Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 26, 2013

Moving toward acceptance: 19th and 20th century Quakers

Andover Stories
Kimberly WhitworthAndover Historical Society

---- — 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.

In 1895, a Meeting House was established for Quaker worship on Avon Street in Lawrence. Many Quakers from Andover attended meetings there when they were young.

Anne Avery and Jane Griswold established a Quaker meeting in Andover in 1979. They did so from the desire to raise their children in the Quaker faith. As with all Quaker meetings since the 17th century, worship began at the home of a member.

During the mid-1980s, the Andover meeting moved to the Graham House at Phillips Academy, where First Day School (similar to Sunday school) was offered for children and pot luck dinners were organized.

By the turn of the century, Lawrence and Andover combined to become one meeting, which gathers weekly in Methuen and remains an active center of Quaker worship today.

Quakers have no clergy. They meet in silence and wait for the voice of God. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, believed that God “appears to us through a divine inner voice, an inner light shared by all.” If a person feels moved to speak during meeting, then he or she may do so. All are equal at Quaker meeting and all are welcome.

In “A Quaker Book of Wisdom,” Robert Lawrence Smith states: “The basic humanistic Quaker precepts of valuing racial and gender equality, promoting social justice (and) nonviolence ... seem to me so modern, so relevant to today’s society ....“ And as he notes, these are ideas that began with Fox in the 17th century, yet they continue to have resonance today.

The Lawrence-Andover Quaker Meeting currently worships on Sundays at 2 p.m. at Forest Street Union Church in Methuen. For more information, visit www.lawrence-andover-quakers.org.