Quaker History Resources
- Quaker Meeting Records
Our holdings. Friends Historical Library (FHL) is an official depository for the records of many North American yearly meetings of the Society of Friends. Its holdings include over 3700 linear feet of original archives: membership books, minutes, and other original records. FHL also holds over 2500 reels of microfilm of Friends' records from Canada, United States, Britain, and Ireland.
Microfilm access. The oldest meeting records in the Library date from 1665. To guard against damage to fragile originals, most of the records have been microfilmed. We also have microfilm for many Quaker meetings, domestic and foreign, for which we do not hold the originals. A comprehensive in-house card file to this extensive microfilm collection is maintained on-site. Researchers are encouraged to email FHL to ascertain whether a particular meeting's records are represented in the collection. None of this material is available for inter-Library loan.
Identifying a meeting. Before searching for information about individual members of the Society of Friends, it is useful to know the name and history of the monthly meeting of which they may have been members. The best site for narrowing this search is Tom Hill's quakermeetings.com. It is particularly useful to search by state and county, keeping in mind that vital records of Friends were maintained by the monthly meeting -- which may have included persons who worshiped in a number of meeting houses in what may have been a large geographical area. Hill's database includes not only the dates of establishment and, if relevant, dates of the monthly meeting's laying-down, but also the names of its preparatives and useful information about the current location of records, if known.
Our catalog. FHL has a collaborative relationship with Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections, the other major depository for Quaker records in the Philadelphia area. For researchers' convenience, the two libraries have collaborated on a joint catalog. In some cases, a single meeting's records may be divided between Haverford and Swarthmore, but all the records are described together in this catalog. >> Explore the Quaker Meeting catalog.
- Quaker Family Papers and Organizational Records
The largest category of collections in Friends Historical Library is that of Personal and Family Papers. These materials include correspondence, journals and diaries, and property records of Quaker individuals and family groups; they date from the mid 17th century to the present. >> Browse Family & Personal Papers finding aids
Friends Historical Library holds the records of many organizations that were established by or largely under the direction of members of the Society of Friends. >> Browse Organizational Records finding aids
Throughout the 20th century, Friends Historical Library maintained a number of genre and other artificial collections; most were single manuscripts such as individual letters or account books, but some were larger manuscript collections, assembled over time to document prominent Quakers including Elias Hicks and Lucretia Mott. >> View manuscript and genre collection finding aids
Collections that fill less than a box-worth of material are considered "Small Collections." >> See small collections finding aids
Friends Historical Library holds over 100 photograph collections >> See photograph finding aids.
- Understanding and Using Quaker Resources
- Many researchers find that the way in which Quakers dated letters, minutes, and other documents before 1752 poses problems >> The Quaker Calendar
- A Friendly glossary of Quaker abbreviations used before 1900 >> Glossary
- A guide to resources available to researchers who are interested in Friends' burials in the City. >> Quaker Burial Grounds in Philadelphia
- A manumission is a formal legal document certifying the release of an enslaved person into freedom. As Quakers became convinced that the institution of slavery was contrary to their religious beliefs, they began to free their slaves. In 1773, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends made owning slaves a disownable offense. >> Manumissions at Friends Historical Library
- Considerations about the Underground Railroad and a compilation of sources for studying the Underground Railroad in the vicinity of Philadelphia Yearly meeting >> Quaker Accounts of the Underground Railroad
The Friends Historical Library has created several datasets to help researchers utilize some of our resources, including Rosine Association Casebooks, Philadelphia African American Census 1847, and Fair Hill Burial Ground Interments >> Swarthmore College Libraries datasets on GitHub
This multi-institutional project, including more than a dozen Philadelphia-archives, showcases women's activism from 1820-1920 through digitized documents and contextual essays. >> In Her Own Right
This timeline chronicles the extraordinary and prolific speaking gifts of Quaker minister, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate Lucretia Mott. >> Lucretia Mott Speaks
Friends Historical Library and the Quaker & Special Collections at Haverford present the website >> Quakers and Slavery
The original manuscript census taken by Friends to document the Black population of Philadelphia in 1847. >> 1847 African-American Census
This exhibit illustrates the history of queer communities at Swarthmore College, in the Society of Friends (Quakers), in the Peace Movement, and in the wider world. >> Queer Anthologies
Beyond Penn's Treaty: Quakers and American Indian Relations provides access to linked and annotated versions of Quaker diaries, letters, and meeting records which record contact with American Indians, particularly the Seneca, beginning in the 1740s. These documents, held in Quaker & Special Collections at Haverford College and Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, are all from the Quaker perspective, and document their view of this unfolding relationship. >> Beyond Penn's Treaty
To celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Swarthmore College Libraries created a zine that highlights 19th and 20th century woman activists, particularly Quaker women, diverse women who worked closely with Quakers, and women active in the Peace movement. >> "A Movement of Doers" zine
- Digital Collections
- Antislavery. The earliest anti-slavery organizations in America and Britain consisted primarily of members of the Society of Friends. Thus much of the record of the development of anti-slavery thought and actions is embedded in Quaker-produced records and documents. Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and the Quaker Collection at Haverford College are jointly the custodians of Quaker meeting records of the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York and Vermont and these records illuminate the origins of the anti-slavery movement as well as the continued Quaker involvement, often behind the scenes, in the leadership and direction of the abolitionist movement from the 1770s to the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, and beyond. >> Quakers and Slavery
