Proud, Stubborn and Free: The earliest Quakers and their children

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Winter 2003 No 13 – 01/01/2013

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Author: Helen Bayes

Document Code: WJ13

Description: As a child rights activist Helen has a concern for children and young people today, especially when their human rights are being violated. In this essay she turns her attention to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the first hundred years of Quakerism. During her diligent research she has discovered material in Epistles written to children and young people themselves as well as to adults in meetings and the heads of households. Helen has used these source documents and many others to present a vivid and lively picture of the young people and traced changes in the perspective of adults.

One striking realisation is the youthfulness of many of the very early Quakers. Teenagers were travelling preachers, some going as far as Ireland to spread the word. George Fox himself was a young man in his early twenties when he left his family home to travel. Another realisation is the joined up thinking of early Quakers. How children should be reprimanded was a concern for some families. They were encouraged to treat other people with gentleness, meekness, patience and to care for each other.

The Peace Testimony was emerging as a social concern for Friends. They were also convinced that each person was equal in the sight of God. How did this affect their attitudes to child rearing? Children also had the Light within them from birth; how was this to be respected by a parent who was angry? Adults are advised not to provoke children to anger as this will make them more stubborn.

Although Helen is writing about the seventeenth century many of the questions she explores are ones that are real for many Friends today. I am pleased to be publishing this Woodbrooke Journal and recommend this thought provoking article.

Judith Jenner

Tutor in Quaker Studies

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