May Forum 2012

Lucretia, I wish I had known you!

For twenty years I’ve helped tend the grave of Quaker abolitionist and women’s rights pioneer Lucretia Mott at historic Fair Hill Burial Ground in north Philadelphia. To me, she was another name on a tombstone.

Then, last fall, a friend gave me a copy of “Slavery and ‘The Woman Question’: Lucretia Mott’s Diary of Her Visit to Great Britain to Attend the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840,” edited by Frederick B. Tolles and published in 1952. It was as if she had risen from the dead.

A lively, observant, sometimes sarcastic voice jumped off the page as she described her ocean passage, “Tremendous sea, sublime view—highly enjoyed by those who were not too sick”; sightseeing at Warwick Castle on her trip from Liverpool to London, “grass mowed every fortnight, like velvet to tread upon”; and what she ate, ”breakfast slow-coming & scanty—eggs 3d. each—not well waited on.” This was not the voice of the beatific reformer and orator, whom I had imagined to be as humorous as a Quaker bench.

Though she wrote many letters, this brief (65 pages plus helpful introduction and extensive appendix) volume is, alas, the only diary Mott kept throughout her long life. The trip, which she made with her husband James and others, was to attend an anti-slavery conference where (although she was one of the leading voices for abolition of her time) she was not allowed to speak because she was female. She remarks, of course, about the politics surrounding that decision and others made at the conference. While these sections will interest students of the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements, they were of less interest to me than her many amusing and insightful comments on the people and places she visited. She reminds us that Quakers weren’t one-dimensional drones who prayed, dressed primly, and ran the Underground Railroad in their spare time.

We see a woman who talked with anyone, including slave owners met along the way who “didn’t relish the discussion of the subject.” While engaging strangers, she held firmly to her own convictions, not only on slavery but also women’s rights; treatment of labor; and progressive theological views, often quite different from prevailing Quaker thinking. She visited cotton factories where “The women & children looked better than we expected to find them.” At one Friends meetinghouse where she found that the gallery was only for men, she noted, “And these claim to be the legitimate descendants of George Fox & his noble & worthy contemporaries!” She writes that she “liked to meet with those who had suffered for their liberal views of Christianity,” which often seemed to be their questioning of the inerrancy of the Bible. Disapproving of Glasgow Friends theology, she “mourned their degeneracy while they lamented our heresy.” Yet, thanks to Lucretia’s warmth, both sets of Friends found common anti-slavery ground over tea.

She also visited many tourist attractions. At one site a statue brought her to tears, yet at the British Museum there was “so much to see that the eye is wearied.” She both praised well-manicured lawns and lamented the unequal wealth that estates represented. She critiqued privilege yet took care to have her bonnet repaired, buy dolls, and purchase items at a “fancy shop” before returning home.

My favorite line of all, however, reveals her ambivalence about the arts generally and literature in particular. Apparently, she and James were dragged by their traveling companions (“much to the gratification of our company—not much to us”) to Shakespeare’s house of birth. She then tartly notes, “visited his grave—forgot to weep over it.”

Ah, Lucretia! I wish I had known you.

Signe Wilkinson

Philadelphia, Pa.


Upcoming Issues

Friends Journal is always seeking articles on “Quaker Thought and Life Today” for future issues. Editorial guidelines and can be found at Upcoming topics include:

  1. Nov 2012: Quaker books and writing. Submission deadline: 7/1/2012.
  2. Dec 2012: Hospitality. Submissions deadline: 8/1/2012.
  3. Jan 2013: Privileges. Submission deadline: 9/1/2012.

Conscientious objection to taxes

We are Conscientious Objectors and cannot in conscience kill other human beings. We deeply believe that we are all God’s children, and we are all brothers and sisters. Just as we cannot kill our brother who lives in California, we cannot kill our brothers or sisters who live in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iraq.

Likewise, we cannot in good conscience pay for someone else to kill our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world or pay for the bombs, munitions, and guns to kill people, even if our government tells us we have to. Nor can we pay for nuclear weapons that could put an end to all human life on our planet.

To fight its wars, our government needs young men and women to become soldiers, and it needs money from the rest of us to pay for their fighting, as well as for the bombs, drones, fighter jets, and aircraft carriers.

Can we voluntarily contribute to the war effort that ends in death for so many of God’s children, makes our nation evermore insecure, and steals precious resources from our communities?

We believe we have a higher loyalty to God’s law and to the human race than we do to our government, which spends half our tax dollars on wars—past, present, and future. We are therefore refusing to pay the 50 percent of our taxes that goes for war and military expenditures. Each year we write a check to the Department of Human Services (rather than the IRS) for the 50 percent of our taxes that we do pay. Along with the check, we send our 1040 form to the IRS and ask them to spend all that money for healing and education, not for killing. And the other 50 percent (the war portion), we refuse to pay. Instead, we contribute those funds to organizations helping to feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, and work for justice and peace in the world. We send a letter to the IRS explaining why we cannot in conscience pay the war portion of our taxes, and we send copies of the letter to our representatives in Congress and The San Francisco Chronicle.

