Talk Presented by Marge Abbott at Reedwood Friends Church 10/19/94
Carole Spencer has asked me here tonight to talk about Hicksite Spirituality and the Ministry of two Hicksite women in particular, Rachel Hicks and Lucretia Mott. I feel a special connection with these two women. My role models growing up were the activist Quaker women who fought against slavery, and women who spoke early and strongly for women’s rights — women like Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony. Their work encouraged my own in women’s rights and anti-war activism. Rachel Hicks is a contemporary of theirs, but not well-known. I came across her journal many years ago as I am descended from various of the Hicks family. But her experiences were alien to me then and somewhat of a curiosity rather than a role model. I have only come to appreciate her as I have become more aware of and opened to God’s direct leadings within me and had to wrestle as she did with the nature of my own ministry.
These two women were strong, dynamic women who were very different in their personalities as well as their ministry. At times they even came into direct conflict with each other. Rachel Hicks’ travelling companion described one meeting where the large gathering included Lucretia Mott and many other abolitionists. “These Friends made a strong plea for Friends to join actively in the [anti-slavery] movement. Rachel Hicks led the opposition, and there was an animated discussion.”
These two women can also be seen as illustrating two extremes of women in the ministry among 19th century Friends. Janis Calvos in an article on “Quaker Women Ministers in Nineteenth Century America” describes how unusual Quaker women were in their freedom to preach, but how that freedom did not extend to a broad spectrum of women’s rights even within the Society of Friends of the time. Women and men still had separate business meetings and women were expected to remain within the roles of housewife and mother for the most part, except in the area of ministry. She writes that:
The Quaker minister was able to keep her role tension within bearable proportions because of her self-concept of instrumentality, whereby she perceived herself a submissive instrument in the hands of God, and because of the part-time character of the Quaker ministry which permitted her to segregate her roles of wife/mother and minister, picking up one as she put aside the other.
Rachel Hicks very much fit into this mold. She was a devoted wife and mother, and she totally defined her ministry in terms of submission to God’s will. Lucretia Mott on the other hand regularly was challenging this picture of women. She was a devoted wife and mother, but she also stepped strongly into the realm of activism on behalf of the slaves rather than confining her preaching to spiritual matters, and was constantly in conflict with the elders of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. She also was one of a number of women who created a scandal by preaching to “mixed” groups of men and women in public halls. Eventually she became the elder spokeswomen of the women’s rights movement.
In many ways, Rachel Hicks was one of the last of an era. She was part of the dying tradition of Quietist Friends and true to the older ways, including the practice of extensive travel in the ministry. Lucretia Mott can be seen as at the forefront of modern Friends. She was constantly stretching the edges of what was acceptable and at times directly challenging the conventions both of her times and of Quakerism. In this way, even though they were born only four years apart, they are very much of different generations.
Before I start talking about these women, I want to give a little background about the Quakers in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular about the “Great Separation” which ultimately lead to you and me participating in such different meetings, yet still calling ourselves Friends.
THE GREAT SEPARATION: ROOTS OF MODERN AMERICAN QUAKERISM
The nineteenth century saw numerous separations among North American Quakers. The twentieth century brought still more separations and a variety of rejoinings of different branches, all of which make tracing a strand of belief quite complicated.
Friends in Europe managed to avoid significant separations, although many British Friends traveling in the ministry were involved in the American separations, most notably the evangelical Joseph John Gurney. Several writers have traced the complexities in substantial detail. The so-called “Great Separation” was in 1827, when Philadelphia Yearly Meeting split into “Hicksite” and “Orthodox” meetings, followed shortly by Hicksite/Orthodox separations in New York, Baltimore, Ohio and New England.
The initial separations involved issues of the importance of Scripture, the role of the Inward Light, and the nature of the saving power of Christ. They also divided rural farmers (Hicksites) from wealthier, urban Friends (Orthodox) and addressed deep-seated differences regarding control of decisions within the Meetings. What had always been a fairly wide stream of Friends’ beliefs finally split over the questions of the need for, and content of, a unified statement of doctrine. The attempt to formalize doctrine by some elders in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting alienated those who believed no creed was acceptable as part of their faith, as well as those who disagreed over specific issues of theology and practice.
The Great Separation came at a time when changing social influences and the westward migration had caused much turmoil within the Society of Friends. This was not something unique to Friends as the American continent was opened to rapid westward migration and new settlements beyond the Appalachian mountains after the Revolution. On occasion, even whole meetings from New York or New England would move as a unit , seeking new homes in Ohio and other points west. For instance, the first recognized Monthly Meeting west of the Ohio River was Concord Monthly Meeting, established in 1801. The speed of migrations is evident in the records of Miami Monthly Meeting in Waynesville, Ohio, which accepted 1,826 transferred memberships between 1803 and 1807.
