Friday, March 24, 2017

Quaker Women Series: Mary Fell Lower

Mary Fell Lower (1647-1720)

We already learned about Elizabeth Hooton, the oldest (and first) person to preach in public (she was around 70 years old).  Now, let’s learn about the youngest!  Mary Fell, daughter of Margaret Fell, was the youngest to preach in public in the 1650s.  She was 8 years old. 

Young Mary was privy to George Fox’s preaching and she is included in the list of names of the Fell household who were “convinced.”  She was approximately 5 years old at that time.  She traveled with her mother, along with her sister, Sarah, when Margaret met with the king regarding the law requiring Quakers to take an oath to the king.  When Margaret herself refused to take the oath and was imprisoned, her daughters tried to get the king to intercede on their mother’s behalf but his hands were tied when it came to matters of parliament. 

While she may not have had a choice of what her mother did or where her mother went and she needed to accompany her because she was a child, nobody forced her to tell an Anglican priest, “Lampitt, the plagues of God shall fall upon thee and the seven viols shall be poured upon thee and the millstone shall fall upon thee and crush thee as dust under the Lord’s feet how can thou escape the damnation of hell.”

After nearly five years of imprisonment, Margaret was released just prior to Mary’s marriage to Thomas Lower, a Quaker who was also convinced by Fox.  The year was 1668. She was 21 years old.

I have not been able to find much information on Mary’s personal ministry.  She had ten children but only five children lived beyond infancy.  In 1676 she and Thomas moved their family to Marsh Grange, the birthplace of her mother. 

#QuakerWomenSeries #QuakerWomen #WomenPreachers #Quakers #Friends 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Quaker Women Series: Margaret Fell Fox

 "Those that speak against the power of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord speaking in a woman, simply by reason of her sex, or because she is a woman, not regarding the Seed and Spirit and Power that speaks in her, such speak against Christ and his Church."
Margaret Fell, 1666

Margaret Fell is said by many to be the center of the whole Religious Society of Friends enterprise!  While included in the Valiant Sixty, she did not travel until later.  She was, however, “with” the early missionaries in spirit and wrote them often.  She wrote this to Francis Howgill, “You are all dear unto me and you are all present with me and are all met together in my heart.” 

Much has been written about Margaret Fell Fox and there are full texts on her life and ministry.  These writings are excellent and are worthy of your attention and I have no desire to duplicate their writings.  However, I cannot imagine doing a blog series on “Quaker Women” and not have one post that features one of the most significant people in the history of Friends. 

When George Fox preached to the Fell household, he became friends with a family who would impact his life forever.  The Fells were affluent and carried great influence with the government since Mr. Fell was a judge and was referred to as Judge Fell in numerous writings.  While he himself never became a Quaker, he was supportive of their ministry and backed that support with financial support and his influence with the officials who made life difficult (to say the least) for Friends. 

Margaret had a mind for business and saw the need for ongoing financial support of the traveling Friends.  She started the Kendal Fund, on which the first Yearly Meeting Fund was based.  She not only helped provide for traveling Friends on the road but her home, Swathmoor Hall, became the headquarters for Friends. She was a spiritual guide, administrator, political activist, theologian and apologist. She wrote the first widely publicized biblical defense of women’s right to preach and lead in 1666, “Women Speaking Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord JESUS.  And how Women were the first that preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of JESUS, and were sent by CHRIST’S Own Command, before He ascended to the Father, John 20:17;” commonly referred to as "Women's Speaking Justified.”  Sally Bruyneel Padgett (2013), a Quaker Studies scholar, with an emphasis on Margaret Fell says Fell’s work as a theologian “remains a hallmark in the defense of women’s right to teach and preach.” 

