Liberal Quaker Journal Publishing to 1955

One of the reasons that historians like Quakers, and why historians have given Quakers attention out of all proportion to our relatively small numbers, is that we have always been writers and publishers. “Publish,” of course, is a word whose meaning has changed over time. In George Fox’s day, it meant to proclaim, vocally or in writing, so early Friends often referred to themselves as Publishers of Truth, even if they never wrote a word. But as you know, Friends did write and publish. Fox’s writings, for example, come to eight substantial volumes of rather small print, and the output of other Friends was nearly as great. With more parallels than we probably want to admit now to James Carville or Karl Rove, the first generation of Friends seldom let any attack go without a response, usually in language that, to put it charitably, lacked restraint. Often we find in Fox’s journal sentences like this: “the which I answered and after I writt a booke to itt.”

By the 1670s, as part of what we historians see as a bureaucratization or institutionalization of the Quaker movement that included the organization of monthly and yearly meetings, Fox and other leading Friends asserted authority over publishing. Now it was expected of individual Friends that if they wished to publish on religious subjects, they should first submit their works to the Second Day Morning Meeting in London. Approval was by no means automatic—even Fox was subject to its authority—and to proceed without approval was an offense that could bring disownment. It is easy for us now to see this as some historians have, as an authoritarianism cracking down on free spirits, forcing them to follow a line set by Fox and his coadjutors in London. But only a few perceived it that way at the time. It had been routine for Friends to consult Fox or other Friends before going into print, and this simply regularized what had long been practice. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting followed suit when it established a body of Overseers of the Press in 1709. Again, it is hard to view these overseers as anything but censors; but if Friends complained, even privately, we have few records of it before 1800.

The Great Separation of 1827-1828 destroyed this consensus about publishing. Indeed, as Quaker historians have long recognized, publication and communication were at the heart of the schism. Here a very brief reminder of what happened may be useful. By the early 1820s, the elderly Long Island minister Elias Hicks had become controversial because of his ministry, particularly his views of the nature of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Hicks argued that Jesus became the Christ and the Son of God because he was the only human being who ever lived who was perfectly obedient to the Life Within. He and his supporters saw themselves as simply carrying on traditional Quaker teaching. Moreover, when they looked at contemporary Quakerism, they saw declension that was attributable to the erosion of plainness and peculiarity and a lust for power on the part of certain leaders. They traced this at least partly to growing ties with non-Quaker evangelicals in various business, missionary, and political enterprises. Hicks’ opponents, however, argued that Hicks was really a Unitarian or even an infidel, led astray by forces outside Friends. Although both sides simply considered themselves Friends, Hicks’ opponents branded their adversaries “Hicksites,” while the Hicksites labeled their opposers as “Orthodox.” As we all know, the names stuck.

What galled the Orthodox was not just that Elias Hicks traveled widely and preached frequently, but that from about 1823 onward numerous of his sermons and letters appeared in print. Ironically, these publications were usually the work of non-Quaker printers who saw a market and tried to take advantage of it. As the Quaker tensions became more notorious, they sent shorthand reporters into meetings where Hicks or other well-known Hicksites would be present, as well as opponents, especially traveling English Friends, and took down their sermons. These were then rushed into print as pamphlets, and, when enough had accumulated, reprinted in book form. By 1827, the most enterprising of such publishers, Marcus T. C. Gould of Philadelphia, was putting out a regular series, rather like a magazine. (Incidentally, Friends today who think ministry that lasts 20 minutes during meeting excessive will be struck by how Friends like Hicks, Thomas Wetherald, and others preached for an hour or more.)

Non-Quaker printers were also critical on another front in the 1820s. Just as many Friends today are regular contributors of letters to editors in their local newspapers, Friends on both sides made use of newspapers and even journals of other denominations to carry on their disputes. A good example is Benjamin Ferris, one of the most articulate of Elias Hicks’ supporters in Wilmington, Delaware. When a Presbyterian minister used the columns of a local journal, the Christian Repository, to argue that Quakers were not really Christians, an outraged Ferris rushed to Friends’ defense. Their exchange extended over almost a year and eventually was collected in a volume of 512 pages of very small type. Yet Ferris’ defense of Friends was so “Hicksite” that the Orthodox leaders of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting found it just as offensive as the Presbyterian attacks, opening yet another front in the controversy.

