Friends Center is a hub for Quaker activity in Philadelphia and around the world. The Friends Center campus houses an active Quaker meeting; local, regional, and international Quaker organizations; and like-minded groups working for peace and justice. Website: friendscentercorp.org.
The Race Street meetinghouse at Friends Center in Philadelphia hosted a dedication on March 23 of an official state historical marker commemorating Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (1842-1932). (The marker itself is installed at 1342 Arch Street.) The event was organized by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Friends Select School in honor of Women’s History Month. According to the organizers, Dickinson was born into a Quaker family and attended Friends Select School and Westtown School. Dickinson was an abolitionist from an early age and had her first essay published in William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator when she was only 13. According to the organizers, “Dickinson became a nationally famous orator, speaking out for the rights of women, workers, and African Americans. In 1864, the 21-year-old Dickinson was the first woman to address the U.S. Congress, a speech attended by President Abraham Lincoln.” The event also marked the first major public collaboration between Friends Center and Friends Select School since the latter bought 1520 Race Street from Friends Center in 2021. The school is currently renovating the structure into a new building for its upper school STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). The school plans to open the STEAM building at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
Friends Center completed the sale of its building at 1520 Race Street to Friends Select School on August 3.
Most organizations with offices at Friends Center have continued largely to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Friends Center took the opportunity during the downtime to make two major improvements to the Race Street Room—the main worship room in the Race Street Meetinghouse.
First, the AV system was upgraded to simplify hosting hybrid meetings combining participants in person and participants online using videoconferencing software. As a result, in July, Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting began holding meetings for worship on Sunday with an in-person option for the first time since March 2020. Attendance is typically about half in person and half online.
The second improvement was a change to Friends Center’s geothermal HVAC system that enabled it to provide modern air conditioning in the Race Street Room for the first time. (Historically the room had an early form of air cooling: Fires were lit in chimney pots during the summer. They were connected to a network of vents that created a breeze and drew hot air out of the space. However, that system was disabled in the first half of the twentieth century.) The air conditioning has made worshiping in the room possible even during recent hot spells.
In February, Friends Center in Center City Philadelphia, Pa., entered into an agreement with Friends Select School to renovate 1520 Race Street, a historic building on the west side of Friends Center’s courtyard. See the News column on page 30 for the full story and photos.
Since mid-March, Friends Center has operated with reduced hours and staffing as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The equity partner and tenant organizations with offices on site have largely been working from home during that time. Building operations continued as an essential service, stewarding the property and receiving mail and shipments for tenants.
In July the Friends Child Care Center on site was able to reopen when Philadelphia moved to the “yellow” phase of Pennsyvlvania’s reopening plan, and thus to provide this much-needed service to parents.
Also in July, in the wake of the protests following George Floyd’s murder which included a period when the National Guard was deployed just two blocks away at City Hall, Friends Center placed two official “Black Lives Matter” banners on its east and north exterior fences. Unfortunately, one was removed within a day or two of being mounted. In response, a replacement was purchased and placed in Friends Center’s display window on North Fifteenth Street, where it remains.