On Sunday, the Friends Historical Library (FHL) kicks off the celebration of its 150th anniversary, in conjunction with World Quaker Day. The celebration will include an array of events, exhibitions, and outreach, but its overarching goal will be spreading awareness of all that the FHL offers.
As part of that celebration, the FHL is asking researchers to cite their favorite aspect of its collections online, and so far each answer is unique.
“It’s amazing, and speaks to the breadth of the collections,” says Jordan Landes, curator of the FHL. “Whether it’s business letters or someone’s travel diary or personal correspondence, there is something here to support just about any research topic. There’s just an incredible range of things that can be studied using the materials here.”
With more than 50,000 books and roughly 10,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives, the FHL functions both as a vital educational resource for the College community and as an international research facility. It’s a trove for the study of not just Quakerism but also abolitionists, women’s rights, Native American history, and more.
“We buy and collect things by, for, and about Quakers, yes,” says Landes. “But Quakers kept a lot of records about everyone with whom they interacted.”
For example, Quakers did a census of the Black population of Philadelphia in 1847. It’s “an amazing research and genealogical resource” for studying Black history in the city, says Landes, adding that the FHL recently received funding to digitize the census and host it online.
And the FHL’s collections are always growing. The staff has been intentional in building upon its strength in Mid-Atlantic history by documenting more Quakerism from across the globe. That led to a recent collaboration with the Canadian Friends Historical Association to help preserve its digital records.
Throughout the year of celebration, the FHL will offer details on virtual and in-person exhibitions on its anniversary website and on its Facebook page. The first to be announced is an exhibition in McCabe Library from Feb. 8 to April 3 that will pair historical items from the collections with equivalent items from today.
But the celebration officially kicks off on World Quaker Day, Sunday, Oct. 3, with the Scott Arboretum planting an oak tree (Quercus muehlenbergii, chosen because College founder Lucretia Mott planted oak trees on campus) to commemorate the FHL’s sesquicentennial. There will also be a pop-up exhibition and a ceremonial placement of the Percy Bigland painting A Quaker Wedding; these events will be held with the Swarthmore Friends Meeting but are invitation-only to ensure physical distancing.