This summer, actress Zooey Deschanel visited the Swarthmore College campus to examine Quaker records at Friends Historical Library [FHL]. Her visit was filmed for TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are," a television program that uncovers family stories of well-known celebrities. Deschanel's ancestors, as described in the episode that aired this week, were abolitionist Quakers living near Christiana in Lancaster County, Pa., who were involved in anti-slavery activities.
"Deschanel's ancestors, the Pownalls, were involved in the Underground Railroad," says FHL Curator Christopher Densmore, an authority on Quakers and anti-slavery. "During the Christiana Resistance of 1851, a wounded slave-catcher was taken to the Pownall house. While his wounds were being tended to by the Pownall daughters, William Parker, the leader of the resistance, and two of his lieutenants also came to the house, where the Pownalls supplied them with food and blankets for their ultimately successful escape to Canada."
Friends Historical Library was established in 1871 to collect, preserve, and make available archival, manuscript, printed, and visual records concerning the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) from their origins mid-17th century to the present. With more than 45,000 books, pamphlets and serials, 60,000 photographs, 400 major manuscript collections, and 9,000 volumes of original meeting records, FHL is one of the outstanding research facilities for the study of Quaker history. The Library also maintains the Swarthmore College Archives and the papers of the Swarthmore Historical Society. The library's holdings, reflective of the College's Quaker origins, also include a significant research collection for the regional and local history of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States and the history of American social reform.