Concurrently, during the early part of the nineteenth century, Friends were struggling with issues of slavery, immorality (dancing and music), authority, and doctrine. The broader evangelical movement within American society was influencing Friends at a time when many meetings had relatively little vital ministry. Indeed, the preceding generations of the eighteen century have been labeled the “quietist” period — a time of emphasis on meditation, reflection, and the workings of the Holy Spirit, and keeping oneself free from “creaturely” influences which might interfere with the workings of the Holy Spirit. It was a time when Friends emphasized their isolation from the world by dress and behavior.
It has been argued that Friends reacted to the changing society around them with limited imagination. Many members were disowned, particularly in the frontier regions, for breaches of discipline such as “marrying out of Meeting” (marrying a non-Quaker), for not holding to traditional Quaker forms of dress, as well as for offenses such as adultery. Yet the Quietist period was a time of some of the great figures of Quaker history such as John Woolman. Meetings strongly emphasisized the direct workings of the Holy Spirit, yet many individuals meetings were described as “dull and unspiritual.” One response to the sense of spiritual malaise and rigid discipline of the time was to borrow from the Wesleyan revivals then prevalent. However, the historian Rufus Jones has noted that the result was serious tension:
The attempt to graft the evangelical system onto the Quaker interpretation of Christianity as the remedy for lethargy and doubt was not an easy thing to do. The Quaker movement had been born as a mighty protest of soul against the habit of turning religion into the adoption of theological doctrines. . . A return now to doctrine and to theological ‘notions’ could not satisfy those Friends who knew the vital significance of the inner principle of Quakerism. They saw clearly that the two things, incompatible in themselves, could not be grafted together. The Quaker movement, to live and survive as a distinctive interpretation of Apostolic Christianity, must remain true and loyal to its central idea, which was the continuous vital and authoritative work of Christ in the human soul.
The tensions between the evangelicals and those focused on the inner workings of Christ erupted into disputes which split the Society of Friends in 1827. The views of Jonathan Evans and Elias Hicks, two leaders among the “Orthodox” and “Hicksite” Friends respectively, highlight the doctrinal differences. At the heart of the controversies was Elias Hicks, a respected and very popular minister whose name became affixed to the larger, more “liberal” group which formed after the first separations in 1827-28. Jonathan Evans was a prominent elder and proponent of the “Orthodox” perspective in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. In 1801, Evans and Hicks were companions visiting together; they corresponded for years afterward and developed a respect for one another. Yet in 1819 and again in 1826, the meetings of these two proud men erupted into angry dispute, reflecting their differing sense of truth and contributing to the bitterness which spread among Friends. Some of their disagreements were on practice: for instance Evans, who had once abstained from the use of slave products, gave up the practice and resented Hicks’ advocacy of this witness. They also disagreed at length and in their ministry on theological issues and the nature of sin (the natural state of all men or a turning away from God’s will) and the nature of the Bible. (authentic and unfailing or accurate and inspiring). Evans spoke on “the atonement, mediation, and intercession of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, Hicks knew Jesus Christ as”an eternal principle in the soul and nothing else can be Christ our Savior.” They also disagreed about the role of elders and the need for a written statement of doctrine.
(? omit ?) There were regular incidences of groups within Meetings declaring others should be laid down, and incidents such as in Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting where the men declared the Women’s Meeting to be “seditious.” The final action leading to the 1987 Separation was the dispute over who was to be clerk of the Yearly Meeting.
During all this period, many women were involved in the forefront on both sides. In fact, Nancy Hewitt has argued that Quaker women were equally militant on both sides of the dispute, and “that upheaval itself seems to account for the emergence of strong-willed and outspoken women.” In all this, one result was the eventual shift in the position of women in the Society of Friends. For instance, some Hicksites Meetings soon replaced the old “Meetings for Sufferings” with “representative committees” which for the first time included women. It was during the years of upheaval which followed the Separation in which women gradually won their full place in conducting the business of the Meeting and this wasa recognized in liberalized Disciplines.
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Women Ministers in the Nineteenth Century
In 1990, David Farmer was still writing “Women who preach still are not widely recognized in mainstream Protestantism–and certainly not in Catholicism–as the equals of male preachers,” in the introduction to the book And Blessed is She. While in 17th century America, Quakers were the only church which accepted women as preachers. By the early 19th century, there were more women in ministry, particularly among evangelicals such as the Freewill Baptists or groups like the Shakers, but a woman preaching or speaking in public at all was still a real oddity. Few women preachers or evangelists of the nineteenth century belonged to mainline churches or were ordained.
