Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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September 26, 2013

Moving toward acceptance: 19th and 20th century Quakers

By the 19th century, Quakers had found acceptance within various Massachusetts communities.

A group of Quakers who had first met for worship on Friend Street in Amesbury in 1705 had grown by the mid-1800s to support the building of a Meeting House.

The Meeting House was completed in 1851 and still stands today on Friend Street. The building is Greek Revival in style, a reflection of the five fundamental principles of Quakerism: simplicity, integrity, equality, peace and community.

The most famous Quaker to worship at the Amesbury Meeting House was the poet and social activist John Greenleaf Whittier.

Whittier visited Andover on more than one occasion, attending séances with influential writer Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Séances and spiritualism became popular after the Civil War. With casualties having been so great during the conflict, many turned to spiritualism as a way to seek solace and speak to loved ones who had “crossed over.”

Harriet Stow’s interest in spiritualism developed after the loss of her eldest son, Henry, who died in a drowning accident at Dartmouth.

Stowe came to Andover with her husband, Calvin Stowe, when he was appointed professor of theology at Andover Theological Seminary in 1853.

Whittier would recall sitting up many nights with Harriet Stowe in the shadow of the seminary, trying to contact the spirit world. He is known to have remarked: “Much as I have wooed them, they never appear to me. Mrs. Stowe is more fortunate — the spirits sometimes come at her bidding, but never mine — and what wonder? It would be a foolish spirit that did not prefer her company to that of an old man like me.”

Quakerism continued to grow in the region with the founding of the Lawrence Monthly Meeting in 1885. Meetings initially were held in the home of one of the members before moving to the Lawrence YMCA as membership expanded.

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