Finally, Friends, seeing the utility of religious journalism (and here I mean periodical publishing, rather than the diary keeping that had been Quaker practice since the 17th century), set up their own publications. Dozens of denominational periodicals were being published in the United States by the 1820s, made possible by technological changes that were reducing the costs and increasing the speed of printing. In 1824, Dr. William Gibbons of Wilmington, a staunch supporter of Hicks, began publishing the Berean to spread the Hicksite message. For reasons that are not clear, Orthodox Friends waited until 1827 to respond with their own weekly journal, which they significantly labeled The Friend. In January 1828, the Berean gave way to The Friend or Advocate of Truth. The identical names are not coincidence. Orthodox and Hicksites accused the other of rushing into print to claim the name and confuse and mislead readers. For clarity, I will concede The Friend to the Orthodox and refer to the Hicksite publication as the Advocate of Truth.

What distinguished these Quaker efforts from other denominational publications, however, is that they were the work of individuals. When Presbyterians or Methodists or Catholics launched journals, they were usually under the ownership and sanction of a synod or annual conference or diocese. Quaker publications, in contrast, were undertaken by “an association of Friends,” or an individual like William Gibbons. The Advocate of Truth was the enterprise of the ever-enterprising Marcus T.C. Gould.

What is clear is that both sides used printing and publishing to spread their own messages, communicate with supporters, and attack their opponents. Writing to Elias Hicks in 1828, Rachel Hunt apologized, in a time of “so much paper currency, and so many pamphleteers,” for burdening him with one more thing to read. One of the most common laments of Orthodox Friends was how their neighborhoods were being flooded by Hicksite publications. Orthodox Friends in Indiana, for example, explicitly condemned circulating the Berean and the published volumes of Hicks’ sermons. The Orthodox were equally industrious in circulating their own publications, but there is a critical difference. By 1828, Orthodox Friends were disowning members who read or circulated Hicksite publications. Hicksite Friends, who claimed to be advocates of freedom of conscience, never followed suit.

Once the dust of the Separation had settled, Hicksite Friends, for reasons that are still unclear, failed to sustain a periodical press. The Advocate of Truth ended in 1834, having become involved in an obscure controversy between its Quaker editor, Evan Lewis, and its publisher, Marcus T. C. Gould, in which vague accusations of bad faith were exchanged. Concerned Friends mourned this, and called on those able to support a periodical to subsidize it. As John Mott, a minister in upstate New York, wrote in 1836, “If some of our more wealthy Friends would part with a few hundreds or thousands of their rusting riches for some such purposes . . . every family of this society might be furnished with a weekly messenger of interesting and instructive import.” To be sure, Friends continued to communicate through yearly meeting minutes and epistles and the occasional pamphlet. In 1831 John and Isaac Comly of Byberry, Pennsylvania, began a monthly, the Friends Miscellany, which eventually reached 12 volumes. This had the virtue of preserving a mass of letters and anecdotes that might otherwise have been lost, but since one of the Comlys’ criteria for inclusion was apparently that the author must be deceased, one can read all 12 volumes with almost no sense of what had happened among Friends since 1800.

In 1838 a new periodical appeared, entitled the Friends’ Intelligencer. It was issued not in Philadelphia, however, but in New York City. The proprietor was Isaac T. Hopper, a printer who specialized in Quaker works. He had published Elias Hicks’ Journal as well as a collection (highly edited) of Hicks’ letters. The occasion for launching the Intelligencer apparently was another Orthodox project, the Friends Library, which was intended to be a standard reference collection of significant Quaker journals and memoirs. Its editors, Thomas and William Evans, had led the Orthodox in the Separation in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and Hopper made it clear that he was dubious whether anything under their direction would be faithful to authentic Quakerism. Hopper announced that the Intelligencer would have three purposes: to serve as a medium of communication, or what Hopper, using a phrase that I’m sure never dreamed might be understood differently two centuries later, called “a common organ of intercourse” among Hicksite Friends; to make available to Friends easily accessible and properly edited selections from “the standard works of Friends”; and to keep Friends apprised of national and international news.