“The women who preached in the 19th century typically were associated with the ‘Quakers, Freewill Baptists, Free Methodists, as well as factions connected with the holiness and deeper-life movements. All of these emphasized direct communion with God, the leading of the Spirit, and the call to ministry over and above clerical counsel, church bylaws and ordination. As was the case with the Anabaptists and other free church movements in history, the high priority placed on spiritual gifts left the door ajar for women in the ministry.” (as quoted by David Farmer in And Blessed is She)
Lucretia Mott is widely recognized as one of the key figures in the 19th century movement to bring about equality for women in the pulpit, but even she had to regularly struggle against the Quaker establishment which objected to public speaking by women (or men) other than the ministry, and the general public outrage against women speaking in public at all. Gradually some women became ordained in the 19th century, particularly by the Disciples of Christ, and the first “full” ordination of a woman was in 1853–Antoinette Louise Brown–by the First Congregational Church in S. Butler, NY. Some of the other prominent women preachers of the 19th century included Margaret Newton van Cott, the first woman granted a license to preach in the Methodist Episcopalian Church in 1869, Phoebe Palmer, who was an effective lay preacher in the Methodist camp meetings, (Isabella) Sojourner Truth who was emancipated in 1827 as soon began preaching of her religious visions, and by 1843, she had become a prominent anti-slavery speaker along with Lucretia Mott. In 1888 when Frances Willard wrote Women in the Pulpit, (after the Methodist General Conference revoked all licenses for women preachers in 1880) there were approximately 350 Quaker women ministers, and as many as 500 women evangelists, and 20 women serving as pastors.
RACHEL HICKS (1789-1879)
Rachel Hicks lived her whole life on Long Island, New York, not far from the farm of her uncle by marriage, Elias Hicks. She was an elder in her Meeting and among the last of the great tradition of travelling ministers among Friends. The Hicksite/Orthodox separations tore at Rachel Hicks as her Quaker parents joined with the Orthodox and she and her husband became Hicksites. Her journal describes her experience of God’s voice, her call to ministry, and her sense of leadings. She saw herself as a lone prophet, and part of a faithful remnant, calling people back to a life of faithful obedience as a people of God.
Rachel Hicks grew up in a Long Island Quaker household which was a center for visiting Friends and was child who was long conscious of the workings of God in her life. She struggled for years to accept the calling to the ministry which she felt so strongly. At the age of 19, she was horrified by hearing these words in her head during silent worship. As she wrote:
The language was sounded intelligibly to my mental ear, “if faithful to My requirings, thou wilt have to speak in My name to the assemblies of the people and travel extensively in the ministry.”
Her immediate response was to say, “My nature revolted. This is a service I cannot perform. Timid and bashful by nature, I felt that I never could stand before an assembly of people, and address them with intelligible voice and language.” She unsuccessfully tried to convince herself that this was a delusion, then tried to beg off, beseeching God to withhold his hand. The result was a long, dry period which might now be termed a “dark night of the soul,” a period when she “was tossed and not comforted” by the Creator.” She found that “My stubborn will would not yield, and again and again I was turned backward in the wilderness, where beasts of prey howled around me.” Nonetheless, she reported, he “did not forsake me, but followed me with His fatherly chastisements.”
It was not until she was 42, over 20 years later, that her “strong self-will” yielded to this call to minister. One first day in meeting for worship, she felt the call, clearly described as the last invitation to accept the divine will and love, and to undertake the vocal ministry. A few minutes later, a minister stood and said there was one present who would be “cast off into a state of forgetfulness and darkness forever” if they were not faithful. She finally gave in, rose to her feet and spoke. Then, she said, “After I had made a surrender of my will to my Divine Master to speak. . . I oft felt His Peace to flow in my heart as a river.”
In 1833, she was recorded as a minister and three years later began her travels. Her ministry carried her at first around her native Long Island, then in wider and wider journeys reaching into upstate New York and then the Ohio Valley and as far west as Iowa — all by horseback or horse-drawn carriage, facing frequent hardships along the way.
Hicks’ personal theology centered around her sense of obedience to the Lord. Her actions and ministry could only be formed within this obedience rather than by her own actions independent of the work of the Holy Spirit within. Her theology was one of experience.
Her cornerstone was continual obedience to the will of God; that he would show mercy on all those who were obedient and acceptable worshippers in their hearts. Disobedience to duty was her daily cross that stood in the way of full dedication to God the Heavenly Father. To love God above all was her first work of obedience. She believed that the trials and “exercises” of life were necessary to keep the mind “bowed humbly at the feet of the Divine Master.” She said, with David, the words of the 40th psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined and heard my cry.”
Her personal life was also very different from Mott’s. She was widowed young and raised three sons essentially alone and lived to see each one die in turn. Rachel Seaman married late, at age 26, to Abraham Hicks. While he was a nephew of Elias Hicks, he was not raised in a Quaker home, and joined the Society as an adult. They had three sons, William, Gideon, and Abraham. Her husband Abraham died in 1827, the year of the Great Separation after only eleven years of marriage. Then her son Gideon died in 1831, at the age of eight and William died two years later. Like Mott, it was only during this period of great distress in her life when she finally answered her call to ministry. Unlike Mott, Hicks saw these deaths as God’s will and as she grieved found great comfort that they were with their Creator.
