# 16 Inazo Nitobe – A Quaker Builder of Bridges between the Japanese and the Americans

Three weeks ago, Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicated his Chrysantheum Throne. On May 1st, his son Naruhito took his place. This event led me to think back on the number of wonderful Japanese connections I’ve had in my life, beginning with a Japanese-American friend at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in the 1960s to a Japanese student and her family at the International School in Tanzania, to a Japanese Quaker couple at Pendle Hill, and the former tutor to Crown Prince Akihito, Elizabeth Gray Vining, who lived in a cottage on the edge of Pendle Hill campus. All of these will be woven into story posts in the coming weeks. First, I wanted to know more about Quaker beginnings in Japan. That led me to Inazo Nitobe.

It was 1867 on the main Honshu Island of Japan. The five year old boy hid behind a large pot in the courtyard of his palatial home. The tears ran down his cheeks. He knew sons of a samurai were not supposed to cry. Only two days before he had ridden proudly, perched in front of his father as they inspected crops almost ready for harvest. His father was so pleased with his large farm. He shared with Inazo stories about the amazing work of the boy’s grandfather in reclaiming hundreds of acres with his innovative irrigation projects. The father loved spending time with this youngest of his eight children. But suddenly, the father was dead, and the little boy was so sad. He choked back his tears when he heard the gentle voice of his mother calling. She hugged him to her, dried his tears, and whispered, “Tomorrow you will begin school. Your father would have been so proud.” It was a day he had anticipated with great expectations.

Inazo would remember that day seven years later when his mother died just before he started studies at the Tokyo English School. He loved school and had done very well, having won prizes in his science, literature, and English classes. At Tokyo English School and later at the Sapporo Agricultural College, he was introduced to Christianity and the Bible. He found Quakers in Baltimore, where he began graduate school in 1884. The silence of Quaker worship spoke to him. He found the universality of the Inner Light and the idea of continuing revelation both intellectually and spiritually powerful. The members of the Quaker meeting were very welcoming and introduced him to Quakers in Philadelphia.

In 1885, he and a friend from his days at Sapporo were invited to tea with a group of Quaker women. Members of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Association of Friends, they had worked for three years to find contacts to make sending Quakers to Japan to open work there possible. Inazo put them in contact with Sen Tsuda and his wife who agreed to house an American couple, Joseph and Sarah Cosand ,when they arrived in Shiba to start a girls’ school and later a small Friends meeting.

Inazo met a lovely Quaker woman in Philadelphia, Mary Patterson Elkington. When he returned to that city after studying in Germany and being awarded a PhD in agricultural economics, they continued a relationship nourished by much letter writing and sought approval to be married under the care of her Friends meeting. It was not an easy matter! Both her parents and her meeting were strongly opposed. Luckily for Inazo and Mary, her three younger brothers stood by them and supported them throughout the process. Approval finally came. They were married in 1890 and sailed for Japan. Both of them involved themselves in education, Inazo at Sapporo Agricultural College and Mary with his help at a school they founded for working girls in the city.

They reconnected with the Quakers, who had started several small meetings. Several other Americans had joined the Cosands as had Friends from Great Britain and Canada. Japan had been open to the West for only 30 years. In the 1890s there was much competition among Christian groups. The Quakers found they spent much time on the teaching of the history and basic beliefs of Christianity. Their uniqueness would come later. They saw the need for English classes and the building of community. Young men joined and kept the small worship and Bible study groups alive. The idea of centralized decision making among the groups became a reality and helped the groups grow. Manji Kato introduced a “peace” focus while others set up practical skills classes and branched out to do service projects such as flood relief. Kyuhei Kikuchi, a primary school principal, established “New Life” societies to train the young men to do all kinds of work in their villages, supporting them in putting their faith in action.

Meanwhile Inazo Nitobe developed his “bridge across the Pacific” program to promote understanding between the Japanese and American people and governments. He wore himself out, teaching, supporting, and innovating. While resting in California and western Canada, he wrote a biography of William Penn, the first Quaker book authored by a Japanese writer. He also wrote his most famous Bushido: the Soul of Japan. The first expressed his understanding of the Quaker message through the life and writing of Penn. The latter opened the Japanese culture and moral values to the West and also encouraged national pride in its foundation.

Always energetic, Inazo accepted a posting to Taiwan, where he served the Japanese colonial government at the Sugar Bureau, helping the Taiwanese improve their sugar production by 40%. He also saw the need for developing more humanitarian colonial policies, empowerment of local leadership and mutual understanding between the authorities and the people. He began to be recognized for his ability to bring groups together to listen to each other.

In 1911, Inazo traveled to the United States to help remove negative feelings toward Japanese immigrants there, making 166 lectures at colleges and universities including Haverford, Earlham, and Brown. He emphasized his bridge across the oceans idea, trying to get people to listen, talk, and erase the fear of the people who are not like themselves. Back at the University of Tokyo, he continued to push these humanitarian ideas. With encouragement from his wife Mary, he assumed the presidency of the Tokyo Women’s Christian College and began to develop public support for women’s rights through education and leadership opportunities. The Japanese opened the right to vote to Japanese women before the United States granted this right in 1920.

Inazo and Mary were asked to tour Europe to see the damage suffered during World War I. While in Europe, Nitobe was asked to serve as the Under Secretary of the League of Nations in Geneva. They spent seven years there. Inazo often served as the spokesperson for the League of Nations and helped developed the program that would become UNESCO under the later United Nations.

