Reconcilation (1900-1955)

Appropriately enough, it was the continuing commitment of both Orthodox and Hicksite Friends to the peace testimony that paved the way for their gradual reconciliation and, in 1955, for the reunification of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Orthodox and Hicksite members attended the Lake Mohonk Conferences on International Arbitration held near the end of the nineteenth century. In 1897, they worked together to support American participation in an arbitration treaty. And in 1901 the two separate (and occasionally contentious) Philadelphia Yearly Meetings jointly organized a conference for world peace to which all American Quakers were invited.

There were other developments in the early 1900s which contributed to the eventual reconciliation of Orthodox and Hicksite Friends. The formation of Friends General Conference in 1900 laid the foundation for cooperation in nurturing Quakers and Quakerism, though it was in itself a Hicksite enterprise.

After the Manchester Conference of 1895 London Yearly Meeting began shifting to a more liberal stance and to develop contacts with Hicksite Friends, inviting some to their summer schools. When Woodbrooke was set up as a Quaker study center in 1903, a number of Hicksite young people were recruited to attend, and thus met Orthodox young people for the first time on British soil. Both British and American Young Friends began to work actively to heal the breach. In January of 1913 Henry Cadbury organized a group of Philadelphia Young Friends from each branch to meet regularly to study the separation. Their report, issued in 1914, stated that it was not a matter of doctrine but of authority which had caused the separation. The group continued to meet, and to develop social occasions in which young people of both branches could get together. In time a few marriages resulted.

In 1916 Joseph Elkinton–a prominent Orthodox Friend–personally conveyed a letter of friendship from his own Yearly Meeting to the Hicksite Yearly Meeting. In 1917, both branches united with the Friends Five Yearly Meeting to organize the American Friends Service Committee to provide service opportunities for conscientious objectors from all American yearly meetings, and to implement Quaker testimonies in response to the First World War. Formation of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in 1943 played a similar bridging role, as did Pendle Hill-a Quaker study center near Philadelphia–and, at least in the immediate Philadelphia area, the Friends Neighborhood Guild. Working together proved efficient, and by 1930 a number of committees with similar objectives merged as a means of gaining greater effectiveness: of particular significance was the formation of a unified Peace Committee. At the same time, the Disciplines of the two Yearly Meetings were revised in the direction of commonalities rather than differences: for instance, at least some of the queries included in the two Disciplines were, after a time, identical. The process of healing was further helped by two social groups organized for the purpose–The Friends Social Union and the Divotee Golf Club of Atlantic City. Women of the two yearly meetings worked together on issues of suffrage and of peace.

The two Yearly Meetings both took action in the 1920s to lay down their separate women’s and men’s meetings for business. This was done at the request of the women. Thus ended an institution that in the seventeenth century had been radical–acknowledging women’s spiritual gifts; that in the nineteenth century had been an important training ground for Quaker women entering public life; but that came to be seen in the age of female suffrage as second class status in religious life. That this step was taken by both Yearly Meetings at about the same time was further evidence of their readiness to come together.

These developments, which resulted from the individual and shared efforts of a number of Orthodox and Hicksite Friends, established a growing desire for reunification. In 1933, changes were made in the Disciplines of the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings to provide for the formation of United Monthly Meetings, that is, monthly meetings with membership in both Orthodox and Hicksite Yearly Meetings. An even more decisive step towards unity was taken in 1946, when the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings agreed to establish the Philadelphia General Meeting which would be held in the Fall and which would be attended by Orthodox and Hicksite Friends, though separate sessions would continue to be held in the Spring. Also in the mid-1940s, the two Yearly Meetings formed a Religious Life Committee which met for its own spiritual nourishment and also to prepare for visiting monthly meetings in both Yearly Meetings; clearly, the need had been felt to affirm religious unity. Finally, in 1950, a committee was formed with representatives from both Yearly Meetings to prepare a common Book of Discipline. This committee submitted its work, entitled Faith and Practice, to both Yearly Meetings and to the General Meeting in 1954. The following year, a schism that had lasted for 128 years was amicably brought to an end, and a single, reunified Philadelphia Yearly Meeting convened–with standing room only–at Arch Street Meetinghouse.