She was against slavery, but also against the kind of activism of Lucretia Mott, agreeing with many elders that Friends were not to be active in politics or reform movements. (Another part of the Anti-slavery debate within the Society of Friends was the fact that some of the anti-slavery activists were paid, and “To some Friends, allowing paid speakers in Quaker meeting houses was tantamount to supporting a hireling ministry.) Rachel Hick’s father was long concerned with the evils of slavery and acted out this concern by renumerating slaves for their service after they had been freed by other Friends. He established an association to raise funds for the schooling of “colored” children and to avoid the use of goods made by slave labor. However, Rachel Hicks eventually came to see the Civil War as punishment for disobedience to God’s will, and included the Society of Friends with all their disagreements as among those who rejected God’s leadings. Her message on this and other subjects could be fierce and drew on the model of the Old Testament prophets.
Hick’s father’s faith, also was a model for his daughter, although they eventually ended up on opposite sides after the separation. After the 1828 separation in New York Yearly Meeting, Rachel joined with the Hicksites, while her father joined with the Orthodox, a family separation which caused her great anguish. But Rachel and her father were among those who did not cut each other off, refuse to talk to each other, or disown each other as some did after the separations. At one point when she was quite ill, and doubtful of recovery, she was told by an eminent minister and friend of her father that she was deluded, and could not be saved unless she believed in the atoning blood of Christ on the cross, etc. Her father plead with her to accept these doctrines which were part of the Orthodox position. She prayed intensely and at length to her Heavenly Father, asking his will on this. But she was “confirmed in her belief in the all-sufficiency of the ‘Grace of God,” through His mercy, to bring salvation upon the soul.” Her father, in one of their conversations said “It may be that I was deficient in thy education;” but, after a time of solemn silence, added, “I have nothing better to recommend to thee, now, than obedience to this inward monitor.”
As she traveled in the ministry, she would visit, and preach at places where there was no Friends meeting established, as well as among families and at Meetings in Quaker communities. She and a companion would travel, each with a “minute of approbation” from their meeting. Over the years she visited widely among meetings throughout the east coast and middle west, still remaining vigorous and carrying a concern for ministry well into her eighties.
Rachel Hicks was very much in the Quietist tradition of 18th century Friends, and similar in her theology to Elias Hicks. Throughout her journal she speaks of her desire not to stir up controversies, but only to spread the Christian religion. Constantly she spoke of her surrender to Divine will and her lack of confidence in, or dependence upon human wisdom or acquired knowledge in performing her duty to the Creator and to others around her. She did not break new ground for women as Lucretia Mott did, and did not challenge the elders of her Meeting.
Her story is full of travels across the United States, and experiences on the public transportation of her day and threats to her safety and that of those who were with her from southerners before the Civil War, from storms and flooded rivers, and disease. Always she looked to Divine guidance for direction, whether to proceed, or to return home. Always she travelled in faith. One example of her approach was as follows:
As a warning to some who may read this when I shall have passed away, I will record my unwillingness, when at Blue River, to give up to visit the families of Friends there. It was late in the season, and I had my reasonings in favor of setting off for home. When we were ready to step into the carriage, our horses took fright and ran away, breaking our carriage so that several days were required to repair it. How was I struck with a sense of my disobedience! And, after all, I must enter into that arduous labor! I did so, and then peacefully journeyed homeward. Thus I learned, time after time, how much more we lose than gain by disobedience.
In 1852, this sense of obedience was so strong that she left to visit meetings in Ohio, even though she knew that the health of her remaining son was failing. This son had at other times travelled with her. This time when she returned, she found him well. It was two years later that he died at age 29.
LUCRETIA MOTT (1793 – 1880)
As I indicated, Lucretia Mott was one of my idols when I was growing up. I formed an image of the nineteenth century as a lively, vital time when Quakers were at the heart of all that was exciting, risking their reputations and their lives for others, and being instrumental in freeing first the slaves, then women. As an adult, I still see this excitement. It was a time of ferment and Lucretia Mott was at the heart of much of it. As one of the best known Friends, both within the Society of Friends and in the wider world, Lucretia Mott has had wide influence on many contemporary Friends and is a significant part of the world’s image of who Friends are. For instance, the Equal Rights Amendment was named the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” when it was first introduced in Congress in 1923.