In 1927, they returned to Japan. Mary went back to serving among the working [poor, especially women, and encouraging young girls to stay in school. Inazo got involved in the labor movement and supported cooperatives and the universal medical care system started by another Quaker, Toyochiko Kagawa. He served in the House of Peers, the upper house of the Japanese Diet and tried to discourage the government’s military buildup. He supported the Japan Peace Society and the peace committees of Japan Yearly Meeting. His final call to the Japanese people and the world was the hope that “not passion but REASON, not self-interest but JUSTICE, be the arbiter of races and nations.” When he died in 1933, his memorial service in Tokyo brought out hundreds. From 1981 – 2004, his picture was printed on the 5000 yen note, an honor he would probably have rejected. For the next five years until her death, Mary collected and edited his unpublished manuscripts including a memoir of his childhood reminiscences.

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you think the silence of Quaker worship can bring together people of different backgrounds and ideas?
  • What do you think were the objections of Mary’s parents and meeting to her marriage to Inazo? Why was it important that her three brothers supported them?
  • How did Mary and Inazo live their lives “answering that of God in everyone?”

Books to read:

  • Born in the Year of Courage by Emily Crofford Gr. 4-7
  • Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories by Florence Sakade Gr. K-8
  • Sam Samurai by Jon Scieska Gr. K-2
  • A Primary Source Guide to Japan by Toby Stanton Stewart Gr. 3-6
  • Quakerism in Japan by Edith Sharpless Gr. 8-12 and adults

# 15 Benjamin Lay: Often Misunderstood, Now Recognized – the American Story

Benjamin and Sarah Lay returned to England, first to London, then to the north country. Benjamin was no quieter there. He called members of Quaker meetings to follow the leadings of their conscience, to avoid using slave products especially rum, and to help the poor. Sometimes he disrupted meetings of worship with his warnings against hypocrisy and his calls for the end of slavery. His behavior and his demeanor irritated his listeners. They disowned him though they continued to respect and live in harmony with his wife Sarah.

In 1732 the two sailed for America. They settled in Philadelphia. Benjamin opened a bookselling business. He was shocked to see the behavior of some of the wealthy Quakers. Those who owned slaves angered him. Benjamin felt slavery was killing his beloved Quaker community. He tried hard to make the members understand this. He wrote pamphlets about slavery, prisons, simple living, not using slave-produced goods. He seemed to irritate, not educate.

He and Sarah left Philadelphia and settled on the farm of one of Sarah’s friends, Susanna Morris. They chose a spot near a spring and fashioned a “cottage” home in a hillside cave, much like those of early Quaker settlers who lived in caves until William Penn’s Philadelphia city could be built. Theirs was more comfortable and had room for Benjamin’s library of 200 books. They planted fruit and nut trees, a vegetable and herb garden. Bees gave them honey and goats supplied milk. Benjamin planted flax. He harvested it, spun thread, and wove cloth to make his rough, undyed linen clothes. They lived simply and went to the nearby Quaker meeting every Sunday to worship. Then, sorrow of sorrows, Sarah died.

Benjamin was devastated. Susanna Morris comforted him but to no avail. He retreated to his cave home, where he read and wrote. He gained strength and encouragement from the works of George Fox and William Penn to speak his Truth and live a life using Jesus as his model. Thomas Tryon and the Greek philosopher Diogenes reaffirmed his simple, vegetarian lifestyle. He found Diogenes’ “the love of money is the root of all evil” compatible with his views. He continued to write pamphlets and then finished a book, All Slave-keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. In it he warned against false humility and hypocrisy and called for the immediate abolition of slavery. He never sought approval from the Quaker elders to publish his writing. They would not control his conscience! Deborah Franklin encouraged her husband Ben Franklin to print Lay’s book. He did. The elders of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting disowned him. Still, each Sunday he went to worship at the Abington Meeting.

And, he continued the dramatic public acts that contributed to his disownment. These acts always had a message. When he broke teacups in the market, he warned about the use of slave-produced sugar and the suffering of sugar cane workers. When he broke three smoking pipes in a meetinghouse, one in the men’s section, one in the women’s, and the last in the elders’ section, he called for true gender equality within Friends. He also admonished about the growing of tobacco which involved many workers all year round and encouraged the use of slaves. Benjamin even carried out one of his prophetic performances at an annual meeting in Burlington. There he wore a military uniform under his cloak where he had hidden a sword. When he felt called, he rose to speak. Slowly he drew his sword, raised his Bible high, and stabbed it through and through. A blood red liquid ran down his arm and splattered nearby worshippers. He shouted that they had the blood of those they held in bondage on their souls and were hypocrites and sinners. Men hurried him from the room. He did not resist. It mattered not that the “blood” was only pokeberry juice.

At Abington Meeting, he appeared one Sunday with one pant leg cut away and no shoe on that foot though the snow was piled high. When members worried that he would catch a terrible cold, he stated that they were showing him compassion but did not do the same to slaves that worked outside in winter without adequate clothing to keep them warm. Another time he lay across the meetinghouse door, forcing members to step around or over him into a muddy walkway, calling attention to the working condition of field hands.

Perhaps the act that disturbed Abington Friends most involved a young neighbor boy who disappeared from his home one day. Benjamin was a supporter of education. He often visited local schools. The children enjoyed listening to his Bible stories and tales of his days as a sailor. They helped in his garden and fed his goats. He even taught them to milk the nannies and work with the bees.

On the day in question, he invited the young neighbor to his cave home. They spent the whole day there. Maybe Benjamin let the boy help him spin his flax or weave some cloth. No doubt there were stories told. The day passed. At dusk, Benjamin saw the parents searching everywhere. He left the boy in the cave and walked down to meet the worried couple. Benjamin told them the boy was safe in his cave. He then asked them how they thought the parents of their slave girl felt when their daughter was sold from them due to the greed of her former owner.

The Abington Meeting disowned Benjamin Lay. He continued to attend meeting for worship. He continued to do his duty as he discerned it. When a friend visited him in his final days in 1758 to let him know that the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had agreed to disown members who traded in slaves and would work to reach a decision on slaveowning, Benjamin sighed and gave thanks to God before expressing his surety that he could die in peace. When he died shortly thereafter, he was buried in the Abington cemetery in an unmarked grave, still unrecognized for his message to his beloved community.