There are several things I admire and respect about Margaret:
  • She was obedient to God’s call on her life no matter where it landed her (Lancaster Castle – a deplorable prison).
  • She balanced motherhood and ministry (often by including her children in her travels).
  • Her beliefs were based on Biblical truths and she defended her beliefs (and the teachings of Friends) using Scripture as the foundation.
  • She wore color and mentions receiving scarlet cloth as a gift from her late husband George Fox (1700).  Now, this may seem out of place, so I will explain.  Many of you associate Quakers and the color grey.  This association came in 1698, after Fox’s death.  Quakers were creating rules and not wearing coloring was one of these rules.  Margaret wrote different epistles (letters) to Friends warning them of this.  In 1698 she wrote them and her last letter was written to address this same issue in 1700.  She said, “these silly outside imaginary practices are coming up, and practiced with great zeal, which has often grieved my heart.”  There was a change in Friends thinking from simplicity and wearing items made by free people (versus slave labor) to drab, generations old, clothing being godly dress and Margaret called them out on it.  Her words were unfortunately not heeded and “Quaker dress” continued for decades. 
  • She was an influential minister and is remembered for the work God did through her and not because of her social standing or association because of whom she married.

Margaret is considered the Mother of Quakerism, not because she married George Fox, the founder of Friends, but because of who she was.  So yes, the Father of Quakerism, George Fox, and the Mother of Quakerism, Margaret Fell married, but they were both established in their roles as leaders years before they married. 

In the history of Friends, there are many women who obeyed God’s calling and preached His word, regardless of society and cultural acceptance.  In this Quaker Women Series, my goal is to introduce many lesser known women to you; however, the well known women are well known for a reason and some of them will be featured here, as well.  I would love to hear how Margaret Fell’s ministry is/has influenced your own ministry in the comments!

Friends, deal plainly with yourselves, and let the eternal light search you, and try you, for the good of your souls; for this will deal plainly with you; it will rip you up, lay you open, and make all manifest that lodgeth in you; the secret subtilty of the enemy of your souls, this searcher and tryer will make manifest. . .consider one another, and provoke one another to love and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of yourselves, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as you see the day approaching. And dwell in love and unity, in the pure eteral light; there is your fellowship, there is your cleansing and washing. . .And the everlasting God, of light, life and power, keep you all faithful to your own measure; that so the resurrection and the life ye may witness, and the living bread ye may feed on, which, whosoever eateth of, shall never die.  Margaret Fell, epistle to Friends, 1656

#QuakerWomenSeries #QuakerWomen #WomenPreachers #Quakers #Friends #MargaretFell


You can read many of Margaret’s own writings here: . 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Quaker Women Series: Joan Mary Fry

“Quakerism is nothing unless it be... a practical showing that the spiritual and material spheres are not divided”.
Joan Mary Fry

Joan Mary Fry (27 July, 1862 – 25 November, 1955) was born into a wealthy Quaker family in London; where she was a member of London Yearly Meeting and where she later died. 

Morgan (2010) describes her as “a social activist, Joan is also a pioneer vegetarian, biblical scholar, prison chaplain to conscientious objectors and organizer of food aid to Germany in 1919.”  The Royal Mail honored Joan for her life of selflessness with a stamp in 2012 (pictured right). She served as clerk of the Friends Allotment Committee for twenty years (1931-1951).

She is also the first woman to give the Swarthmore lecture in 1910, on the eve of Yearly Meeting.  The title of Joan’s lecture was, “Communion of Life.”  While I do not have access to the entire lecture, I was able to read snippets of it:
This lecture, she said, attempts to ‘show clearly the intimate connection of religion and ordinary affairs.’ She continued: ‘Quakerism is nothing unless it is a communion of life, a practical showing that the spiritual and material spheres are not divided, but are as the concave and the convex sides of one whole, and that the one is found in and through the other.’ (Morgan 2010)
Her words in 1915, regarding peace, also struck me hard; with so much unrest today, “At
a time when the Unthinking are saying that the ideal of peace is impossible, it is, for some, the paramount duty so to think as to make that ideal more real than it ever has been.”