Mott preached frequently and on such topics as “Likeness to Christ” and “When the Heart is attuned to Prayer” and also became a widely regarded speaker on abolition and women’s rights issues. She apparently always spoke without notes and speaking only as the spirit moved her even at conventions or in other “secular” speaking occasions. Mott saw herself as a “co-worker with God” and a guiding principle for her was to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with her God. She was constantly stretching and challenging the nineteenth century understanding of women’s roles in ministry as well as in reform movements. Dana Greene describes Mott as contesting nineteenth century views on authority, priesthood, and women this way:
Inspired by a deep religious experience, yet free from the restraints of orthodox Christianity, Mott’s position was unique and her attack powerful.. . Standing outside the bounds of mainline Christianity, Mott claimed the authority of truth as the basis of her attack against church and state, and took up a prophetic mission, legitimated by the experience of truth, to combat injustice and oppression wherever she encountered it.
Lucretia Coffin Mott’s father was a Nantucket sea captain, her mother was a shopkeeper. From her parents she gained a sense of independence, a strong self-worth and an anger at injustice as when she discovered the woman teacher she worked with was being paid less than half the salary of a younger man at the Quaker school where she first taught. One contemporary called her a “belligerant non-resistant.” She was also inspired by Elias Hicks, whom she first encountered when she was a school-girl at Nine Partners Boarding School in New York and was struck both by the intensity of his preaching and his refusal to use slave products.
Lucretia Coffin married James Mott in a Quaker wedding in Philadelphia in 1811 — the famous description of their marriage was her statement that ” our independence is equal, our dependence mutual and our obligations reciprocal.” Over the years, James and Lucretia worked side by side in the abolition movement and on many other issues. Margaret Bacon describes Lucretia as the “innovator and the spiritually gifted leader, James, as the writer of letters and petitions, the chair of meetings.” She raised their children Anna, Thomas (who died at age three), Maria, Thomas Coffin, Elizabeth and Martha. When the family fell on hard times, Lucretia, along with another woman, founded a small school.
Her acceptance of her place in the ministry came after a time of personal tragedy, similar to what Rachel Hicks also experienced, but their responses were quite different. When Tommy, her first son, died, she could not see his death as many of her time did, simply as God’s will. She felt it must be the result of ignorance of God’s laws or failure to observe them. Her response was to start serious studies of the Bible and other religious texts in order to better understand this tragedy. She was particularly moved by the sermons of William Ellery Channing, the founder of American Unitarianism. “His plea for humanitarian concern and for the role of reason in religion struck a responsive chord in her. Channing said that duty was the greatest gift of God to human beings of whatever station in life, and that obedience to the Inward Monitor would lead a man or woman to perfection.”
It was about a year after her son Tommy died that she found herself for the first time on her feet in Meeting for Worship, and she prayed that: “As all our efforts to resist temptation and overcome the world prove fruitless, unless aided by Thy Holy Spirit, enable us to approach Thy throne and ask of Thee the blessing of Thy preservation from all evil, that we may be wholly devoted to Thee and Thy glorious cause.” The elders of her meeting encouraged her in her ministry. In 1821, she was recorded as a minister at age 28. But her relationship with the elders of the Meeting was not always easy.
Years later, one day after Lucretia spoke in Meeting about how “men are to be judged by their likeness to Christ rather than their notions of Christ” some women elders came to her home, obviously upset by what she had said and ready to take her to task for it. When they made some comment about words of hers pertaining to “notions of Christ” Lucretia gladly gave them the full quotation, and let them know they were originally the words of William Penn. The women left soon thereafter, and Lucretia probably had a grin on her face.
Lucretia was constantly challenging the Quaker rules of discipline such as those about marrying out of Meeting or the disownment of more liberal members of the Society for speaking out, such as the members of Wilmington Meeting who were disowned by their meeting for taking their children to a lecture she gave. Various times she and her husband were almost disowned because of their vigorous speaking out on various issues.
The Motts gradually came to recognize their own role in the anti-slavery movement, through Lucretia’s trip to Virginia in 1818, through their awareness of the economic inequities around them, and at least in part through James’ wholesale business where he had to deal in cotton, a slave product. This concern grew in Lucretia until one day in Meeting for Worship, she came to clarity that she must stop using all products of slave labor, following the example of Elias Hicks, John Woolman, and others. This involved sugar, cotton, good writing paper and molasses–including candy and ice cream. She searched and found some substitutes in “free-produce” stores which were being set up by Philadelphia abolitionists. Later, James decided he must join her in the personal boycott of slave goods, in 1826 he helped to establish the Philadelphia Free Produce Society and in 1830, he finally gave up handling all slave products in his wholesaling business. Lucretia’s preaching on this issue was one more place where she got into trouble with the elders of her Meeting, again and again, they told her to preach only on spiritual topics.