The story did not end in that cave in 1759. In 2009, Marcus Rediker’s book, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, was published. It was later reviewed by Stephen W. Angell of the Earlham School of Religion. This led to serious discernment by Friends in England and Abington/Philadelphia. Marcus Rediker was invited to speak at the Abington Meeting. With the work of several members of that meeting a minute was approved on November 12, 2017 and affirmed by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting on July 14, 2018 to declare Benjamin Lay a “Friend of Truth”. This led to a marker of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission being placed on Meetinghouse Road in Jenkintown, PA, paid for by lawyer M. Kelly Tillery and the laying of a stone with both Sarah and Benjamin’s dates in the meeting cemetery near her grave site.. London Yearly Meeting’s Tim Gee spoken movingly when Benjamin Lay was recognized in 2017. He reminded Friends that we need to listen to the message of the spirit even when it is expressed in ways we do not want to hear or when it is tempered by those in power. He also said that as long as racism remains in Quakerism or in the society as a whole, we cannot live with justice and in peace with all.

Questions to ponder:

  • What were the experiences in Benjamin Lay’s life that grounded him in the message he delivered?
  • How did his body and others’ response to it affect their hearing or not hearing his message?
  • Contrast Benjamin and Sarah’s response to their dealing with slavery.
  • What do you think about the dramatic acts Benjamin used to get across his messages?
  • Why do you think Marcus Rediker called Benjamin Lay “revolutionary”?


  • The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolition by Marcus Rediker
  • Memoirs of the Lives of Benjamin Lay and Ralph Sandiford by Roberts Vaux
  • All Slave-keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates by Benjamin Lay
  • “The Rebellious Gnome” in American Eccentrics by Carl Sifakis
  • “Guide to Benjamin Lay’s Cave” at http://www.abingtonmeeting.org provides a map and walking directions to the Jenkintown, PA site near the Abington Meeting
  • A review of Rediker’s book by Stephen W. Angell at quakertheology.org/QT-30-31- Angell-Review-Rediker.html

#14 Benjamin Lay: Often Misunderstood, Now Recognized

The little boy scrambled up the tree and looked out over the rolling hills of his family’s small farm. He saw his father William working in the newly tilled field. He checked the few sheep grazing on the short grasses of the new season. There were new lambs frolicking on unsteady legs. He loved those lambs! They came to him, butted him with their bobbing heads, and followed him back to the enclosure. His mother came outside with a bundle of beddings. She began to shake them in the gentle breeze.

Benjamin Lay was a ten year old boy, though he looked no more than five or six. He was very glad to be outside once again after weeks of fevers and sore limbs. His mother had put poultices on his aching chest and cooled his head with her loving hards and dampened cloths. She massaged his sore limbs, giving them strength. His over large head, jutting chest, hunched back, curved spine, and spindly legs often caused other children to mock him. His big brother John encouraged him while his parents loved and accepted him.

It was 1692 in Copford, England. Benjamin looked forward to the meeting the next day at a neighbor’s farm. It would be a meeting for worship of the Friends of Truth, often called Quakers. He had heard his parents talking about the traveling minister coming to speak. Benjamin’s grandfather had joined this group’s early followers of George Fox as Fox spread his message of the light of God being in every person. His parents had joined soon after their marriage, drawn by the belief that everyone – poor farmers like they were, people who could read and those who could not, men and women, even little boys like their misshapen Benjamin – could speak directly to God. George Fox had been treated roughly when he disturbed church services and called for attenders and the priest to follow the words of Jesus’ Golden Rule. Benjamin’s parents had been called “dissenters” and other names by some of their neighbors.

Benjamin remembered that meeting fifteen years later as he sat atop the riggings of the merchant ship on which he sailed. He looked down on his fellow workers going about their tasks. They were different colors, spoke many languages, some young like he, some older with years at sea. They were his comrades, his new family. Most accepted him and respected his abilities despite his size and shape. A few had taught him to read and write. Their tales of other places were filled with excitement and danger. Some of the stories moved Benjamin deeply. They were tales of former slavery, days of hunger and pain. Their escapes had not been easy. Even the hardships of the sea were nothing by comparison. Others told of service on slave ships to the Americas – the cruelty, the deaths, the bodies tossed overboard. Benjamin vowed never to serve on one of those slave ships.

Having left the sea in his early thirties, Benjamin had married Sarah Smith, a “little person” like he was, and moved to the island of Barbados, where they set up a shop on the wharf. Barbados was the largest slave market in the Americas and the home of many Quakers. These Quakers were sugar cane planters, most slaveowners. Some were very wealthy and had become merchants and shipowners as well.

Benjamin and Sarah were horrified that members of their faith community were involved in the buying, selling, and owning of slaves. One day, Sarah, a gentle, intelligent, recorded minister, went to visit a fellow member to give advice and counsel. She was startled when their tea was interrupted by shouting and cries of pain. Rushing outside, they saw her friend’s husband beating a slave cruelly. This was unusual and certainly not right. When Sarah questioned the Quaker, he responded that the slave needed to know his place and be grateful for it. Sarah went home crying.

At this time, the Lays had sometimes given slaves spoiled food from their store, knowing them to be hungry. They had reported them to the authorities when the slaves stole from their store. Now they were ashamed. They opened their home to the plantation workers, fed them, prayed and read the Bible with them, and even taught them and their children to read and write. They listened to the slaves’ stories and were moved. Benjamin knew that he must lead Quakers, his beloved community, away from this sinful behavior. Sarah agreed. She used her gentle, reasoned nature to admonish them. Benjamin was more direct. He eldered the slaveowners personally and called them out in meeting for worship for holding other people in bondage. Finally the plantation owners and merchants, Quaker and non-Quaker, forced them to leave the island of Barbados.