Under Hopper, the Intelligencer did these things, but one sees a tension that would eventually splinter Hicksite Friends. On the one hand, Hopper deplored much of what he saw in contemporary media. “The plainest maxims of propriety are habitually violated,” he wrote. “Rules acknowledged in the familiar intercourse of society are no longer binding when we enter the field of literary competition. There, principle is supplanted by the love of gain; mercenary views predominate; every thing is subservient to base ambition.” Hopper was committed to providing an alternative to what he called a “periodical press subsidized by vice.” “We must have a literature free from the corrupting influence of the times.” No advertisements for such deplorable influences as theaters, for example, would appear in the Intelligencer. On the other hand, Hopper also was committed to free discussion. “By conflict of opinion, truth is elicited,” he told readers in 1839. “Shall we stifle enquiry in the outset, lest we be found to differ in minor and non-essential matters?”

Ultimately, Hopper’s Intelligencer proved another false start. The journal stopped late in 1839. Hopper’s timing was probably the problem. He launched his enterprise in the midst of a major economic depression that began in 1837 and lasted into the early 1840s. But Hopper may have also fallen afoul of another contemporary issue.

That issue was how Hicksites would respond to the radical reform movements of the 1830s, especially abolition and nonresistance. Quakers, of course, were opposed to slavery; but many Friends looked with suspicion on Friends joining non-Quakers in reform movements, even in good causes. Such ties, many feared, would corrupt Friends just as similar associations had corrupted the Orthodox. The same objection applied to nonresistance, an extreme form of pacifism that condemned all forms of human government as contrary to the will of God. Other Hicksites, most notably Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia, and large groups in Chester County, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, were sympathetic to radical reform. By the mid-1840s, a new round of separations was beginning, as radical reformers left or were disowned and formed groups that became known as Congregational or Progressive Friends. Among those forced out for their radical sympathies were Isaac T. Hopper and his son-in-law James S. Gibbons, who had assisted him at the Intelligencer.

This ferment, and the return of prosperity, led to an effort to revive a Hicksite periodical. On March 30, 1844, the Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer printed its first issue in Philadelphia. The proprietors were Josiah Chapman, a Friend, and one Jones, a printer who was not. We know that Edward Parrish, later the first president of Swarthmore College, wrote the first editorial. Over the next decade, a variety of other Philadelphia Hicksite Friends became involved, mostly relatively young, but mainly of conservative sympathies. Their mission was much the same as the old Intelligencer: to provide a “guarded” publication that would share Quaker and other news. Unlike its Orthodox counterpart, however, the Intelligencer did cautiously admit debate and controversy to its pages. In its reports on yearly meeting sessions in the 1840s, for example, it acknowledged that abolition was producing division, and while not sympathetic to abolitionists, was not blatantly unfair to them. Similarly, it admitted articles to its pages that questioned certain rules of discipline and called for reform. For example, by the early 1850s, Friends were debating whether tombstones should be admitted to burying grounds, whether rules against marriage out of meeting should be softened, and whether reading certain kinds of fiction could be beneficial.

Nevertheless, the existence of the Intelligencer was precarious. At the end of its first year, it had only 300 subscribers, not enough to meet expenses. A few years later, only the unpaid editorial work of Samuel M. Janney, a Virginia Friend, kept the periodical afloat. Finally, in August 1853, after long discussion about whether the Intelligencer should continue, a group of Philadelphia Hicksite women—Jane Johnson, Ann Townsend, Deborah Wharton, and Susanna M. Parrish, and others—took over its management. All were well-known recorded ministers from well-to-do families—Wharton’s son Joseph would, among other things, endow the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. Under their direction, the Intelligencer achieved financial stability (mainly because they worked gratis) and became an institution.

