Quaker Relief Work and the Brynmawr Experiment

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Winter 2000 No 7 – 01/12/2000

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Author: Pamela Manasseh

Document Code: WJ07

Description: I am fascinated by Quaker history in the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Brian Philips has cast the period 1895-1910 as the Quaker renaissance, the period during which Friends saw themselves as ‘the nonconformists of the nonconformists’ and as ‘the civilising influence in the world’, alongside the British Empire. Such arrogant worldliness could only last a brief honeymoon following the marriage of full citizenship in 1870 and the victory of the Liberal theological project after 1895. Rocked first by the deaths of J.W. Rowntree in 1905 and then of ‘blessed Edward the peacemaker’ (Edward VII) in 1910, Friends had further to face anarcho-syndicalist union unrest, the possibility of Irish Home Rule, the Suffragette movement, and then the ‘Great War’. Each challenge brought an ambiguous response, with Friends both for and against. One third of eligible Quaker men joined up in the Great War; but the advent of conscription in 1916 brought about a less permissive attitude to the politics of the State. Quakers pushed for the right to conscientious objection.

Thomas Kennedy reports that those who resisted the war effort the most were given the greatest weight within inter-war British Quakerism. But it was still a time of uncertainty within the movement. In 1918, London Yearly Meeting adopted the nine points of social order akin to a socialist manifesto; but in 1926, the Yearly Meeting looked to ameliorate the effects of the General Strike and the conditions that had led to it, instead of maintaining the clear line of 1918. Indeed, writers such as H.G. Wood declared in the Friends Quarterly Examiner that 1918’s nine points were perhaps over-hasty and ill-conceived. In general, leading Friends pushed for a softer line which gave them fewer personal difficulties.

The story Pamela Manasseh tells here follows that moment exactly with Friends of different political persuasions joining together in their efforts at relief. Some of those political differences were to re-emerge over time. But unity was sustained for projects such as the Bryn Mawr experiment by a coterie of dedicated Friends, often serving together on different committees at the same time. This is part of larger research conducted by Pamela and feeds into her current work on the particular story of Paul Matt and the furniture-making in Wales. It is all worthy of our attention and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Pam when she was Eva Koch Fellow here in 1999, on a subject she had obviously researched so thoroughly.

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