On the ship back to England, Benjamin and Sarah talked about what had happened in Barbados. Benjamin fumed. He felt betrayed by the behavior of his fellow Quakers. How could they make their slaves work so hard in that heat? Why did they let them go hungry? Why did they not teach them to read and write? Why did so few tell them about the light of God inside all of them? Why did the planters break up families for financial gain? And finally, why did they treat him so badly just because he was a hunchback dwarf from poor beginnings and made them uncomfortable by his speaking?

Sarah listened and tried to calm his anger, reminding him to look within his heart to respond with more love, to answer that part of God he knew was inside every person, even the slaveowners. Benjamin listened to his beloved Sarah, looked out at the sea he had sailed for over ten years and come to love, and felt some calm. He was even more determined than ever of what he was called to do. He would not use anything produced by slaves. He would live a simple life. He would banish slavery forever.

If Benjamin and Sarah Lay’s ship had been lost at sea on their return to England, Quaker and world history would have been a different story. The next post will share the American part of their story.

I’ll post resources and questions to ponder after then next post.

#13 Alice Paul – The Field Still Unplowed

Alice Paul could lift the plow on the row of women’s suffrage. But, there were many rows still unplowed in the field of gender equality in 1920, preparing it for the seeds of change. The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments of 1848 spoke to other areas where women needed justice.

Alice Paul had much to do even though she and her colleagues were exhausted from their suffrage labors. Many of them returned home to take care of their families, others turned to new areas of work, and some just disappeared for a while to recuperate. Alice took a deep breath and tallied the things that needed to be done: pay off the $10,000 NWP debt; find a new home for the organization, rewrite the Susan B. Anthony ERA constitutional amendment, plan education and empowerment of women initiatives to make their votes count, develop international programs to gain gender equality, and recruit a new set of volunteers to do the work. Alice Paul also had need of reflection on mending racial fences to work cooperatively with black women to use their resources creatively. She needed to look at working women and listen to their aspirations, problems, and circumstances and use their strengths and ideas productively. She needed to call on women of privilege to step outside of their comfort zones and social/economic prejudices and join the fight for gender equality. By 1930 at 45 years old, Alice Paul had accomplished many of those goals plus completing three law degrees. Harder was the work on the last three.

From the rewrite of the ERA and its reintroduction in the Congress in 1923 to its final passage in Congress in 1972, Alice Paul followed this single focus. At times she seemed to compromise her direction as she worked for inclusion of gender equality declarations in federal law, state statutes, and international charters. Always, she worked to convince the Congress, the League of Nations (later the United Nations), and leaders of foreign governments that empowering women empowered everyone. She worked on. In her last five years, she was betrayed financially by members of her family. Only by the kindness of a cousin did she spend her final days at a Friends retirement home near her birthplace, weakened by a stroke but still seeking support for ratification of the ERA.

Why has Alice Paul so engaged my research and reflection over the last month of so? Why do I want others to look at this Quaker woman as a guide to let their lives speak? From the beginnings in England, Quakers have used both honey and vinegar to persuade others to follow their leadings. Sometimes religious convictions got in the way. Alice Paul was more of a vinegary type, strong in her convictions. I was so fascinated by her own words that I read the nearly 600 pages of her six day conversations with Amelia Fry when Alice was in her mid 80s. Sometimes she made me angry at her blind spots, her insensitivity to the lives of others. At other times, I wanted to stand up and cheer at her intelligence, energy, and cleverness.

It was the mix of her strengths and weaknesses that kept me engaged. She was a hero, not a saint. Alice Paul was an ordinary Quaker girl who as an adult did extraordinary things. She was tenacious and resilient with a flair for showmanship. She used strong public action to get notice and support. She was willing to commit civil disobedience and suffer the consequences. She had high expectations for her followers but was often insensitive to their needs and aspirations. Finally, she held the people in power responsible for the changes she sought. What an example for 2019!


  • Amelia Fry’s conversations with Alice Paul are available on the internet. They are chronologically arranged for the most part and contain details of so many incidents that could be both fiction and nonfiction topics.
  • Copies of the card files used to develop lobbying strategies for members of Congress can be found at the Alice Paul Institute.

#12 Alice Paul: The 19th Amendment and Her Testimony for Equality

Alice Paul came home from England exhausted but determined. She had a direction for her future. Though not seasoned with her Quaker community, her testimony for gender equality as expressed in her push for women’s suffrage was clear. And, she had a friend, Lucy Burns, whom she had met at a police station in England after both were arrested at a Pankhurst-led rally. Lucy was ten years older, principled, energetic, and intelligent. Like Alice’s father, her father was a banker, her upbringing comfortable. She had been educated at Vassar and appreciated Alice’s knowledge and intelligence.

Alice returned to work with the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with many of the women she remembered from her teenage years. The organization was working state by state to get women the vote and had gained some success in a number of Western states. Alice asked to run the Congressional Committee in Washington, DC. There, her decision to work for a federal constitutional amendment declaring women’s right to vote soon formed. She enlisted Lucy Burns and sought permission to hold a procession down Pennsylvania Avenue on the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913. After much discussion and Alice’s promise to raise the money to pay for it, approval came and planning began. There was much to be done. The bureaucracy was often unhelpful and not willing to give permits or approve Alice’s plans. She persevered. After all, her father had once said, “When there is a job to be done, I bank on Alice.”

The “procession” was entitled “Ideals and Virtues of American Womanhood” and was to include bands, floats, mounted patrols, and thousands of marchers – pioneers of the suffragist movement, women representatives of workers and professionals, and men supporting the call for an amendment. The procession was to be led by the beautiful socialite from New York, Inez Mulholland, an activist lawyer, wearing Grecian robes and cape, riding on a white horse. A tableau depicting the struggles and progress of men and women in America would greet the marchers at the end of the procession. Alice had learned about showmanship from the Pankhursts in England. Money was tight, but Alice knew how to finagle an extra donation and how to spend the money economically. She even went to Congress to get them to mandate police cooperation in protecting the participants.

