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Dulany Ogden Bennett

With William Penn, 300 years ago, Dulany Ogden Bennett’s ancestors came to what is now Chester County, in suburban Philadelphia. Born into Swarthmore Meeting, Dulany attended Willistown Meeting from age four through her teens and was active in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Young Friends.

As she grew older, she “stayed with—and liked—being a Friend and going to meeting, and found no reason to stop. People told me stories of running from horrifying parental beliefs, or dreadful churches. I had a curious mixture of envy and relief; envy that I never had to stake my own ground and say, ‘This is what I believe’; but relief that I didn’t have to be against something. I can walk into most any meetinghouse on a Sunday morning and feel completely at home.”

A graduate of Swarthmore College (she has served on its board for the past 13 years), Dulany attended both Friends and public schools prior to college. Her professional life has been as teacher and administrator, for 25 years in Philadelphia‐area Friends schools, and currently as head of Oregon Episcopal School in Portland. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Administration as well as a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Throughout her adulthood she has been active in various Quaker meetings.

How did she decide to become the head of an Episcopal School? “First, I served the school as a consultant. When they asked me to be head, I already knew I felt quite at home there; I felt spiritually guided. Furthermore, the school was very welcoming of Quaker silence and worship sharing. All sorts of Quaker things have crept into our practice! It’s good for me to have some experience in my life with a religion other than Friends. It’s clarifying.”

Dulany’s former husband, Douglas Bennett, is the current president of Earlham College. Their son, Tommy, lives with Dulany, studies at Oregon Episcopal School, and, like Dulany, is a member of Multnomah (Oreg.) Meeting. Dulany and Doug have remained friends and share parenting responsibilities and joys in every way possible. When asked about her greatest accomplishment (in a life filled with many!), Dulany responds immediately, “Tommy, without a doubt! I can’t imagine many parents who wouldn’t say that.”

She insists that she’s “not a very surprising person.” In her youth, she was an acrobat. “It’s really hard for me to carry a tune; I teach one to myself by playing it on the piano and learning it by rote. I’m a movie buff. I’m a hiker. Heat makes me harder to get along with—I’m very bad about loud noise, bright light, and hot weather.”

American Friends Service Committee has played an important role in Dulany’s life. In the early ‘90s, she served on its national board; in her four years as its clerk, she gave leadership and vision to AFSC’s adapting and transitioning to new realities. She has been active in the Northwest Regional Office.

Influences in Dulany’s life are interesting. “My father, who died before I was born, was an only child whose parents tried to control my life. My paternal grandfather, though born a Quaker, didn’t participate much. As I grew older, I struggled with his racism and anti‐Semitism and eventually found it emotionally and spiritually necessary to distance myself from him. It is still really hard for me. I am grateful to him, however, for paying for much of my education.”

Anna Bartram, who died at 107, was a positive influence on Dulany. “She was, when I was growing up in Willistown meeting, the elder, and taught my First‐day school many times. I spent time in her house; she was very smart, interesting, and gifted spiritually. And I loved her.”

In making choices and decisions, she likes to do lots of consulting with people who might be both positive and negative—“people who know me and will have opinions. I try to leave myself a significant amount of time—a week minimally, longer if I can—to put it out of my consciousness. As the time approaches, I mull it over, pray about it, but think and talk about it almost not at all. I wait until it comes to me. It’s very hard for me when a decision is forced upon me. In that case, I focus on trying to buy time rather than making the choice. That helps me.”

Dulany nurtures her own spiritual life and growth in several ways. First, “I try always to get to meeting or to have meeting myself every week. I find times to have my own quiet meditation period by monitoring my body when I start to feel tensed up. When I’m upset, I try to stop and imagine what a loving set of behaviors or responses would be in the situation—to listen for God’s guidance. My biggest worry in my work is that I will take action out of something other than love.”

Characterizing the strengths of Quakerism, Dulany says, “first, if it’s working right, anyone’s voice can speak the word of God—a responsibility and incredible opportunity to participate in the spiritual lives of others, enriching the whole meeting community. Second, the wedding of seeking truth and making change that is part and parcel of Friends history and practice. And third, it’s a religion that has built institutions of various kinds. I believe in institutions and have dedicated my life to them; I’m not an individualist. I believe that you can create an institution that helps make the people in it and the world they serve better.”

But Quakers do present some difficulties for Dulany. The first she mentions is “discipline, which I have always thought should be the universal word for Faith and Practice. The absence of discipline in some meetings creates problems—in developing a gathered meeting, in the work and practice of committees, and in financial stewardship, to name a few.”

Secondly, “the institutions that Quakers support require money. Today, we seem to have less tolerance for people with resources, … a belief that somehow they’re not as good people as Quakers ought to be. This has led to a turning away from Friends institutions; in my view, that makes us a much less powerful force in our society.”

Dulany is concerned about the future of Quakerism. “Part of what makes Quakerism an important religion is the impact it can have on others, on creating a spiritually‐based moral sense in people who are not particularly religious. The dignity of and respect for people requires us to behave in new ways. If you look at the history of Quakerism, that has happened many times, either through individuals who have carried Friends’ message widely (like John Woolman) or through Friends institutions. I worry that we are too inward‐looking to have the same impact in the 21st century that we had in the 19th and 20th centuries. Swarthmore and other colleges and universities that have Friends connections can do a huge service in this regard.”

Kara Newell is a member of Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon. ©2001 Kara Newell

Posted in: Features

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