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In turbulent times...

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  1. 1647

    George Fox recognises that God's light is within every person.

    George Fox was born to strict religious parents in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, in 1621. He was largely self-educated and attended parish church regularly with his parents until the age of nineteen. At this point, he became dissatisfied with the religious practices and beliefs of those around him. This led to a personal crisis in Fox and he left his job and home to go looking for spiritual nourishment. In 1647 he came to the belief that people could have a personal experience of God, which he called the 'Inner Light'. He started travelling all over the country preaching to people and converting them to 'Friends of the Light'. He was often punished and imprisoned for preaching his radical vision. This vision included denouncing the need for priests or churches, as they prevented a direct and personal experience of God, and expressing the incompatibility of belief in God and warfare.

    Explore what Quaker faith and values mean today.

  2. 1660

    Amid oppression from a restored monarchy, Quakers declare that the spirit "will never move us to fight."

    From 1659 the climate in England started to turn against the many sects that had appeared around the time of the civil war. Quakers became associated with radical groups such as the Fifth Monarchy Men and the Levellers. This fear of radical elements in society reached its peak in 1660, with the restoration of Charles II to the throne, and a subsequent purge of the leaders of the regicide.

    Quakers suffered systematic persecution with imprisonments, the breaking up of Quaker meetings and mob attacks. Quakers petitioned Charles II and Parliament in 1660 and 1662 for freedom of conscience in religious matters. For the first time Quaker commitment to nonviolence was expressed. The testimony for peace Margaret Fell described has stayed at the core of Quaker religious experience, leading to war relief work and conflict transformation.

    Our current peace work ranges from peace education to disarmament.

    Find out how to get involved in our peace work.

  3. 1663

    A group of children continue to hold Quaker meetings when the adults are imprisoned for gathering illegally.

  4. 1666

    Margaret Fell, mother of Quakerism, publishes Women's Speaking Justified.

    Margaret Askew was born in 1614 at Marsh Grange, near Dalton-in-Furness. Her huge pastoral, administrative and theological skills helped lay the foundations of the Quaker movement. She married twice, in 1632 to Thomas Fell and in 1669 to George Fox. Thomas Fell was a judge and politician, of Swarthmoor Hall, Ulverston, Cumbria. In 1652, George Fox visited their home. Margaret Fell heard his ministry and was convinced along with most of her household. She ran Swarthmoor Hall as a centre of Quaker activity and haven from persecution.

    Margaret Fell became a political spokesperson for the Quaker movement. She petitioned Charles II and Parliament in 1660 and 1662 for freedom of conscience in religious matters. She was imprisoned from 1664 to 1668, for refusing to take an oath and for allowing Quaker worship in her home. Margaret Fell wrote Women's Speaking Justified, a major text on women's religious leadership. She died at Swarthmoor Hall on 23 April 1702.

    Visit Swarthmoor Hall to learn more about the life of Margaret Fell and early Quakers.

  5. 1670

    A court refuses to find William Penn and William Mead guilty of preaching to "an unlawful assembly". It sets a precedent for the independence of juries.

    William Penn was born in 1644 in London, eldest son of Admiral Sir William Penn and Margaret Jasper. Penn had strong sympathies with Quakers and, by the age of 22, he converted to Quakerism. He was expelled from Oxford University for being a Quaker. Penn became friends with George Fox and travelled with him in England and throughout Europe. Penn was an avid writer defending religious freedom, democracy and opposition to war. He endured persecution for his writings and unlawful preaching for which he was arrested in 1670 with fellow Quaker, William Meade This case led to the right for English juries to be free from control by judges.

    Quakers believe that justice should be compassionate, forgiving and healing – restorative, not retributive. Find out how we are working to change the criminal justice system today.

  6. 1678

    Robert Barclay's Apology argues that direct experience of God is more meaningful than scripture.

  7. 1698

    The first Quaker is elected to Parliament but refuses to swear an oath, preventing him from taking his seat.