The big day – March 3, 1913 – arrived. Thousands were in town for Woodrow Wilson’s swearing in ceremonies the next day. A controversy had arisen over the presence of black women marchers in the march. Alice feared white women from the South and other more conservative areas would not come if the black women marched. Other leaders of NAWSA agreed. They also were afraid Southern Congressmen would not back the amendment in the states or at the federal level. Alice asked black suffragists not to participate. They refused. She asked them to walk separately at the back of the procession. Perhaps she knew of the “black back benches” at the Arch Street Quaker Meeting. Some of the members of the many black women’s clubs supporting suffrage agreed. Sorority members from Howard University were joined by Mary Church Terrell. Others, like Ida B. Wells, a prominent member of the Illinois delegation and a founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago did not and refused to go to the back of the procession.

Fortunately, there were cooler and more principled heads. Integrated groups from Michigan and New York had come. Ida B. Wells joined the Illinois group late and walked in the front row between her white colleagues, Belle Squires and Virginia Brooks. (They were to return to Chicago and push through state legislation making all women eligible to vote in local and federal elections just three months later.} . The men’s contingent, led by a Quaker from Philadelphia, agreed to walk in the rear, giving space between the white groups to the front and the black ones behind it.

While the procession began with a flourish, the 5000 marchers were soon obstructed by hundreds of men, shouting obscenities, pushing, shoving, and dragging women from the advancing line. The New York and Pennsylvania guards, the Boy Scouts, and other supporters were unable to offer enough protection. Policemen did little, some rather enjoying the chaos. Poor Helen Keller, guided by a friend, was so afraid, hurt, and upset that she could not give her speech. Medical people could not reach the injured. Finally, Fort Myers cavalrymen arrived to steer the onlookers from Pennsylvania Avenue and allow some of the marchers to reach their destination. Alice was somewhat devastated by the violence but pleased with the media publicity and the public’s response and discussion of women’s suffrage. She was also elated when Sen. Joseph Bristow and Rep. Frank Mondell of Kansas introduced a federal constitutional amendment into both houses of Congress on April 3, 1913.

She went to the White House for another meeting with Woodrow Wilson requesting his support for a constitutional amendment. When he refused to give his support, Alice and Lucy went back to the drawing board. She remembered the advice of her Swarthmore College math professor, Susan Cunningham, “Use thy gumption.” They left NAWSA and formed the Congressional Union and later the National Women’s Party. Her college classmate at Swarthmore, Mabel Vernon, came to join them and continued to serve in many ways for five years. A headquarters across from the White House was procured, so Woodrow Wilson and the members of the wealthy all-male Cosmos Club would be aware of their presence everyday. They raised funds from some of their rich friends like Alva Belmont, another New York socialite and enlisted volunteers. Alice developed her own brand of civil disobedience, The Silent Sentinels, a group of women picketing daily in front of the White House, starting in January 1917. They carried banners made in the colors of the movement – green for hope, purple for dignity, and white for purity. Some added gold for value. As the campaign continued, the banners often used Wilson’s own words to point out his hypocrisy and lack of honest support for their cause. They carried on, getting volunteers for individual state days, specific profession days, and member days. When WWI began, the picketing carried on despite widespread criticism and accusations of lack of patriotism. Hecklers shouted at them. The leaders cautioned against responding in kind and arguing with the hecklers even when they pushed and shoved. This was a kind of militant passive resistance that Gandhi would have approved, not the more violent Pankhurst rendition he rejected in his visit to England.

Then arrests for obstructing traffic began. Some of the women were taken with Alice to the D.C. Jail. There Alice was treated very badly, refused “political prisoner” status, and put in solitary confinement. She went on a hunger strike, was force fed three times a day, and threatened with being taken to an insane asylum. Others were taken to the Occoquan Workhouse, a rat-infested, dirty, noisy, crowded facility, run by William Whittaker and Minnie Herndon. The food was limited, worm-infested, cold, and tasteless. Complaints were not heeded. Even the oldest picketers like Mary Nolan, a 73 year old disabled woman, were mistreated. Showers were infrequent, soap non-existent, and linens filthy.

On Nov. 14, 1917, the picketers, who included Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, were subjected to a “Night of Terror.” Brutal beatings and other tortuous actions occurred. An older woman suffered a heart attack and was left untreated for hours. Women were dragged down the hallways. Others were strung up by their arms and left that way. News did get out. A lawyer supporter, Dudley Malone, made sure the press and the public received the details. Negative public and Congressional response led to all prisoners being released. A judge ruled the latest arrests for obstructing traffic illegal. Woodrow Wilson, wanting a positive legacy, came out in support of the amendment in early 1918. It took several votes before passing in Congress on June 14, 1919 and going to the states for ratification. A vibrant campaign, sparked by hard work, sacrifice, and creativity, followed with delegations to states, a Suffrage Special train across the country, and a California to Congress automobile trek. Alice, known for her athletic ability and endurance in high school and college, maintained her strength. Only once did she retreat to Paulsdale Farm for a short rest. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment when Harold T. Burn, a 24 year old legislator responded positively to a telegram plea from his mother and voted “yes.” Hooray for Mrs. Burns! Hooray for a son who listens to his mother!

Questions to consider:

  • If you could go back in time, what would you have told Alice Paul before the March 1913 Parade about black women participating or being asked to walk at the back of the parade?
  • What are the pros and cons of being passionately focused on a single issue as Alice Paul was?
  • Name 8-10 character traits that Alice Paul expressed and describe whether you think they were good or bad and why.
  • If you had been a picketer outside the White House, why would you have continued to go day after day, week after week, month after month? What are other ways you could have participated or helped those who picketed?
  • How does media help or hurt people trying to bring social justice or make the world better for everyone?