Lucretia and James deplored the fighting and bickering in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as tensions developed towards the explosion and separation of 1827. James was a firm admirer of Hicks and quickly joined the Hicksites, while his mother joined with the Orthodox. Lucretia agreed with Hicks and supported his right to speak, but saw bitterness and small-mindedness on all sides. Both sides courted her because of her prominence. When she decided after six months that she belonged with the Hicksites, the Orthodox denounced her. She found friends and family members unwilling to speak to her, and had to do things like change her daughter’s schooling as Westtown school became Orthodox.
She retained the respect of many and over the years she served as clerk of the Women’s Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia, despite various disagreements with the Hicksite men. She was a force behind the establishment of educational institutions such as Swarthmore, where women as well as men could be trained. She travelled in the ministry among the yearly meetings which were dealing with the Hicksite/Orthodox separations in the years after the split in Philadelphia.
In her forties, Lucretia became fully engaged in the anti-slavery crusade and started to become a spokes person for women’s rights. In 1840, the World Anti-Slavery Conference was held in London and the Motts were delegates. The British created a controversy by refusing to admit the women as delegates. The Motts also experienced great pain when the Orthodox Philadelphia Yearly Meeting wrote a letter, which was read aloud at London Yearly Meeting, giving warning to be on guard against the Motts for their heresy, her mingling with Unitarian ministers and her preaching on a simple gospel of love and good works which some saw as a denial of the Divinity of Christ. While many in London were hospitable, others snubbed the Motts. Lucretia was determined to participate in the anti-slavery conference. The Conference eventually allowed the women to attend, but only as visitors, not as delegates. It was this conference which caused several women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ann Knight to become dedicated to the women’s rights movement. William Lloyd Garrison was one man who supported the women by joining them in the visitors gallery.
By the mid-1840’s Lucretia was regularly accused of being a “Unitarian,” as charge increased by the anti-slavery speeches she occasionally gave at Unitarian churches. “She, however, found Unitarianism too theological, rational, and cold for her tastes. Speculation about the nature of God, whether He be One or Three, she linked to theology, a subject she thought of little value. What mattered was the practice of religious life. She felt she was in unity with George Fox in the dislike of religious controversy for its “airy notions,” and believing in the overriding importance of the direct experience of Christ.
In one instance, Rachel Barker, a minister from Poughkeepsie, NY rose in Meeting for Worship at Philadelphia YM and preached at Lucretia for over an hour, “warning the young people present to avoid being led by false prophetesses not ‘the mixtures, the whirlwind, and the storm” of reform movements. They must instead keep in the quiet. Lucretia felt moved to answer the charges and preached back for an hour.” She struggled with the possibility of resigning from the Society of Friends as several other prominent women such as Abby Kelly had done. But she valued the religious base for her children, and the deep meaning of worship and her own ministry. She also did not want to leave the Society in the hands of the conservatives or those who were bound to increase the authority of the elders within the Hicksite branch. While Friends never found grounds to disown her, after 1843 they refused to give her travelling minutes. This meant that even though she continued to travel in the ministry, she was often received coldly, and at times ordered to sit down or turned away.
In one speech, delivered during the Civil War, Mott is striking in the extent to which she deals with feminist issues of today. Mott’s concern for women in other cultures matches that of Ms. magazine, with only the names of the countries changed. To today’s debate on whether women will provide a new ethic for the world, Mott cautions directly that “we ought, I think, to claim no more for woman than for man.” She delights in learning of women who are doctors, artists, and scientists, much as we make lists of women who are “first” in various fields. While some of her concerns, such as those dealing with the then contemporary laws of inheritance and marriage, are clearly dated, they are not far removed from us. Her objection to the word “obey” in the marriage ceremony could have been raised just yesterday in some churches.
At the 1853 National Women’s Rights Convention, where Mott made this speech, she also participated in the debate over the Biblical soundness of women’s rights. She took up the same argument as Margaret Fell’s in the mid-1600s — that the Scriptures support women taking their full place in the world doing God’s work — a message I heard repeated in the sermons at the 1994 Wesleyan Holiness Women’s Conference which Celia and Carole also attended.
In her assertion that “we often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth,” Mott referred to Biblical authority, to church authority, and to the state. This theme is still strong among Liberal Friends in the late twentieth century. Jesus was very much alive for her as when she argued strongly, “It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ.”
Quaker women of the Hicksite tradition do not fit into a simple mold any more than the “Orthodox” women you are hearing about. Lucretia Mott and Rachel Hicks are dynamic women who travelled widely and were well known in their time. They each had a strong message for Friends — one very much a message of faith, of obedience to the will of God. The other of faith, but also of the need to act out that faith in the world as a consequence.
Both drew deep strength from the unprogrammed meeting for worship. They learned to listen for God’s leadings in their lives. They learned of discernment in the silence. And they learned to trust God’s workings in their lives and to respond no matter what the challenge. In all this they were very much alike.
