The Society of Friends was founded in 1647 in England by George Fox. Raised as an Anglican, Fox grew displeased with the pomp and circumstance of the Anglican Church and was disturbed by the Puritans wrathful view of God. Since these two religious sects were the only options for Fox at the time he decided to forge ahead and create his own religious theology. Fox believed wholeheartedly that religion is personal, that the light of God is in everybody, and that each individual is of unique worth. He went on to preach these ideals throughout England and gained a large following which he called the “Society of Friends”. In the 1660’s Fox sailed to America and preached throughout the colonies finally landing in the Carolinas where he settled.
Friends believe in “simplicity and modesty, humility and equality,” and thus espouse such ideas in religious practice and social dealings. In 1688 a group of Friends led a public protest in Pennsylvania against slavery. This event has been given the distinction of the first abolitionist movement in American History almost 150 years before the abolitionist movement was in full swing.
In our collection of books here at the Ringling Museum Library we have New England Quaker Meetinghouses: Past and Present by Silas B. Weeks. The foward is written by artists James A. Turrell who also constructed one of our newest exhibits, Joseph’s Coat which is a skyspace piece. The book travels through the six states of New England and documents the history of each meetinghouse in the state. Each Chapter of the book is dedicated to a state and has pictures of the remaining meetinghouses as well as some which are no longer. In Weeks’ opening and Turrell’s forward, the ideal of Quaker simplicity extending to meetinghouse construction is introduced. Each building shown exemplifies the Quaker tradition of modesty and simplicity. In the Quaker philosophy, the body is the temple of God, not the house in which fellowship takes place. The meetinghouses shown throughout the book take this ideal to heart and exude a type of charming simplicity in their architecture. Each meetinghouse has a paragraph about its history as well as location, date erected, if it is in use as a Quaker house today, and if it has a burial ground located on the grounds. The book has information on 138 meetinghouses and contains over 150 pictures of meeting houses all around New England.