  • you.tube.com 6/8/2015 ” Women Vote in New Jersey”
  • http://www.nj.gov/state/historical/it-happened-here/
  • Mama Went to Jail for the Vote by Katherine Karr – a picture book for Gr. K-2, well presented but lacks any pictures or references to women of color
  • Miss Paul and the President by Dean Robbins – another picture book for Gr. K-2, describing Alice Paul’s interactions with President W. Wilson
  • A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen by Kathryn Lasky, a Dear America selection for Gr. 3-5
  • Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote, 21 Activities by Kerrie Logan Hollihan, hands-on activities for Gr. 5-8
  • HerStory by Katherine Halligan for Gr. 5-8
  • Suffragists in Washington, DC: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote by Rebecca Boggs Roberts for Gr. 6-12
  • African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965 by Cynthia Neverdon for Gr. 9-12 and adults

#11 Alice Paul: Women’s Vote, Her Single Focus – Childhood and Young Adulthood

Alice Paul’s story raises several continuing questions for me: the responsibility of leaders for their supporters and active followers and the best way to write about their “warts,” the shortcomings that sometimes hurt others. The beginning of her story before the American campaign for a constitutional amendment gives me important background to deal with these two questions in the next posts.

Alice Paul was born on her Quaker family’s historic home, Paulsdale Farm, near Moorestown, New Jersey, on January 11, 1885. The area, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, had been settled by a large number of Quakers in the late 17th and early 18th. They built meetinghouses as centers of their communities. The meetings supported the equality of women from the beginning and established schools where boys and girls received similar education. From 1776 to 1807, women had the state constitutional right to vote, confirmed in 1790 and 1797 by the inclusive and specific use of “men” and “women” and “his” and “her” in the state documents.

Alice Paul’s father, William Mickle Paul, descended from the earliest Quakers in the area, was an influential banker and a leader in his Quaker meeting, which had followed Elias Hicks at the time of the Quaker schism in 1827. The Hicksite meeting supported gender equality, abolition, and social justice. He was always very busy, had high expectations for all four of his children, and was strict and detached from most of his family. Alice’s mother, Tacie Parry Paul, was different in a number of ways. Her father, William Parry, had been one of the founders of Swarthmore College, a friend of Lucretia and James Mott. Tacie had attended Swarthmore but had to leave when she married William Paul as the college did not allow married women to enroll. Tacie was a generous, kind, and supportive person, interested in her children’s activities, and open to new ideas. She was active in her Quaker meeting and enrolled Alice and her three younger siblings – William, Helen, and Parry – in Moorestown Friends School. They also did farm and house chores though the heavy work was done by hired labor. Although the family lived simply, by Alice’s teen years the farm had electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing.

Alice was an excellent student, graduating at the top of her class. Her father was proud of her academic achievements and usually her spunk. She learned the value of hard work and carrying a project to completion. She was shy, but known to do things her own way, something that sometimes puzzled her father. When the other children, like most of their classmates, rode in a carriage to school, Alice went by horseback across the fields. Her mother was involved with the National Association for Woman’s Suffrage (NAWS) and often took Alice to the meetings with her as a companion. In her early years, Alice did not find the meetings very engaging, but in her teens the business piqued her interest. “Gender equality was always present.” Her Quaker role models were her mother, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony. Raised in a comfortable Quaker home, Alice lacked contact with the poor and people of color and thus had little sympathy or understanding of the problems they had and the lives they led.

When Alice went to Swarthmore College at 16, she experienced newfound freedom and an increased world of knowledge and ideas. She enjoyed her studies and began to have a wider circle of friends. Her father died after her first year, but it changed her life little though she felt freer to break rules she found silly. She sometimes delighted her roommates by making chocolate fudge by with a gaslight and breaking curfew to roam the town and return with her discoveries. She found dancing and music, never allowed at home, to be fun activities. Her male contacts were limited by strict college rules. Not even riding on the same sled was allowed. Chosen to be the Ivy Poet and present her poem at graduation, she worried about such a public performance. Her friend, Mabel Vernon, helped her prepare and she was able to carry out her task.

Following her graduation with a degree in biology, she applied to the New York School of Philanthropy, now Columbia School of Social Work, where students lived in a building near their poor, mostly immigrant clients. It was a world totally new to her. She worked hard to improve their lives but found the bureaucracy an impediment to change. Frustrated, she completed her studies at the University of Pennsylvania in sociology, economics, and political science. Then she used a Quaker scholarship to attend Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center in Birmingham, England. While there, she took economics courses as the first woman in the commerce department of the local university and traveled to Berlin to learn German.

On a trip to London, she met Cristabel Pankhurst, a radical suffrage activist with a fervor that touched Alice and caused the seed planted in her childhood at those NAWS committee meetings to burst forth. Why? Alice was 20 years old, far from home, newly on her own, and still fretting over her inability to make changes in the lives she touched in New York. Her female spirit was bruised. She was in England, the birthplace of Quakerism, where young people had followed George Fox, ready to suffer persecution as they responded to the “call.” Working with the Pankhursts, she saw a possibility for her future and became a “heart and soul” convert to women’s suffrage. Emmeline Pankhurst and her two daughters saw not only commitment but also intellectual skills and boundless energy. They welcomed her and helped bring her into a world of demonstrations, street speeches, marches, and sometimes militant responses to government officials and politicians unwilling to support their call for women’s suffrage. The Pankhursts held those in power responsible for needed change, supporters or not.