Hicks saw herself as an empty vessel in which God could work, and sought to clear herself of self-will in any form. She saw her will as wayward and something to be set aside so that God’s will could operate freely.
But Mott was not able to see injustice without speaking of it and of her duty, and that of others to correct it. She believed it was living in the same Spirit as Jesus, not our beliefs about Jesus which were essential. And she believed in bringing all her heart, her soul and her mind into God’s service.
Rachel Hicks on the Separations, from her Journal, p. 35-36
And as I write this, after years of reflection and observation of the effect of promulgating opinions and doctrines not essential in themselves, especially on the mission of Christ in that prepared body, I am confirmed in the belief that it tends to unprofitable discussion and controversy, and often to alienation of love for one another. Therefore, these should be avoided, taking in lieu thereof His own testimony of Himself, that He came “to bear witness unto the Truth,” testifying of those eternal principles that are indispensable to the happiness of mankind in this world and the world to come. Had all the members of our Society lived in the live and power of the religion He taught, the opinions our worthy predecessors were educated to believe concerning the depravity of our nature by Adam’s transgression, and the propitiation for the sins of mankind by the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the Cross, would have been left behind as non-essential, without controversy or debate.
Had love of God abounded in the heart, it would have been seen that obedience to Him in all things was the plan of salvation ordained by Him from the foundation of the world, and we should then have remained a united people of great influence in gathering the nations to the peaceable kingdom of Him who was ushered into the world with the anthem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good-will to men!”
The Laws in Relation to Women (1853)
In reference to our reform, even admitting that Paul did mean preach, when he used that term, he did not say that the recommendation of that time, was to be applicable to the churches of all after time. We have here, I had liked to have said, the Reverend Antoinette Brown. She is familiar enough with these passages to present some of them to you; for it is important when the Bible is thus appealed to, and thus perverted, that it should be read with another pair of spectacles. We have been so long pinning our faith on other peoples’ sleeves that we ought to begin examining these things daily, ourselves, to see whether they are so; and we should find on comparing text with text, that a very different construction might be put upon them. Some of our early Quakers, not seeing how far they were to be carried, became Greek and Hebrew scholars, and they found that the text would bear other translations as well as other constructions. All Bible commentators agree that the Church of Corinth, when the Apostle wrote, was in a state of great confusion. They fell into discussion and controversy; and in order to quiet this state of things, and bring the Church to a greater propriety, the command was given out that women should keep silence, and it was not permitted them to speak, except by asking questions at home. In the same epistle to the same Church, Paul gave express directions how women shall prophesy, which he defines to be preaching, “speaking to men” for “exhortation and comfort.” He recognized them in prophesying and praying. The word translated servant, is applied to a man in one part of the scripture, and in another it is translated minister.
Now that same word you will find might be applied to Phebe, a Deaconess. That text was quoted in the sermon of John Chambers, and he interlarded it with a good deal of his ideas, that women should not be goers abroad, and read among other things “that their wives were to be teachers.” But the “wives” properly translated would be “Deaconesses.”
. . . .Again, I would ask in all seriousness, by what right does Orthodoxy give the invidious name of Infidel, affix the stigma of infidelity, to those who dissent from cherished opinions? What right have the advocates of moral reform, the Woman’s Rights movement, the Abolitionists, the temperance advocates, or others, to call in question any man’s religious opinions? It is the assumption of bigots, but I mean the same kind of bigotry which Jesus rebuked
Now we hold Jesus up as an example when we perceive the assumption of a clergyman that all who venture to dissent from a given interpretation must necessarily be infidels; and thus denounce them as infidel. . . . But the Bible will never sustain him in making this use of its pages, instead of using it rationally, and selecting such portions of it as would tend to corroborate the right, and these are plentiful; for notwithstanding the teaching of Theology, and men’s arts in the religious world, men have ever responded to righteousness and truth, when it has been advocated by the servants of God, so that we need not fear to bring truth to an intelligent examination of the Bible. It is a far less dangerous assertion to say that God is unchangeable, than that man is infallible.
THE GREAT SEPARATION — HICKS AND EVANS
Evans was in the forefront of the Evangelical Quakers in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Thirteen years Hicks’ junior, Evans grew up in a well-to-do Philadelphia Quaker family and eventually became a spokesman for the wealthy urban leadership of the Yearly Meeting. A house-builder by trade, he was a tall, athletic man who wore traditional Friends’ clothing and refused to join the militia during the Revolutionary War. At one point he abstained from use of slave products, but later gave up the practice and resented Hicks’ advocacy of this type of reform. Evans stood firm for a fixed doctrine and on at least one occasion debated with Hicks over doctrinal issues. At the same time, “he could not agree with Joseph John Gurney that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are ‘three distinct and separate persons,’ or that the Holy Scriptures (valuable though they be) are the primary rule of Faith and Practice.”
