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You may recall learning something about the Quaker movement in school, as they were one of the many active influential groups during the founding of our nation.

Their significance, however, reaches well beyond their brief mention in most school history books. The Quakers were pioneers of ideas that have greatly influenced our culture and have actively participated in the pursuit of a more just society by embracing their distinctive values.

In this post, we’ll explore the origins of this exceptional community, their distinguishing beliefs, and how they have manifested their convictions in the world around them.

Who Were the Quakers and Where Did They Come From?

The Quakers originated in England during the mid-17th century, which was a period of significant turmoil. England was undergoing political instability due to their civil war and the execution of King Charles I and various groups inspired by the Reformation were breaking away from the official church and forging their own paths.

George Fox, the founder of the Quaker religion, like other reformers of the time, was disillusioned by the state church and sought a more vibrant and authentic expression of faith. He preached a message of returning to a simpler Christianity that moved away from the complexity and hierarchy of the existing church. His followers were eager to spread his teachings to others and the group grew rapidly. 

However, the authorities did not approve of their beliefs and frequently persecuted the early Quakers, even in the New England colonies where many had emigrated. It wasn't until William Penn, a Quaker himself, founded Pennsylvania in 1681 and proclaimed religious liberty, that the Quakers finally had a place where they could practice their faith freely. Their voices became an essential part of colonial America.

Early Quaker Beliefs

But what were the particular convictions of this group that both contributed to their vitality and created so much opposition? 

The early Quakers had unique perspectives on the relationship between the individual and God, as well as on how we relate with one another.

Individual access to the divine

During Fox’s era, the connection between God and individuals was mediated by the complex institution of the church, with its priests, obscure theology, and rigid ceremonies. 

Conversely, Fox believed that God was accessible to anyone by looking inward and being attentive to what he called the “inner light.” He emphasized that the key to hearing God's guidance was to be tranquil and attentive, listening to the inner voice.

The equality of all persons

The Quakers believed in the equality of all persons because they held the conviction that every individual possessed this "inner light". They believed that the inner light was the source of individual inspiration and guidance, and that it was not limited by gender, race, social status, or any other external factors. Therefore, the Quakers rejected social hierarchies and institutionalized discrimination, as they saw such practices as violations of the inherent dignity and worth of every individual. This belief in equality was a central tenet of the Quaker faith and continues to influence the movement's values and practices to this day.

A faith that changes one’s life

Finally, Quakers felt deeply that an authentic faith should show itself in a changed life. These beliefs weren’t just intellectual ideas, but principles that should guide how we live. From the beginning, Quakers wanted to change the world around them to make it a place where our basic equality is recognized by the culture and its institutions. The Quaker testimonies are often simplified into the acronym SPICESS – simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equity or equality, service, and stewardship.

Convictions Lived Out: The Impact of Quaker Beliefs

The distinctive emphases that characterized their origins had a profound impact not just on the Quakers but on the world they inhabited as they tried to follow where their convictions led.

Here are some areas where the influence of the Religious Society of Friends, the official name of the Quakers, has been felt:

The treatment of women

From the first, Quakers gave women a much more prominent place than was typical in other religious organizations. Women like Margaret Fell spoke publicly, published religious literature, and took part in leadership. In fact, many of the early leaders for women’s suffrage in the U.S., like Lucretia Mott, were Quakers.


The Quaker's belief in the equal dignity of all persons was in obvious tension with the practice of slavery. Those living in the American colonies reached an official consensus in 1755 to prohibit the ownership of enslaved people among themselves and later petitioned the newly-formed United States government to do the same. Quaker abolitionists like John Woolman were instrumental in the eventual end of slavery in both the U.S. and Great Britain.   


During a time marked by violence and conflict, George Fox declared the Quaker's stance of abstaining from participation in violent acts. Since then, Quakers have consistently pursued peace and avoided taking up arms against others. In times of war, many Quakers have been conscientious objectors. 

Their pursuit of peace is not passive, however. Quakers work actively to resolve conflicts, advocate for change, and care for victims of injustice The Religious Society of Friends was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 in recognition of their contribution to meeting the needs of those affected by both world wars. 


Quakers were even transformative in the world of business. Their integrity, simplicity, and close-knit community were fertile soil for efficient and innovative business practices. They were important leaders in the industrial revolution in England, building enterprises including Cadbury Chocolate and Lloyd’s Bank. 

Their commitment to equality also influenced how they treated their employees. Quakers led the way in providing better working conditions and caring for the needs of those who worked for them. 

Who Are the Quakers Today?

Today, Quakers are a diverse group with members living all over the globe. What ties different Quakers together is their continuing commitment to principles like the importance of listening to one’s inner voice, the equality of persons, the need to live their convictions out in the world, and the pursuit of peace. 

Here at Friends Academy, our environment and curriculum carry these values and this rich history. We encourage our students to listen attentively to their inner light and to stand bravely for what they believe in, regardless of their background or religious beliefs. We embrace the dignity of all persons and treasure the diverse perspectives of our students, faculty, and staff. We believe that knowledge is a gift to be shared with others and inspire our graduates to make a difference in their world.

We invite you to learn more about the Quaker mission of Friends Academy and explore how your child can take his or her place in the tradition of those who listen deeply, welcome generously, and act boldly for a better world.


Download the guide: The Parent's Guide to A Quaker Education: Understanding  Quakerism as a Non-Quaker

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