Who Were the Quakers?

The Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, is a worldwide faith organization based on the idea that anyone can have a deep, spiritual connection to God without needing an authoritative intermediary, such as a minister. Quakerism emphasizes belief in divine wisdom and guidance, but not strict religious doctrine.

The Society of Friends originated in Europe during the 17th-century Protestant Reformation, when discontented Christian factions pushed for improvements in the Catholic Church. Early Quakers were part of a splinter group that wanted to abolish fundamental Catholic practices such as paying clergy and baptizing disciples.

Quakers believe disciples should find God within their own hearts and use that inner light to guide their actions. These concepts strongly conflict with institutionalized Christianity, which typically values sacramental rites, sacred texts and the religious superiority of the clergy. In modern times, the Society of Friends recognizes both formal church meetings and individual silent contemplation as valid forms of worship.

As a group driven by adaptive, open-minded beliefs, Quakers are famous for upholding values of civil rights, pacifism and equal enfranchisement during historical periods when major social groups were marginalized. In the mid-1700s, the Society of Friends banned members from owning slaves, and many Quaker activists founded or joined abolitionist organizations. The society advocated to improve treatment of American Indians during colonial and post-colonial times, and famous Quakers, such as Lucretia Mott, led the suffrage movement to obtain voting rights for women.