While the new management may have been an early feminist victory, the women editors pursued a cautious course. They were not sympathetic to radicalism of any kind. Editorials continued in traditional courses, advocating plainness and peculiarity and condemning the theater, intemperance, hireling ministry, and “the world” generally. While the Intelligencer was critical of slavery and what it saw as the aggressiveness of the “slave power,” it shied away from the disunionism of some abolitionists. Much of the matter consisted of excerpts from “the standard works of Friends.” More contemporary contributions came from safely conservative Hicksites or from official yearly meeting statements, usually lamenting the many shortcomings to be found within their bounds. Lucretia Mott called the Intelligencer “simon pure,” and she did not intend a compliment.

Still, the Intelligencer did show some openness to change and innovation. It early opened its columns to proponents of First-day schools. While Orthodox Friends had embraced them in the 1830s, it was not until 1857 that Hicksites followed suit, and then only after considerable trepidation. Critics warned against them as supplanting the Light with “scholastic theology” and “head knowledge.” Similarly, the Intelligencer gave considerable attention to the movement to found and open Swarthmore College, which was of course a revolutionary break with the traditional Quaker suspicion of higher education. And during the Civil War, while of course decrying violence, the Intelligencer applauded emancipation and called for education and equality for the former slaves.

For some, the Intelligencer was simply too conservative. One Friend labeled it as appealing to “the quiet and aged class.” In 1866, a New York City Friend, John J. Merritt, began publishing yet another journal entitled The Friend. Merritt was a fascinating person. Once an outspoken critic of radical reform, by the 1860s he was blasting Hicksites for stultifying conservatism and was calling for ties with other religious liberals, especially Unitarians. New York Friends did not look kindly on his activism. In 1867 they disowned him for “disunity.” By the end of 1868, The Friend was gone.

More successful was another enterprise launched in January 1873, simply entitled The Journal. Its editors, Joseph and Marianna Gibbons, were members of the little Lampeter Meeting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Marianna was a cousin of Lucretia Mott, and the Gibbonses lived in an area where support for radical reform and Progressive Friends before the Civil War was strong. The Journal was a weekly, and it packed an enormous amount of material into its pages—letters, histories, biographies, and detailed accounts of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. Although they refrained from directly criticizing the Intelligencer, anyone comparing the two will see striking differences. The Journal gave voice to a growing liberalism. Here one finds, for example, Friends in the 1870s objecting to identifying “the blessed Jesus” as “Lord and Savior” or the Bible as “holy.” Similarly, the Gibbonses were relatively candid in describing debates and conflicts in business meetings, the kinds of detail that almost never made it into the Intelligencer. It is thus just the sort of resource that gladdens the hearts of Quaker historians like myself, but doubtless troubled some Friends, who were pained to learn of controversy and have it made public, a sentiment with which I think we can also sympathize.

Change came in the 1880s. The women who had managed the Intelligencer since the 1850s were now elderly or dead, and control passed into the hands of Howard M. Jenkins, a Friend from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who had spent much of his previous life with Republican newspapers in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The shift from “concerned Friends” to someone with a professional journalistic background is significant, denoting a Hicksite Quakerism that was becoming more comfortable with “the world.” In 1884, Joseph Gibbons died, and Jenkins purchased The Journal and its goodwill from Marianna, creating the Friends’ Intelligencer and Journal. (It went back to being just the Intelligencer in 1893.)

