Learning from Early Quaker Women

Sweet potatoes are a real pain to dice but it was well worth it. We had decided to make a potato and sweet potato curry and once we’d managed to chop them we ended up with a delicious meal with some very nice relish.

Picture of Elizabeth Fry

Dinner done we settled down for the spiritual component of our gathering, this time a discussion on Elizabeth Fry, reading a passage describing her tireless work amongst prisoners and how she used her loving and hoping spirit made her so compelling.

[Priscilla Buxton on her aunt, Elizabeth Fry:]
“There was no weakness or trouble of mind or body which might not safely be unveiled to her. Whatever various or opposite views, feelings or wishes might be confided to her, all came out again tinged with her own loving, hoping spirit. Bitterness of every kind died; when intrusted to her, it never reappeared. The most favourable construction possible was put upon every transaction. No doubt her failing lay this way; but did it not give her and her example a wonderful influence? Was it not the very secret of her power with the wretched and degraded prisoners? She always could see hope for everyone; she invariably found or made some point of light. The most abandoned must have felt she did not despair for them, either for this world or another; and this is what made her irresistible.”

Mrs Francis Crasswell: a memoir of Elizabeth Fry, p.183

Picture of a woman in plain dress

We discussed the difficulties and feelings involved, in seeing hope in everyone, in expressing that hope in a constructive way and in confiding in others and seeking that generous spirit. Notable was our discussion of the context of Elizebeth Fry’s life and the Quakerism of that time, in particular, the story of another Quaker, Hannah Barnard, who came from the USA to Britain on a travelling minute. Where she found herself asked to leave following her support of a movement of Quakers who wished to move away from biblical literalism, specifically that the bible could not be used to justify violence. Once returned to America Hanna Barnard was disowned by the Quakers despite defending her beliefs and actions stoutly. The contrast between these two Quakers’ lives, who both demonstrate qualities we aspire to while living very different lives within the society set a context to our discussion on ways to bring light to darkness and I personally am eager to learn more of both of them.

 Ben Boo