  8. 1758

    Pennsylvanian Quakers declare slave-trading an act of misconduct and step up efforts to abolish a trade that friends had become ashamed to have been involved in.

    In 1758 London Yearly Meeting, the Quaker decision-making body, advised all Quakers "to avoid being in any way concerned, in reaping the unrighteous Profits arising from that iniquitous Practice in dealing in Negroes and other slaves." In 1761 Yearly Meeting took the unprecedented action of making a 'Strong Minute' forbidding any Quaker from participating in the slave trade. The statement was plain and unequivocal in its wording, describing slavery as 'repugnant to our Christian profession' and 'reproachful to society.'

    In 1783, British Quakers established the Friends Committee to Promote the Abolition of the Slave Trade and began petitioning Parliament. A pamphlet produced by Quakers William Dillwyn and John Lloyd The case of our fellow creatures, the oppressed Africans was printed over 12,000 times and distributed to all sitting MPs. The committee joined with Anglican campaigners in 1787 and became the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Led by the parliamentary spokesperson, William Wilberforce, the society campaigned on a strong abolitionist platform.

    These efforts were successful and in 1807 the slave trade was abolished throughout the British Empire. It took until 1833 for the Abolition of Slavery Act to be passed by the British Parliament, which began to formally end slavery in British colonies.

    Quaker Sanctuary Meetings build alliances with groups opposing racism. Find out more.

  9. 1763

    John Woolman urges Quakers to "live answerable to the design of our creation", calling them to live a simple life with careful use of the earth's resources.

    John Woolham was born in 1720 to a Quaker family. His maternal and paternal grandparents were early Quaker settlers in New Jersey. Simplicity, economic equality and abolition were important to him and he opposed animal cruelty. Woolman believed in living out these beliefs and dressed simply in undyed fabric as a protest against the terrible working conditions of the dye industry. He refused to travel by horse and coach because of the cruelty meted out to the horses and horse boys by the drivers.

    His peers mocked and misunderstood his actions; today socialists, environmentalists and animal rights activists, may be inspired. In 1772 John Woolman travelled to England where British Quakers at London Yearly Meeting condemned slavery. He contracted smallpox in York, died and was buried there in October 1772.

    Today Quakers are still inspired by Woolman and others to seek a more sustainable life. Find out how to get involved in our sustainability work.

  10. 1796

    Quakers pioneer humane mental care at The Retreat in York.

    The death of Quaker Hannah Mills in York Asylum in 1790 horrified her local Quaker meeting. William Tuke, a Quaker businessman and philanthropist in York, was charged with finding humane treatments for those placed in asylums. Tuke gathered support from Quakers around the country and in 1796 opened The Retreat, an establishment just outside York.

    Patients were treated with sympathy, dignity, and respect, and The Retreat banned the use of chains, manacles, and physical punishment. Tuke's centre pioneered the use of personalised attention and an early example of occupational therapy was developed, introducing walks and farm labouring in easy, quiet surroundings. The Retreat had a profound influence on public opinion, ultimately resulting in fundamental reform of the laws surrounding mental illness and its treatment. The centre occupies a central place in the history of psychiatry.

    Find out more about the work of The Retreat on its website.

  11. 1798

    The adult education movement begins when Samuel Fox helps set up a school for young factory-working women.

  12. 1813

    Elizabeth Fry starts prison reform work at Newgate Prison.

    Elizabeth Fry visited the mixed Newgate Prison in 1813 and was horrified by the conditions that she witnessed. Severely affected by the overcrowded, inhumane conditions at the prison, she recorded: "All I tell thee is a faint picture of reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the furious manner and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness, which everything bespoke are really indescribable."

    In 1818, she toured the prisons of England and Scotland and established Ladies' Associations to support and educate female prisoners across the country. Her work in Newgate focused on the treatment of the prisoners and she consistently endeavoured to raise public awareness to the inhumane conditions of the prison. As the first woman to ever give evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons, Fry revealed the facts she had unearthed and outlined the principles of reform that she considered essential.

