Quakers and the planet
... and the Friends Historical Library
From the foundations of the Society of Friends in the seventeenth century, many Friends have looked to nature and the natural sciences to better understand their faith and spirituality. As a result of these explorations, there have been a number of well-known Quaker botanists, naturalists and other scientists. Pink Dandelion wrote that ‘later Quakers came to look for God within creation or justify scientific enquiry for its own sake’. (p. 79) And in the words of the Friends General Conference, Friends ‘feel called to help protect and heal the world that we are blessed to inhabit’.
To highlight past and current Quaker thought and activism with regards to the environment and sustainability, the Friends Historical Library has begun gathering together a list of our holdings that support research in the history of the Society of Friends and their concern for the environment. We hope that researchers will find inspiration from this quick look through our collections. And please know that we are interested in what you have learned and collected as you work for climate justice.
Quaker yearly meetings were among the first to support action on issues related to the environment and climate change. Their minutes record how they have dealt with climate justice in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Friends Historical Library holds many of the archives of Quaker yearly meetings, quarterly meetings and monthly meetings.
Friends and Quaker organizations
Friends Historical Library holds the papers of individual Quakers and the archives of Quaker organizations. These Friends and groups have focused on different aspects of the world around us, as seen below.
John Woolman (1720-1772) was a minister and abolitionist. One of the most influential Quakers of the eighteenth century, Woolman’s journal in manuscript and print has inspired many interested in equality and equity, nature and climate justice, peace and conscription. Among his writings, researchers can find his views on the treatment of the earth.
Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888) was an English Quaker who wrote poetry and stories for children and adults. She wrote two books, Sketches of Natural History (1834) and Birds and Flowers, and Other Country Things (1838), both of which discussed the impact of economic activity on nature. Mary Howitt’s papers are available in the Library.
John Hunt (1740-1824) was a New Jersey Quaker minister. Hunt's detailed journal includes discussions of farming and conditions.
The Bartrams and Collinsons were eighteenth- and nineteenth-century father-and-son pairs, one in England and one in Philadelphia, who contributed greatly to the Quaker consideration of sustainability. John Bartram and son William lived in Philadelphia. They both traveled and collected plants and seeds, which John used to create his famous garden. Peter Collinson and his son Michael lived in London, where as both botanists and merchants, they could arrange for the trade and shipping of plants and seeds to and from the Bartrams.
- The correspondence between these men has included concerns about the overhunting of North America’s animals in 1773. The printed correspondence between the Bartrams and Collinsons is available in the Friends Library, where you can read Michael’s 1773 letter to John, stating that as ‘to the poor Buffalo and Beaver, I believe their days are numbered…’. (p. 454).
- William Bartram published a book about his travels in 1791, which detailed his observations during his journey of the American South. His descriptions include flora and fauna. Several editions are available in Friends Historical Library.
- Animal Rights
Joshua Evans (1731-1793) was a Quaker minister and abolitionist from New Jersey. Evans and his thoughts are representative of a radical, "primitive" Quaker tradition and reflect the diversity of late eighteenth century Quakerism. Evans's 1762 journal particularly addresses his inspiration for being a vegetarian and against animal cruelty.
Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn (1876-1959) was a Quaker author, reformer, and pacifist from Vermont, and Philadelphia. She was active in the anti-vivisection movement, as well as other reform efforts for peace, women’s suffrage, anti-lynching, prison reform, and opposition to child labor. Cleghorn's correspondence and writings are available in the Library.
John Woolman wrote about poultry and livestock, particularly on transatlantic voyages. For example, on his 1772 journey to England, Woolman noted that some chickens were ill, while others were carried overboard. He wrote that the “love of God is verily perfected…a care is felt in us that we do not lessen that sweetness of life in the animal creation'. Woolman recommends that lading fewer fowl, and thereby eating less meat, would accord with “pure wisdom.”
Benjamin Lay (1682-1759) is most associated with abolition but he was also a vegetarian. You can read more about his vegetarianism and advocacy for animal rights in Marcus Rediker's The Fearless Benjamin Lay : the Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (2017) and see an image of Benjamin Lay that remarks on his diet.
- Climate Justice
Quaker Earthcare Witness: Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (FCUN) grew out of the Workshop on Living in Harmony with the Natural Environment at the FGC Gathering at Oberlin in 1987. In 2001, sixteen North American yearly meetings appointed representatives to its Annual Meeting. In 2003, their name was changed to Quaker Earthcare Witness. Quaker Earthcare Witness’s records are held in the Friends Historical Library, as is their regular publication, Befriending Creation.
Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) is a Quaker think tank whose mission is ‘advance a global future of inclusion, social and economic justice, and ecological well being through participatory research and discernment’. Researchers can find QIF’s publications in the Friends Historical Library just by searching in Tripod with ‘Quaker Institute for the Future’ as the creator.
Earth Quaker Action Team, in their own words, ‘is a grassroots, nonviolent action group including Quakers and people of diverse beliefs, who join with millions of people around the world fighting for a just and sustainable economy’. Founded in 2009 from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, EQAT takes direct nonviolent action to address issues of economic inequality and climate justice. EQAT materials can be found in the papers of Phyllis B. Taylor and Richard K. Taylor, also co-founders of Witness for Peace. EQAT’s website is archived and available.
- Intentional communities
An intentional community is a community of people with a shared goal or shared interests living together. Environmental responsibility is often both a goal and result of the living arrangements. Quakers have been involved in the organization of a number of intentional communities around the world and materials related to a few of these communities can be found in the Friends Historical Library:
- Bryn Gweled Homesteads was founded in Bucks County in 1940 and still exists. Information about Bryn Gweled can be found in the Howard Haines Turner Papers.
- Tanguy was founded in the mid-1940s in Chester County. The Mary Ellicot Arnold Papers have further details on this community.
- Although slightly different from the examples listed above, Monteverde is located in Costa Rica. A group of American pacifists, mostly Quakers, moved to Monteverde in 1951, where they have lived since. Monteverde Quakers and the local community worked with Quaker Earthcare Witness in the 1990s to create the Finca la Bella community farming project in the San Luis Valley. The result is both a forest preserve and traditional farm. The collections about Monteverde in the Friends Historical Library include records of the Monteverde Monthly Meeting and Monteverde Friends School/Escuela de los Amigos in Monteverde.
Climate data and information
The 2019 annual conference of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries reminded librarians and archivists that collections hold information and data that can assist current climate researchers. Inspired by that, we extend an invitation to use our collections to conduct research of your own.
- Plant life
Samuel Copeland Palmer (1874-1961) was a Quaker and a Professor of Botany at Swarthmore College from 1909 to 1942. He traveled as the botanist in the 1929 Bowdoin-Baffin Land expedition, when he was assigned to study birds and plant life. Later he worked on a project to illustrate all plant species in Delaware County. Palmer’s papers present an opportunity for researchers to see how Palmer observed his environment and to look at differences in our present day. His writing and observations are available in the Samuel C. Palmer Papers.
The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, originally called the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation, was established in 1929. The papers of the Scott Arboretum include its administrative records, detailed plant records and landscape plans, publications, clippings and press releases and papers of John C. Wister, horticulturalist and first director.
The Painter Family was an early Pennsylvania Quaker family in Delaware County. The Painter Family papers hold information about the origins of the John J. Tyler Arboretum, as well as on agriculture, trees, and nineteenth century Quaker concerns through day books, account books, financial records, correspondence, and other documents.
- Weather observations
John Hunt (1740-1824) was a New Jersey Quaker minister. Hunt's detailed journal includes discussions of farming and weather.
George Iden (1820-1897) was a Hicksite Quaker farmer of Sherwood, Cayuga County, New York. Iden's thirty-four daybooks covering the years of 1859 to 1898 include his weather observation.
Anna Pratt Parker of Kansas wrote letters to her parents, Henry and Amy Pratt, in Chester County, Pa. Pratt's letters include information on weather and observations on farm life in Kansas from 1879 to 1885.
The Painter Family papers include weather observations for the first eight months of 1786 kept by early American botanist Humphry Marshall. The diaries of Minshall Painter are also part of this collection, and include his daily notes on weather most years from 1823 to 1873.
The boating log of Charles Russell, who lived lived aboard a boat in the Chesapeake during the summer of 1939, is part of the papers of the Russell-Pownall-Walton Family, a Pennsylvania Quaker family.
George M. and Ellen M. Booth of New Jersey kept pocket diaries in 1869, 1873, and 1876, describing weather and daily events.
Other search tips
- Printed material
You can find other printed material in Tripod by searching with the following subjects:
- Animal rights -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Animal welfare -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Ecology -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Environmental protection -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Human ecology -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Nature -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Vegetarianism -- Religious aspects -- Society of Friends
- Water -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
Our archives catalog, Archives & Manuscripts, is where you should start when searching for manuscript and archival materials on Quakers and the environment. You can use the subject headings above or start searching with a single word, such as climate or ecology, then filter your results with an additional term or a date range.
Our goal is to update this webpage regularly. If you find materials in the Friends Historical Library that would contribute to this list, please contact us.
(Last updated October 2021)