75 Indep. 2,991
_______ _______ _______
21,992 17,676 33,413
Wilburite 4,329 Conserv. 3,098 Conserv. 1,640
Phila.YM 4,513 Phil.YM 4,865
Primitive 232
_______ _______ _______
9,074 7,963 1,640

Sources: Carroll, pp. 143-154, Kaiser.

Several Yearly Meetings have joint membership in FUM and FGC. These meetings are predominantly liberal and unprogrammed. For 1991, 90% of their membership has been counted as FGC, 10% as FUM.

FUM: Friends United Meeting (Historically Gurneyite, Evangelical, pastoral)

FGC: Friends General Conference (Historically Hicksite, liberal, unprogrammed)

EFA/EFI: Evangelical Friends Alliance (Evangelical, pastoral, split from FUM over doctrinal issues); changed to Evangelical Friends International in 1991.

Central YM: An Evangelical, pastoral Yearly Meeting based in Indiana.

Indep.: A group of independent Yearly Meetings (Pacific, North Pacific, Intermountain). Liberal and unprogrammed. Not historically Hicksite, but similar in practice and theology.


Barbour, Hugh, and J. William Frost. The Quakers. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Barclay, Robert. An Apology for the True Christian Divinity. Philadelphia: Friends' Book Store,1908.

Bradley, A. Day. "New York Yearly Meeting at Poplar Ridge and the Primitive Friends." Quaker History 68, 2 (1979): 75-82.

Branson, Ann. Journal of Ann Branson, a Minister of the Gospel in the Society of Friends. Philadelphia, 1892.

A Brief Synopsis of the Principles and Testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends. Barnesville, Ohio, 1912.

Carroll, H. K. The Religious Forces of the United States: Enumerated, Classified, and Described on the Basis of the Government Census of 1890. American Church History Series, Vol. 1. New York: Christian Literature Co., 1893.

Cook, Darius B. Memoirs of Quaker Divide. Dexter, Iowa: The Dexter Sentinel, 1914.

Discipline. Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative). Iowa City, Iowa: 1974, revised 1984.

The Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends of Ohio Yearly Meeting. Barnesville, Ohio: 1922, 1963.

Hamm, Thomas D. The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800-1907. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1988

Heiss, Willard. A Brief History of Western Yearly Meeting of Conservative Friends and the Separation of 1877. Indianapolis: John Woolman Press, 1963.

Hinshaw, Seth B. The Carolina Quaker Experience 1665-1985: An Interpretation. North Carolina Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Friends Historical Society, 1984.

Hodgson, William. The Society of Friends in the Nineteenth Century: A Historical View of the Successive Convulsions and Schisms Therein during that Period. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1875-1876.

Holden, David E. W. Friends Divided: Conflict and Separation in the Society of Friends. Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press, 1988.

Isichei, Elizabeth. Victorian Quakers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Janney, Samuel. Memoirs of Samuel Janney. Philadelphia: Friends' Book Association, 1881.

Jones, Louis T. The Quakers of lowa. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1914.

Jones, Rufus. The Later Periods of Quakerism. 2 vols. London: MacMillan and Company, 1921.

Kaiser, Geoffrey D. The Society of Friends in North America. Sumneytown, Pennsylvania: by the author, 1991.

Le Shana, David C. Quakers in California: The Effects of 19th Century Revivalism on Western Quakerism. Newberg, Oregon: Barclay Press, 1969.

Lowndes, Walter. The Quakers of Fritchley. Fritchley Preparative Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1986.

Morlan, Charles P. A Brief History of Ohio Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative). Barnesville, Ohio: Representative Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, 1959.

Morse, Kenneth S. P. A History of Conservative Friends. Barnesville, Ohio: by the author, 1962.

Punshon, John. Portrait in Grey: A short history of the Quakers. London: Quaker Home Service, 1984.

Taber, William. The Eye of Faith: A History of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Conservative. Barnesville, Ohio: Representative Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, 1985.

Tallack, William. Friendly Sketches in America. London: A. W. Bennett, 1861.

The Testimony of the Society of Friends on the Continent of America. Philadelphia: 1830.

Thomas, Allen C. and Richard H. Thomas. A History of the Friends in America. Fifth Edition, Revised and Enlarged by Allen C. Thomas. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1919.

Wilbur, John. Journal of the Life of John Wilbur, a Minister of the Gospel in the Society of Friends; with Selections from his Correspondence, &c. Providence, Rhode Island, 1859.

Williams, Walter R. The Rich Heritage of Quakerism. (Edited reprint with epilogue by Paul Anderson.) Newberg, Oregon: The Barclay Press, 1987.

Minutes. (Various years)