Alice Paul found passing out fliers and the organizational newspaper, Vote for Women, a dirty, noisy, sometimes dangerous task. She was not brave by nature and at first frustrated by her own lack of boldness. She reached back to her childhood persistence and became good at speaking on street corners, no longer terrified by hecklers or the objects they hurled. Joining the Pankhursts to pay her living expenses, she found Emmeline Pankhurst to be autocratic despite her democratic goal, a demander of loyalty, a master of tactics and detail, courageous, and charismatic. When the campaign led to rock throwing and window breaking, the suffragists ended up being arrested and jailed. There, Alice followed the Pankhursts’ lead to demand “political” status to provide some benefits not offered to regular prisoners and then to hunger strikes. The latter led to force-feeding, an increasingly painful experience. Alice endured and took a long time to reveal to her mother the extent of her activities and their consequences. She saw the movement getting some results. That is what she wanted. It was her introduction to “passive resistance,” at least in the Pankhurst style. Her mother accepted this Quaker explanation for “civil disobedience” but did not understand Alice’s transformation from a “mild-mannered girl.” Her cousin Mickle Paul supported her independent thought and actions based on her testimony as recalling those of her Quaker relatives in earlier days.

In 1909, Alice, totally exhausted and still recuperating from the injuries of her prison treatment, came home to Paulsdale Farm. She rested for a short while and then returned to the University of Pennsylvania to complete her PhD studies, stimulated by a strong desire to know more about politics and the sociology of change.

The next post will follow Alice Paul’s story from the beginning of her American campaign for a constitutional amendment to get women the vote through her 50+ years working for the ERA amendment and international recognition of gender equality.

Questions to consider:

  • How did Alice Paul’s family relationships and Quaker upbringing influence her early commitment to gender equality?
  • If you could go back in time, what questions would you ask Alice Paul about her movement from her “patience, prayer, and petition” approach to making a better world in her early days to her positive response to the Pankhursts’ more confrontational approach?
  • Alice Paul had an active, engaging mind. How does that show up in her childhood, teenage, and young adult academic pursuits?


  • A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballet by Mary Walton
  • True Life of Alice Paul by Dona Herweck Rice
  • Women Who Dared by Linda Skeers
  • “It Happened Here: New Jersey, Women’s Suffrage: Crash Course US History #31” 9/26/2013, you.tube 3/20/2014
  • “Alice Paul: How Her Quaker Roots Shaped Her Gender Activism,” by Jessica Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor, 1/11/2016

#10 Rachael Robinson Elmer – Sharing Her Gifts with Others

Rachael Robinson Elmer had many gifts. She was musical, artistic, a good writer, and a talented speaker. When she was a teenager, her father told her to concentrate on one thing. She chose art and filled her life with its beauty and way of communicating her caring for others and the world around her.

Rachael was born on a Ferrisburgh, Vermont farm on July 28, 1878. Her father Rowland was a farmer, conservationist, artist, and writer. Her mother Anna was an artist and teacher. Rachael grew up in a Quaker home where there were books, music, interesting people and stories of the Underground Railroad, and folktales of the area, farming, fishing, and hunting. She looked out her window and saw Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains, the fields dotted with sheep and cows, and the colors of the forests. She and her father took many walks in the countryside in place of her”female” chores in the house.

She was the first child of older parents though sister Mary and brother Rowland would come later. From the time she was little she drew the flora and fauna around her, filling the pages of sketchbooks her mother bought her or her father made for her. Like her father had when he was small, she also covered the margins and covers of books, the backs of letters and farm receipts, cereal boxes, and a wall or two with her detailed pictures of what she saw. Her classmates loved her sketches and paintings as well as her cheerful and kind manner. “She brought joy to every occasion,” one of them shared. Every week she and her mother took the train into Burlington for art classes. At 12, she was enrolled in a correspondence course in art from the Chautauqua Society, where the director recognized her as one of the most talented students he’d ever had.

At 14, she was invited to New York City to take classes with live models. Can you imagine a young teenager from the Vermont hills encountering a crowded urban center? In fact, she loved it! Each time she came back for her classes with Max Ernst, she discovered new favorite spots to visit and paint. Armed with more education at Goddard Academy in Barre, Vermont, two years of teaching in Burlington and Ferrisburgh, and tutoring from Anna in color, composition, and perspective, she returned to New York. She studied under Impressionist painter Hassam Childe and got work illustrating for several children’s book publishers.

When a Quaker friend sent her a postcard from London, not a black and white photographic-like one, but a lovely fine art painting, she was almost moved to tears. When her friend encouraged her with the words, “Our city is surely as lovely and thee could serve her well,” Rachael knew she had been called to a new task. She roamed the city, painting her favorite spots and then spent two years and at least three pairs of shoes looking for a publisher to create postcards from her paintings. Finally, P.F. Volland in Chicago agreed, the postcards were published in 1914, and the postcard industry was changed forever. The fine art paintings sold for 25 cents at the best boutiques and were an immediate success.

She continued her illustrating and was praised by her employers for her detail, color, and liveliness of her characters. She was never without work. When she married Robert France Elmer, a widowed banker, she found new love and support. Her husband often took over the cooking and housework to give Rachael time and space for her artistic endeavors. Together, they entertained and shared their home with others. During World War I, they often invited young soldiers to their home, feeding them, caring for the sick, and boosting morale. Rachael understood how scared and homesick these young men from farms and cities were as they waited to ship overseas or came back from the war, injured and weighed down with the memories of the violence. She did not agree with war as the answer but was called to fill their lives with beauty, joy, and hope. She’d never done much cartooning as had her father, but she filled the walls of the soldiers’ canteens with posters and murals to make them laugh and give them memories of home.

On February 13, 1919, Rachael Robinson Elmer died of influenza, probably infected by one of those young soldiers. She was mourned by her family and friends and remembered by villagers in France who had been able to plant trees destroyed in the war with funds Rachael had raised. She was also remembered fondly by former students and classmates for her charm, inner and outer beauty, generous nature, and sense of fun.