- Bean, Joel. Joel Bean (1835-1914) and his wife, Hannah Elliott Bean (1830-1909), were prominent Quaker ministers in Iowa Yearly Meeting in the mid-nineteenth century when Quaker settlements were expanding in Iowa. Friends Historical Library holds a collection of Joel and Hannah Bean Papers (SFHL-RG5-012). The collection has not been digitized but select materials were transcribed by Tom M. King of San Jose, CA, in 1998. Learn more about the Bean Collection. >> Joel Bean diary transcripts
- Broadsides. The Quaker Broadside Collection consists of over 800 titles from the collections of Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College and the Haverford College Quaker Collection. It includes works from 1657 to the present. >> Broadsides
- Evans, Joshua. Joshua Evans, a Quaker minister and abolitionist, was born in 1731 in West Jersey, a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting. About the year 1754, he experienced a religious conversion and thereafter devoted his life to sharing his rigorous interpretation of the Gospel through an ascetic and pious life style and simple ministry. Barely educated, he nevertheless was acknowledged as a minister by Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in 1759. Evans was a vegetarian and a fervent proponent of the peace testimony, Quaker plainness, and ending slavery. In 1798, he traveled through the southern states condemning slavery in the strongest terms. Returning to New Jersey, he died in July 1798. >> Joshua Evans Journals
- Gillingham, Chalkley. Chalkley Gillingham (1807-1881) was a member of the Society of Friends who moved from New Jersey to Woodlawn, Virginia, in 1846. The son of Yeamans Gillingham, Chalkley married Keziah Warrington in 1833 and they had four children. These journals record the everyday life of a Quaker farmer who was active in his meeting. When the Civil War begins he provides detailed description of the battles and other events that take place in his neighborhood. The original manuscripts remain in the custody of his descendants who have provided digital copies for educational use. >> Chalkley Gillingham Journals
- Hunt, John. John Hunt, a Quaker minister from Chester, New Jersey, was born in 1740, the son of Robert and Abigail (Wood) Hunt. He kept a journal for more than 40 years, recording Quaker concerns and daily events. >> John Hunt Collection
- Journal, The. The Journal, a Quaker periodical, was established in 1873 in Philadelphia by Joseph Gibbons (1818-1883) who had trained as a physician. He was assisted and then suceeded in this endeavor by his daughter, Marianna Gibbons. In 1885 The Journal merged with Friends Intelligencer, the major Hicksite Quaker weekly. >> The Journal newspaper
- Meeting Houses. Thousands of images of Friends’ meeting houses have been brought together digitally in this online collection. Photographs from both the Quaker Collection of Haverford College and Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College are included. >> Meeting House Photographs
- Native Americans. Quaker records document extensive interaction between members of the Society of Friends and Native Americans. This collection includes journals, correspondence, committee minutes, and other miscellaneous original documents dated from 1791 until 1815. >> Native Americans and Quakers, 1791-1815
- Quaker Meeting Records. Many of our Quaker meeting records are online via Ancestry.com. Patrons on campus at Swarthmore can access them through this link; subscribers with their own Ancestry account can access them through this link. Early Philadelphia Quaker meeting records - Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia, Northern District, Southern District, and Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting - can be accessed online at the Philadelphia Congregations Early Records Project.
- Relief (Aid). English and American Quakers were engaged in relief and reconstruction work in Europe during and following World War I involving civilians in Russia, Serbia, Austria, and Poland. In 1919 Friends extended their efforts to include a program of child-feeding in Germany. This collection of almost 1000 glass lantern slides assembled by the AFSC shows the damage caused by war, rebuilding efforts, hospitals and orphanages, and other projects. >> Quaker Relief in Europe, 1914-1922
- Truman-Underhill. The Trumans and Underhills were prominent Philadelphia-area Quaker families with close ties to Swarthmore College and active in social concerns. The collection includes six albums and other miscellaneous photographs and silhouettes. >> Truman-Underhill Photograph Collection
- White, Barclay. Barclay White (1821-1906) was a birthright member of the Society of Friends and served as Clerk and Assistant Clerk for various Quaker meetings and committees starting in 1846. In 1871 President Grant appointed him to the position of Supervisor of Indian Affairs (Northern Superintendency) in which office he served until 1876. During this period he lived in Omaha, Nebraska. After this office was closed he was designated by the Convention of Delegates as Friends Special Indian Agent to periodically visit and inspect the reservations. In 1878 White returned to the East to live in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, until his death in 106 at age 86. >> Barclay White family genealogy and autobiography
- Women. This collection contains digitized items from the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, and Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections that illuminate women's efforts to assert their rights and work for the rights of others in a variety of spheres in the century leading up to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. >> In Her Own Right - Women Activists, 1820-1920
- Writings by FHL Staff
Friends Historical Library's past Directors, Curators, and Staff have written extensively about Quaker history. This is not a full catalog of their works, but a short listing of writings that have been published on the Swarthmore website and may not be available elsewhere.
J. William (Jerry) Frost taught in the History and Religion departments of Swarthmore College from 1973 until his retirement in 2001. He also served as the Director of the Friends Historical Library and the Swarthmore College Peace Collection during that period.
- The Enigmatic Mr. William Penn
- Three Twentieth-Century Revolutions
- Why Religions Facilitate War and How Religions Facilitate Peace
- Sex is not a shortcut to spirituality
Christopher (Chris) Desnmore served as Curator of the Friends Historical Library from 2001 until his retirement in 2018.
- Research and Funding
Funding is available for research at the Friends Historical Library. Outside researchers (including independent scholars as well as graduate students and professors) are eligible for the Moore Research Fellowship. There is also a Moore fellowship for current Swarthmore students.
More Quaker history research libraries and fellowships are listed here.