    In 1819, Fry founded The Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners at Newgate, comprised of twelve members; eleven from the Society of Friends.Ultimately the Association would grow to become the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. Newgate, and subsequently the rest of the prison system, was transformed by Fry's pioneering campaign. From 2001 to 2017 her work was recognised on the English £5 note.

    Quakers believe that justice should be compassionate, forgiving and healing – restorative, not retributive. Find out how we are working to change the criminal justice system today.

  13. 1832

    Joseph Pease becomes the first Quaker MP after a reform bill allows people to affirm they are telling the truth rather than swearing an oath.

  14. 1847

    William Bennett publishes Six Weeks in Ireland, encouraging donations for famine relief being carried out by Irish Quakers.

  15. 1860s

    Quaker business people, prohibited from entering university, profit from their insistence on fair and firm prices for goods.

    The Cadburys of Birmingham, Rowntrees of York, and Frys of Bristol, are perhaps the best-known of all Quaker business families. Pioneering industrial practice which combined philanthropy and charitable trusts, the chocolatiers broadened the reach of their businesses to provide accommodation for their workers, politically campaign for improved labour laws, and established businesses which united profit and ethical practice.

    Quakers gained a reputation for honesty and integrity in their business practice and the proliferation of Quakers within the banking industry was commented upon: "it is not altogether surprising, because it would seem that a definition of the qualities which go to make up the typical 'Quaker' would fit equally well the typical, or at least ideal, private banker." Barclays and Lloyds, now well-known as two of the 'big five' high street banks, were founded by Quakers during this early period from partial mergers of smaller banks.

    These businesses are no longer Quaker-owned, but the legacies of these Quaker families continue.

    Today we work to hold all companies to the standards these once met. Find out how to be involved in our current work for economic justice.

  16. 1895

    The Manchester Conference declares an openness to "new light" from other faiths and traditions, and an engagement with contemporary science and society.

  17. 1914

    Three Quaker MPs draft the provision for conscientious objection in the 1916 Military Service Act (now part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

  18. 1939

    Quakers help evacuate children from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport.

    The Germany Emergency Committee of the Religious Society of Friends was set up in 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power. This committee, alongside other groups, was responsible for helping Jewish children escape Nazi persecution in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland. It then supported them in the countries to which they had fled.

    Rooted in the conviction that there is that of God in every person, Quakers across Britain are still working to welcome people seeking sanctuary.

    Find out how to get involved in our Sanctuary Meetings project.

    Read more about Quaker involvement in the Kindertransport.

  19. 1942

    Edith Pye's famine relief committee network spawns the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, which becomes Oxfam.

  20. 1947

    Quakers awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for post-war relief work.

    In 1947 the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the peace prize would be awarded to the Quakers represented by "their two great relief organisation, the Friends Service Council in London (FSC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Philadelphia" for "pioneering work in the international peace movement and of humanitarian work carried out without the regard for race or nationality." In the presentation speech the committee stated:

    "It is not just the extent of their work or in its practical form that the Quakers have given most to the people they have met. It is in the spirit in which this work is performed.… The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them – that rich expression of the sympathy between all men, regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace.… They have shown us the strength to be derived from faith in the victory of the spirit over force."

    Quakers are still inspired by faith to build a more peaceful world. Find how to get involved our peace work.

  21. 1961

    Quakers help found Amnesty International to campaign for the free expression of views and to protect prisoners of conscience.

  22. 1963

    Towards a Quaker View of Sex is published, espousing a positive understanding of same-sex relationships.

  23. 1963

    Quaker Bayard Rustin acts as lead organiser of the civil rights movement march on Washington for jobs and freedom, where Martin Luther King gives his famous 'I have a dream' speech.

    Bayard Rustin was born in Pennsylvania in 1912. His lifelong commitment to nonviolence and equality was grounded in the Quaker upbringing from his grandparents. Through his grandmother's involvement in the early civil rights movement, Rustin met leaders such as William DuBois.