Under Jenkins, the Intelligencer gradually assumed the identity that it would retain for the next 70 years. Three characteristics are striking. The first is a conscious commitment to liberal Christianity. For the writers and readers of the Intelligencer, that was usually not explicitly defined, but had several characteristics. Some were positive: the universal, Inner Light as the central doctrine of Quakerism; a sense of the desirability of Quaker distinctiveness; a respect for the Bible, but a subordination of it to the Light and Continuing Revelation; a focus on God as love, rather than as judge; and a commitment to social reform. The last ranged from support for women’s suffrage and temperance to the abolition of capital punishment, to arbitration of international disputes. Some were negative, such as a repudiation of evangelical Protestant formulations of salvation through faith in the efficacy in the Atoning Blood of Jesus, Biblical literalism, and premillennialism. Again, one sees debates taking place in the columns of the Intelligencer, or debates taking place in quarterly or yearly meeting sessions being reported. This would continue as long as the Intelligencer survived. To be sure, a few more conservative, mainly elderly Hicksite Friends complained that Friends were flirting with disbelief and infidelity; a few even tried to make common cause with Orthodox Friends in publishing a new periodical called The United Friend. It was united in conservatism rather than a commitment to reunion, but proved short-lived.

The second characteristic was support for the new institutions that Hicksite Friends were establishing. I have already mentioned the attention that the Intelligencer gave to Swarthmore College and First-day schools. This was routine by the 1880s, as reports on Swarthmore’s commencement often took up the better part of two issues, and Swarthmore faculty became regular contributors. The establishment of George School in the 1890s received extensive coverage. By the 1890s, the Intelligencer also became the venue for sharing “lesson leaves” for use in First-day schools, as Hicksites followed the lead of other denominations in trying to establish a uniform curriculum. The Intelligencer also gave extensive coverage to the meetings of various conferences and unions, such as the First Day School General Conference and the Friends Union for Philanthropic Labor, whose merger in 1900 would form Friends General Conference. This commitment diversified between 1900 and 1950, as Quaker organizations multiplied. After the formation of American Friends Service Committee in 1917, its activities became a staple of the Intelligencer‘s columns, as did newer groups like Friends Fellowship Council, Friends World Committee for Consultation, and Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Finally, in some ways more than earlier, from the 1890s onward the Intelligencer became the medium by which Hicksite Friends communicated with each other. Vital statistics had been a feature since the beginning, but by the 1890s reports from traveling Friends ceased to be chronicles of spiritual trials and triumphs and more reports on individual well-known Friends and their activities. Isolated Friends especially depended on its columns. By the 1920s, as interest grew among such Friends in forming new, unprogrammed meetings, a notice in the Intelligencer became the most efficient way of determining if other Friends could be found in Pittsburgh or Ithaca or Indianapolis or Seattle or one of a hundred other places.

As the Intelligencer found its identity, its Orthodox Philadelphia counterpart, The Friend, or “the square Friend” (because of its shape, not its lack of “cool”), continued to appear weekly. Change came slowly there. When Orthodox Friends divided into Gurneyite and Wilburite persuasions between 1835 and 1855, the Friend became the voice of Wilburism, skeptical of all change, convinced that only in Philadelphia and Ohio yearly meetings, with a few pockets of Orthodoxy elsewhere, had real Quakerism survived. A reader in 1900 would have found little change, really, since 1827. When change did come after 1900, however, it was still guarded. Probably the most radical innovation was in 1935, when Elton Trueblood, a Johns Hopkins PhD with a pastoral Friends background, began to edit it from Stanford. Even then, its dominant notes were caution and avoiding controversy.

By the 1930s, however, the issues that had been so important a century earlier had lost their urgency, at least in Philadelphia. As Hicksites and the Orthodox Arch Street yearly meeting moved toward reunion, discussions began in 1948 about a possible union of the Intelligencer and The Friend. In 1949, the conclusion was that Friends were not ready to be served by one periodical. As the two yearly meetings agreed on formal reunion to take place in 1955, however, the Friends involved in both publications concluded that the time had come for them to follow suit. So Friends Publishing Corporation was formed, and on July 2, 1955, it produced the first issue of Friends Journal.
This article is edited from a presentation on July 3, 2005, at the Friends General Conference Gathering in Blacksburg, Va.

Thomas D. Hamm

Thomas D. Hamm is archivist and professor of History at Earlham College and a member and clerk of First Friends Meeting in New Castle, Ind. His book The Quakers in America was published in 2003.