Joan’s writing is used on October 11, in the devotional, “A Time to Reflect: 365 Classic Meditations:”
…Gradually, as mind, soul, and even body grow still, sinking deeper and deeper into the life of God, the pettiness, the tangles, the failures of the outer life begin to be seen in their true proportions, and the sense of the divine infilling, uplifting, redeeming Love becomes real and illuminating.  Things are seen and known that are hidden to the ordinary faculties.  This state is not merely one of quiescence; the soul is alive, active, vigorous, yet so still that it hardly knows how intense its own vital action. 

I was thrilled to find a BBC interview with Sybil Oldfield, who wrote a biography on Joan Mary Fry: Joan Mary was the only woman allowed into military camps to see the treatment of conscientious objectors.  She came from a very sheltered background; chaperoned until her thirties, living at home until she was in her forties, and  not going to a theater until she was in her sixties.  These things did not bother Joan, though.  What mattered was that she was a “practicing Quaker; serving people.” You can watch it here:

Those words sum up her life well, “a practicing Quaker, serving people.”  


BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour, Fascinating Mummies at the National Museum of
Scotland , Joan Mary Fry Stamp. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2014 from
 Feb 23 - News release - Quaker features on new postage stamps | Quakers in Britain. (2012, February 23). Retrieved from
 Fry, J. M. (1915). Christ and peace: A discussion of some fundamental issues raised by the war. (online version) London: Headley Bros. (
 Morgan, H. (1998). October: Reflections from Christian women. In A time to reflect:365
classic meditations to help you through the year (pp. 191-192). Retrieved September 18,
 WorldCat Identities. (2010). Fry, Joan Mary 1862. Retrieved September 18, 2014,

#QuakerWomen #WomenPreachers #WomensHistoryMonth #Quakers #Friends #ConscientiousObjectors 

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day 2017

I am running a series on this blog featuring Quaker women this month and you can find them easily with #QuakerWomen and the label "Quakers" in the right column.  Each post starts with this banner to make it easy to spot, too:

Today, I honor three very important women in my life.  Strong women.  Quaker women.  My mother:
She lives strength in love.  It is such a compliment when people tell me I remind them of her.  Because of her, I know I am never too old to learn new things nor to stop learning.  She is a shining light in my dreary days and her ministry is a reflection of her gifts, of which I am a recipient! 

My oldest daughter who has become stronger than she probably wanted to be.  She is courageous and started a blog to share her vulnerability with the world in hopes of helping others who need to know they are not alone: Ponderings of a Wandering Mind.

My youngest daughter who is one of the strongest people I know.  She is tenacious and encourages others to be as strong as they can be while always pointing them to the Source of her strength, Jesus. 

Of all the people in the world, I am humbled and honored to have these three strong women in my corner.  Between the three of them, they encourage me every single day.  When my depressed mind and body does not want to function, they offer their strength until I am strong enough to stand again.  I cannot imagine my life without them in it; and dread the day, should it ever come.  

On this day of honoring women, who is in your corner?  Who holds you up when you do not have the strength to stand?  I know some people are fortunate to have one such person, and here I have these three women, not to mention the number of men who are in my corner, too. These are the blessings I am thankful for today... and tomorrow. 

#InternationalWomensDay #QuakerWomen #strongwomen

Quaker Women Series: Elizabeth Ashbridge

Elizabeth Ashbridge wrote her autobiography in a time when Quaker literature was censored.  She chose not to publish her work, circulating it among Friends, and in doing so, kept the language that richly describes her spiritual journey. 

Born in Middlewich in Cheshire, England in 1713, to “honest parents: Thomas and Mary Sampson,” Elizabeth Ashbridge had an “awful regard for religion and religious people.”  She considered herself a normal child; well behaved, for the most part, and when she did wrong, she knew it and was sorry for it. 
She eloped when she was fourteen and was widowed that same year.  She lived with relatives inIreland, before securing passage to America by becoming an indentured servant.  She married an abusive drunk, and suffered the consequences of becoming Quaker, like many Friends in the 18th Century (being ostracized by family, abused by husbands, public ridicule and abuse, anything to try and deter them from remaining Friend).    