    In New York in the 1930s, he joined pacifist groups such as the Fellowship for Reconciliation and in 1937 had nonviolent activist training with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). During World War II, he served two years in prison as a conscientious objector. He was arrested again in 1947 under racial segregation laws in an early action that inspired the 1960s 'Freedom Rides'. This was several years before Rosa Parks' similar protest. He travelled to India in the 1940s to study Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence, later educating Martin Luther King in Gandhian practice.

    In 1953, Bayard Rustin was arrested for homosexual activity, still illegal at the time in the USA. His sexuality became a divisive issue in the American civil rights movement and he was asked to resign from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Bayard Rustin was special assistant to Martin Luther King, and became known as 'Mr March-on-Washington' for being the main organiser of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom in which more than 200,000 protesters walked to the capital. This was the scene of King's most famous speech, 'I have a dream'. He worked for economic justice for all, encouraging the unionisation of black Americans, and served as national chairman of the Social Democrats USA party throughout the 1970s. He died after taking ill on an aid mission to Haiti. In 2013, Barack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the highest award in American civil life.

    Sanctuary Quaker meetings build alliances with groups opposing racism. Find out more.

  24. 1982

    Quaker House Belfast is set up "to further the work of reconciliation and of befriending all parties in Northern Ireland."

  25. 1988

    The first 'Turning the Tide' nonviolence training workshop is held. Today these run around the world, including in East Africa.

  26. 1997

    Quakers work at the UN to bring about the Landmine Ban Treaty.

    Quakers have had an international presence in Geneva since the foundation of the League of Nations in the early 20th century. This historic presence became the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) with staff in Geneva and New York; the Geneva office is closely supported and funded by Quakers in Britain. In the mid-1990s QUNO's Disarmament programme under David C. Atwood became involved in the landmine work through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). QUNO played an important role in the 18-month period prior to the completion of the Anti-Personnel Landmine Ban Convention in 1997, hosting off-the-record meetings with sympathetic governments and helping to reframe the convention as a humanitarian, rather than a military issue.

    The work of QUNO continues to this day, focused around its five programme areas: Peacebuilding & Prevention of Violent Conflict, Food & Sustainability, Human Rights & Refugees, Peace & Disarmament, and Human Impacts of Climate Change.

    Find out more about QUNO on its website.

  27. 2013

    Following a campaign for marriage equality, same-sex Quaker marriage is legally recognised.

    One of the subjects considered at Britain Yearly Meeting in 2009 was our continued concern to celebrate committed relationships. Many spoke of their experience in the life of Quaker meetings saying that the gift of marriage was already being given to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. This led us to a profound compulsion to act. Yearly Meeting decided to seek a change in the law so that same-sex marriages could be held in Quaker meeting houses in the same manner as opposite-sex marriages, and that they would be recognised as equally legally valid. This culminated in the extensive campaign work of Quakers and other faith groups until the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013 and the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act in 2014.

    Find more about Quaker work for marriage equality.

  28. 2014

    Quakers in Britain divest from fossil fuels.

    As Quakers, we understand climate change to be a symptom of a greater challenge: how to live sustainably and justly on this earth. A commitment to the 'unity of creation' has always been part of Quaker faith. Early Quakers knew that to damage the earth just for human 'outward greatness' would be an injustice on future generations. It is deeply rooted in our faith. In 2011 Quakers reaffirmed our commitment to act as a faith community with the 'Canterbury Commitment' (minute 36 of Britain Yearly Meeting). This called on Quakers to act in new ways – individually, as local communities, as a corporate body of faith, and politically. It recognised that the environmental crisis is enmeshed with global economic injustice and that tackling inequality is central to taking action on climate change. In 2014 Quakers in Britain were the first church in Britain to divest our centrally-held money from fossil fuels. Local and area meetings are now doing the same.

    Today we continue to our work for Fossil fuel divestment, climate justice and stand up to fracking. Find out how to get involved.

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