Evans supported the publication of numerous books reprinting journals or sermons concerned with “disseminating a correct knowledge of the principles which distinguish the Society of Friends, the general circulation of the approved writings of those members whose lives were devoted to the cause of Christ, and distinguished by conformity to his sacred precepts.” He signed the minute of support which endorsed the Exposition of the Faith of the Religious Society of Friends in the Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Religion. In a meeting at Pine Street, Dec. 10, 1826, in which Hicks spoke at length (a portion of that ministry is included later in this volume), Evans rose after Hicks and rejected all he had to say, asserting:
I believe it is right for me to say, that our Society believed in the atonement, mediation, and intercession of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — that by him all things were created, in heaven and in earth. . . Great efforts are making, to make people believe that Jesus Christ was no more than a man, but we do not believe in any such thing, nor can we receive any such doctrine, or anything which goes to inculcate such an idea.
In the Orthodox perspective, the Bible is the authentic word of God, divinely inspired and the unfailing source of truth. Sin is the natural status of all people. No person can be redeemed from sin without the love and grace of God and without conscious acknowledgment of his or her own sinfulness and repentance. This is only possible through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Since God provides release from sin through Jesus Christ, without which each of us is condemned to hell, the Evangelical’s primary goal is bringing others to this salvation. During the early nineteenth century these views became increasingly prevalent among Friends both in Britain and in the United States. Individuals traveling in the ministry who carried these beliefs provided an attractive alternative to some of the isolationism and quietism among Friends.
Elias Hicks was a powerful minister for over fifty years — a farmer and carpenter from Long Island, New York, who traveled over 40,000 miles in the ministry, by horseback and carriage over dirt roads, always with the full support of his meeting. A tireless advocate of the anti-slavery movement, Hicks was profoundly mystical and concerned to follow the inner guidance of the spirit and to be obedient to the Light. His was a “theology of experience, personal and mystical, tempered and to some degree hampered by the necessity of putting it into words.”
Intensely dependent on following that Light, Hicks rejected all “creaturely” influence. He found all institutions of learning to be dubious at best, believing that reason is barren and sterile without the power of the Divine Light and the Grace of God. Salvation cannot come through human will or activities such as Bible study, preaching, or discipline; these can only reflect the spiritual reality.
Hicks accepted the Bible as an accurate but secondary source. The Light was the infallible guide, bearing witness to the truth of the Scriptures. He distinguished clearly between Christ and the person Jesus, who lived without sin and was a model for all men. But the historical Jesus is not the savior. Instead, the real source of salvation is the inward Christ. Hicks stated his beliefs in these terms:
Who and What is Jesus Christ? It is an eternal principle in the soul, and nothing else can be Christ our Savior; . . . no other Savior but such an one who takes his residence in the very center of the soul of man can possibly produce salvation to man.
Salvation is obtained by all who desire it, when they yield to the Christ within the human heart, crucifying the sins of the flesh, and doing the will of God. In our coming into the obedience of Christ, we take upon us his divine nature . . . and this is Christ in us the hope of glory. . . Therefore all the varied names given in Scripture to this divine light and life, such as Emanuel, Jesus, sent of God, great Prophet, Christ our Lord, Unction, Anointed, &c. mean one and the same thing; and are nothing less nor more, than the spirit and power of God in the soul of man, as his Creator, Preserver, Condemner, Redeemer, Savior, Sanctifier, and Justifier.
The Quaker historian Rufus Jones asserts that the most controversial of Hicks’s views were his ideas on sin and salvation, particularly his rejection of the idea that through Adam’s fall all mankind inherited sin forever. Hicks saw sin as a turning away from God’s will, a disobedience that originates in the self-will of the “creature.” Inward repentance and surrender of the will are necessary for salvation. The death of Jesus of Nazareth is a symbol. “The real, true cross is the Light, life and Spirit in the soul, reproving for sin and calling for crucifixion of the self-will.” Hicks was also a strong advocate of the abolition of slavery and found himself in serious disagreement with the leadership in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting over issues such as the use of “prize goods,” that is, items made by slave labor, and the growing wealth and ostentation of some members.
Hicks articulated one extreme of Quaker doctrine in his emphasis on the Light within, but for the first thirty to forty years of his preaching he was not controversial. The “Orthodox” Quakers, in contrast, veered sharply to the other source of Divine guidance, the Scriptures, as the primary authority. The result was sharp division as the latter group, often the Elders of the Meetings, attempted to more clearly define “Orthodoxy” and moved to enforce consistency of doctrine. For some “Hicksites,” it was the act of enforcement to which they objected, not the doctrines. Samuel Janney, a Hicksite and respected historian of the time, wrote:
The doctrines I then held were those called Orthodox, but I could not endure the spirit of bitterness and party zeal by which those doctrines were too often accompanied.