Elizabeth saw a lot of hypocrisy among Christians, which gave her a very jaded view and opinion of them:
The observations I made on their conduct confirmed me in my atheistical opinions. They diverted themselves in the evening with cards and songs, and a few moments after, introduced prayers and singing psalms to Almighty God. Often did I say to myself, "If there be a God, he is a pure Being and will not hear the prayers of polluted lips." 

When she was twenty-two years old, she attended a Quaker meeting, “I heard a woman Friend speak, at which I was a little surprised. I had been told of women's preaching, but I had never heard it before, and I looked upon her with pity for her ignorance and contempt for her practice, saying to myself, "I'm sure you're a fool, and if ever I turn Quaker, which will never be, I will not be a preacher."
Elizabeth longed for something more than the church was offering, so she sought Truth.  While visiting family in Philadelphia, she read a Quaker book and went from darkness to light!

O, thou God of my salvation, and of my life; who hath abundantly manifested thy long suffering and tender mercy, in redeeming me as from the lowest hell, I beseech thee to direct use in the right way, and keep me from error; so will I perform my covenant, and think nothing too near to part with for thy name’s sake. O, happy peoples thus beloved of God!”

This decision only made her life more miserable.  “Sullivan became enraged when a church warden suggested that his wife would become a Quaker minister.  Ashbridge tells us that her husband, ‘in a great rage, struck her and told her that she had better be hanged on that day.’”  

Widowed (again) in 1740, the next years were spent paying off her husband’s debts and traveling as a minister.  In September 1746,Elizabeth married Aaron Ashbridge, a prominent Quaker at Goshen.  From homeless in Ireland, to indentured servant, to abused wife, to Quaker minister and Elder, Elizabeth’s life shows the transforming power of God. 

Elizabeth was obedient to God and answered his call to travel abroad where she ended up dying on a mission.  Her life, so dramatically written, is an example for us not to allow bitterness to take root.  I am reminded that most of early Friends lives were not “easy.”  Perhaps, that is a lesson as well – living a life committed to Jesus comes at a price.  

Included below are sources used in the writing of this post.  

Ashbridge, E. (edited 1846). Some account of the life of Elizabeth Ashbridge. Friends Library. Retrieved from:
Ashbridge, E. “Who must I join”: Elizabeth Ashbridge, an 18th-century Englishwoman becomes a Quaker. Retrieved from:
Levenduski, C. (1991). Remarkable experiences in the life of Elizabeth Ashbridge: Portraying the public woman in spiritual autobiography [E-reader version]. Great Britain: Gordan and Breach Science Publishers, S.A.
Madden, E. (1999). Quaker Elizabeth Ashbridge as `The spectacle & discourse of the company'.  Early American Literature, 34(2), 186-186.
Tarter, M. (2005). Reading a Quakers’ book: Elizabeth Ashbridge’s testimony of Quaker literary theory. QUAKER STUDIES, 1363-013X.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Quaker Women Series: Mary Morris Knowles

"There are good people of all denominations; it is not the name, or the outward profession of any religion that can make us good, but a steady adherence to that which is right in our own consciences. Thou mayst be a very good girl professing the religion of thy education, as long as thou canst be satisfied with it, But if thou cans't not, I would advise thee to have recourse to that inward light which will guide thee into all truth." (Mary Morris Knowles)

Mary Morris Knowles went head to head with a “big-wig” of the time: Samuel Johnson, English author and critic, and rubbed shoulders with royalty.  Third-generation Quaker, Mary was born in Staffordshire in 1733.  Mary was single until she was thirty-four years old.  Young Mary was fiercely independent and not afraid to voice her opinions and act on her beliefs.  There was no way she was going to allow someone else to choose her spouse; and she advocated for women’s right to choose their spouse.  You can imagine that this did not go over well during a time in Quaker history when overseers in Friends meetings were holding people to the notion that they must marry a Quaker. 