We encourage you to wrestle with your own conscience on this crucial issue. Can we continue to pray and work for peace while we pay for war and killing? To whom do we owe our highest loyalty?

David and Jan Hartsough

San Francisco

Swarthmore desegregation story has sequel in Des Moines

Sue Carroll Edwards’s article about the upheaval among Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting members as a result of Mike and Margaret Yarrow’s decision in 1958 to offer their house for sale on the open market (FJ, February) prompts me to tell Friends Journal readers the sequel to that story that occurred following the Yarrows move to Des Moines, Iowa.

Segregated housing still was legal here at that time. When the Yarrow family moved from Swarthmore to Des Moines after Mike was named executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee’s (then) North Central Region, they bought a house in a Des Moines neighborhood that had recently been desegregated. The family transferred their membership to Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, and they became active members.

AFSC and the meeting became involved in efforts to end housing segregation in Des Moines. The Des Moines Human Rights Commission was established by the city of Des Moines to work toward racial equality. Coincidence? Cause-and-effect relationship? Only digging into old minutes could determine that.

Facing controversy can ultimately bring good results: Swarthmore Friends Meeting eventually approved a minute prepared by the meeting’s Race Relations Committee, and housing desegregation became a concern in Des Moines and beyond.

Sherry Hutchison

Des Moines, Iowa

“Why review these unpleasant memories?” I believe that hindsight can be helpful as Friends move forward with the issues we face today. At the very least, we see how difficult it is to push against prevailing notions of what is acceptable practice in any community or society. We can see that Friends can find themselves as compromised and drawn into unjust practices as can be any other group. Revisiting this Swarthmore matter can lend insight, and it can illustrate the fact that forces coming to bear on actions and issues can be complex; they can require careful navigation. Friends Journal made a wise decision in publishing this story.

Patty Quinn

Elkins Park, Pa.

Big steps but more is needed

When Anne-Marie Witzburg notes that Friends United Meeting’s personnel policy is homophobic (FJ, December 2011), she’s not calling names. According to Merriam-Webster, homophobia is defined as the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.” The Friends United Meeting personnel policy requires (among other things) that legally and religiously married queer folks refrain from having sex while employed by FUM. Asking queer folks to abide by a rule that straight folks are not required to abide by is the very essence of discrimination.

In order to figure out whether the FUM personnel policy is homophobic, we must ask, “Is the discrimination rational or not?” I’ve seen queer Friends called to God’s work just as frequently and just as forcefully as straight people are called. To ask them to not answer that call is irrational as well as contrary to Quakerism’s essential purpose: to help people hear and respond to the callings of the Spirit.

I’ve heard people say that (because of Leviticus and Paul’s letters) it is indeed rational to discriminate against queer people. Most biblical scholarship refutes this theory, which is even more powerfully repudiated by the life of Jesus, who forgave and loved all he encountered, even Pilate and Judas.

It’s true that FUM is much more than its personnel policy. It’s also true that the personnel policy affirms the civil rights of queer people and that it was a big step for FUM to employ even celibate queer people. However, saying the personnel policy is not homophobic is like saying that Thomas Jefferson was not racist. Sure, his ideas on racial equality were ahead of his time, and he pushed the issue forward as well. But he still owned black slaves.

Ben Guaraldi

Cambridge, Mass.

I have only one suggestion to add to the bullet points that Storm Evans offers about the clerk’s job in a Quaker business meeting in “Reflections on Clerking a Quaker Committee” (FJ, April 2011). She writes “the clerk’s job is to convene meetings, listen, and record.” Although it may have been implicit in her shortened bullet point, I wish she had added the following, somewhere in her discussion: The clerk’s job is to actively listen throughout the meeting, so that when the time comes, the clerk will be able to report the sense of the meeting in such a way that the participants will accept that the words they hear do accurately and effectively report what they also believe to be the sense of the meeting.

Robert Heilman

Placerville, California


1 thought on “May Forum 2012

  1. Dear Signe, I was googling my great great (etc) grandmother Lucretia Mott today and was moved by your article about her. My mother was named after her and was very proud to have such a wonderful great (etc) grandmother. I am getting older myself and have become more interested in my family roots as well as being Quaker after taking a quiz “what religion fits you best” and ending up with Quaker, which made me chuckle a bit. I didn’t even know there were many quakers left. I thank you for your words and am looking forward to learning more about my “granny” and the quakers.

    Sincerely, Susan Holmes Weber

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