By the time Mary married Thomas Knowles in 1767, she was set in her ways and “she resolved not to become ‘a poor passive machine ...a mere smiling Wife.’”  She nearly died giving birth to their son in July, 1768.  They named the baby Morris, and he lived one day.  Shortly after this, her mother and sister died.  From my calculations, they had another son, George, in 1773.  Thomas died in 1786 when he was 52, Mary was 53, and George was 13.  Thomas’ death left Mary a wealthy widow.  She used her position and money to promote abolition. 

Mary was skilled in needle painting and did some prestigious portraits for the King and Queen.  Her position and affluence allowed her to rub shoulders with royalty and prominent political and religious men; namely Samuel Johnson and John Wilkes.

Mary refused to allow current Quaker civilities to dictate what she believed, similar to the early Friends!  Focusing on the inner Light “allowed her to advance contentious positions, such as her criticism of slavery and sympathy for the American and French revolutionaries, while simultaneously affirming her religious belief and dedication to the national interest (73). In doing so, Knowles became one of the foremost defenders of Quakers in a culture that increasingly questioned their patriotism and religious conviction.”

She was not afraid to “stir the pot” and in June of 1788, when asked to write a poem for the top of a tobacco box, she took the opportunity to write about abolition:

          Tho various tints the human face adorn
          To glorious Liberty Mankind are born;         
          O, May the hands which rais'd this fav'rite weed          
          Be loos'd in mercy and the slave be freed! 

“Knowles had defended women’s liberty in her debate with Johnson in 1778, and she now extended this principle to all humans. The arguments she expressed were rational, nonsectarian, and based on universal rights. For Knowles, religious liberty led to political and social freedom, and her brief poem reminded the owner of the tobacco box about the important political issue of freedom for African slaves and abolition of the slave trade.” 

Mary Knowles went against the grain, much like the radical Quakers before her.  I appreciated reading of her advocating for abolition, education for women, equality, and peace.  Her writings are not easily available but are in The Religious Society of Friends library in London

Most widely held works by Mary Knowles:

Resources used in the writing of this post:

Breuninger, S. (2009). Gender, religion, and radicalism in the long eighteenth century: the “ingenious quaker” and her connections - by Judith Jennings.  Historian, 71(1). Retrieved from
Jennings, J. (2007). Mary Morris Knowles: (1733-1807). Retrieved from
Mary Knowles - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2014, August 1). Retrieved September 8, 2014, from
WorldCat Identities. (2010). Knowles, Mary 1733-1807. Retrieved September 8, 2014,

#QuakerWomen #WomensHistoryMonth #Quakers #Friends

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Quaker Women Series: Elizabeth Hooton

“Travelling through some parts of Leicestershire, and into Nottinghamshire, I met with a tender people, and a very tender woman, whose name was Elizabeth Hooton.” George Fox

The first Quaker woman I am featuring in my "Quaker Women" series for Women's History Month is Elizabeth Hooton, George Fox's first convert and preacher!  Who was this woman? 

Elizabeth Hooton (Hooten), was born in the early 1600s in England.  She met George Fox in 1647 and the two began a life-long friendship that was filled with imprisonment, beatings, shunning, and more.  In her book, “The Valiant Sixty,” (which included Elizabeth Hooton) Elfrida Vipont describes her as “motherly, devout, and open-minded.”  Her husband, Oliver, was not as quick to join the movement but eventually was convinced and “meetings were held in their home at Skegby, near Mansfield.”  Oliver and Elizabeth had five children: Thomas (1636), John (1639), Josiah (1641), Samuel (1633) and Elizabeth (1636).  Samuel and Elizabeth both suffered for religious freedom, like their mother. 

Elizabeth, considered middle-aged when she began ministry, as previously mentioned, was the first Quaker preacher.  Gerald Croese states, “After her example, many of her Sex had the confidence to undertake the same office.”  According to Walter Williams, she was part of the first small groups called, “Children of Light” and “Friends of Truth.

Reading Emily Manner’s book, “Elizabeth Hooton, the first Quaker woman preacher (1600-1672),” was an eye opening experience of what transpired in her life after becoming a Quaker.  Elizabeth suffered imprisonment numerous times.  The first time was in 1650 at Derby for speaking to a priest.  It was during this time that she wrote her first of many letters, many of them to public officials. 

Her time in the prison at Derby is the first of many.  By 1652, she served sixteen months at York Castle (prison) for preaching.  During her imprisonments, she wrote letter after letter informing public officials of the harsh treatment of the prisoners and of their wrongful imprisonment.  She signed her letter, “Elizabeth Hooton, A prisoner of the Lord in Yorke Castle.  A common theme in her letters was, “She denounces in no measured terms the corruptness of Judges, Magistrates, teachers and clergymen, and all officers are gaolers and compares them to Herod and Pontius Pilate…!" Each time she was released from prison, she went right back to what she had been doing; which landed her in prison repeatedly.  In fact, “she was the first sufferer for the Truth in Lincolnshire.”

While beatings were common in prison, Elizabeth suffered abuse outside the prison walls, too.  There is record that “April 2, 1660: Elizabeth Hooton, passing quietly on the road, was met by one Jackson, Priest of Selston, who abused her, beat her with many blows, knocked her down, and afterward put her into the water.”  This is the last record of her early service in England.  

“She was stepping from pan to fire.”

Persecution followed Elizabeth to America where she was imprisoned in Boston for visiting other Friends who were prisoners.  In 1661, she and her companion, Joan Broksopp, traveled to Boston.  She said, “… for God and his people to those people in the heate of persecution, and if God required us to lay down our lives for the testimony of Jesus and in love to their soules, not knowing but what they might heare and so be saved so they might be left without excuse and God might have his glory and we cleare of their bloud if they would not heare…” It was a crime to be a Quaker in the new world.  It was in Boston that she and her daughter were whipped together. 

Each time I read of her abuse and imprisonment, followed by her release, followed by her repeat of what landed her in prison before, I realize she had the Light, that is the Holy Spirit, inside her that empowered her to continue whatever task He set before her.  She did not allow abuse, which I have come to believe was rape, beatings, whippings, flogging, starving, nor disease to alter the coarse set before her.  Her experiences as the first Quaker woman preacher, one of the valiant sixty, and a sufferer for Jesus are extensive and detailed.  From the time she became a Quaker until her final breath in Jamaica in January of 1672, she never stopped loving man;
“Yea, the Love that I bear to the Souls of all Men,
makes me willing to undergo whatsoever can be inflicted.”

Emily Manners summarizes Elizabeth’s life beautifully and with a challenge for us today: “She played her part in the heroic age of the Society of Friends: always valiant for the truth, quick to seize any opportunity that offered to plead the cause of her fellow sufferers, even though her own sufferings made the occasion – fearless in denouncing the evils of the time – far in advance of the age in which she lived in her advocacy of prison and other reforms, and though her methods may appear strangely uncouth in our politer days, yet her history is eloquent in its lessons for us, conscious, it may be, that, in the words of Whittier, ‘The spirit’s temper grows too soft in this still air.’”

Has the Spirit's temper grown too soft in this still air?

“… She was a Godly Woman and had a great care lay upon her for people to walk in Truth that did profess it, and from her receiving Truth, she never turned her back on it but was fervent and faithful for it till death.”  George Fox

Included below are sources used in the writing of this post.  


Clayton, J. (2013, January, 08). Tough as nails. [web blog post] Retrieved from
Jones, R. (Ed.). (1976). The journal of George Fox. Friends United Press: Richmond, Indiana.
Manners, E., &  Penny, N. (1914). Elizabeth Hooton, the first Quaker woman preacher (1600-1672)(e-book) London: Headley brothers.
Vipont, E. (1975). George Fox and the valiant sixty. London: Hamish Hamilton.
Williams, W. (1987). The rich heritage of Quakerism. Barclay Press: Newberg, Oregon.

#QuakerWomen #womenpreachers #Friends #Quakers #ElizabethHooton #GeorgeFox #WomensHistoryMonth