Her home, the Rokeby Farm, was turned into a museum in 1961, when the last Robinson family member died and left the property for that purpose. Today, from May to October, the museum and the old farm house are open to visitors. Recently, the museum turned over 15,000 family letters to the library at Middlebury College. These letters contain vivid pictures of life on the farm in Ferrisburgh, adventures in the cities where family members worked, studied, and traveled, concerns for the health and behavior of relatives, and social justice activities of generations of Robinsons.

Questions to consider:

  • Why do you think Quakers include stewardship of one’s gifts as an important part of the testimony of integrity?
  • How can adults help children recognize their gifts and find good ways to share them with others?
  • Rachael was good at many things. Why did her father suggest she choose one and focus on it?
  • Rachael’s mother suggested she “follow her bliss.” Is that the same kind of choice her father suggested? How or how note?


  • Rokeby Museum, 4334 Route 7, Ferrisburgh, VT 05456, 802/877-3406, director@rokeby.org – exhibits, visits, programs, and educational kits
  • National Gallery of Art Print Room, Washington, DC – prints of all 12 postcards are available to view by appointment
  • “Wish You Were Here” – New York City postcards by Rachael Robinson Elmer, https:www.youtube.com/watch?v+gi4_Wylfvyo
  • Women’s History presentation – https://www.vpr.org/post/williamson-womens-history-month-rachael-robinson-elmer

# 9 The Grimke Sisters – A Message from the Past Still Speaks in 2019

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s been a day to recognize the sheroes of the past and all others still speaking for women’s and other human rights. We need to know about those early seekers of social justice who can still speak to us today.

I’ve chosen the Grimke sisters – Sarah and Angelina, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1792 and 1805. Their father, John, was a state supreme court judge, a wealthy planter, and a former Revolutionary War officer. Their mother, Mary Smith, was from one of the oldest families in South Carolina. Their father had many slaves on his Beaufort plantation and at his large house in Charleston. Theirs was a life of white privilege.

Sarah was the fifth of fourteen children, Angelina the last. Sarah asked to be her sister’s godmother though only 13. She was to “guide and protect” her little sister, a task she took very seriously. The girls were always quite close. They experienced slavery primarily from the owner’s side. Both had two servants – a nurse maid and a companion of the child’s age. Sarah’s father was very strict and sometimes punished her by sending her to the fields to shell corn and pick cotton to show her how lucky she was. She saw the hardships and brutality of slavery and grew to detest it.

At five or six, she saw a slave being whipped. She burst into tears and ran away from home down to the wharf. She met a kindly sea captain and asked him to take her any place where there was no slavery. He listened kindly, but turned her over to her nurse maid Mauna who hurried to her home. As soon as she could read, she taught her companion and others to read and write and held Sunday school classes as well until her father stopped her. At eight, when her companion died, she refused to have another one. Otherwise, she was a kind, cheerful child, who loved to learn and had a questioning curiosity. Sometimes her strong opinions and different ideas got her into trouble.

Both girls were very religious. Perhaps it was Sarah who taught Angelina that slavery was a sin. Angelina worried daily that her parents were not going to heaven because they were slave owners. Sarah came to think slavery was not only sinful but wrong. She was sad that she could do nothing about slavery and felt it an albatross around her neck. She wanted to be a lawyer and learn everything her older brother Thomas was learning, but her father told her women did not need that much education. So, she got Thomas to teach her from his lessons. She read through her father’s library. Undoubtedly, she passed on her knowledge to Angelina.

In 1819, Sarah went to Philadelphia with her father who was seeking medical treatment. There, she met some Quakers, who were caring for her father. She was drawn to their simplicity and integrity in worship and their stands for gender equality and against slavery. When her father died, she returned to Charleston but found her dislike for slavery too strong and soon returned to Philadelphia. She joined the Quaker meeting and became involved in their work. Angelina reunited with her several years later and also joined the Quaker meeting. Being among Quakers helped remove “the canker” that gnawed at her soul.

Angelina was more aggressive in her open fight against slavery and wrote a letter to The Liberator declaring that getting rid of slavery was a cause she was willing to die for if necessary. Quakers in her meeting felt she had not seasoned her leading sufficiently with the community and criticized her for the strong words she, a woman, used in her writing and speaking. This was in spite of Quaker recognition of both men and women as vocal ministers. Angelina continued to speak out and wrote a strong “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” encouraging them to work against slavery. Sarah supported her sister’s activities and wrote her own ” Letter to the Clergymen of the Southern States” and “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes.” She defended women’s right to speak and their moral and intellectual equality. She held that women needed to be educated in order to live up to their God given potential and be the equal, not subservient, companions and helpmates of men.

Sarah and Angelina extended this equality to their social relationships with African Americans. They encouraged bonds between races and had a wide circle of black women friends. They were close to the women of the Forten and Bustill/Douglass families and had other black friends in the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Sarah was especially close to Sarah Mapps Douglass and advised her on her concerns for the prejudice of the Arch Street Quakers and their treatment of black attenders at worship. Sarah tried several times to sit with her friend on the “back black benches,” a practice for which she was chastised. The two often talked about the intimacies of their private lives.

When the sisters learned their brother Henry had fathered three sons with the enslaved Nancy Westin, they welcomed the boys into their family and helped support their education and introduce them to their black friends. The oldest, Francis, married Charlotte Forten, the author granddaughter of James Forten, patriarch of the wealthy black business family. When Angelina married Theodore Weld, an abolitionist, they had two ministers, one white, one black and many interracial guests. For marrying a non-Quaker, Angelina was disowned by her Quaker meeting; Sarah was also disowned for attending the wedding. This saddened them but freed both to continue to speak for women’s rights and against the evils of slavery.

Angelina and Sarah traveled to many cities to speak. Their upbringing as children of slave owners caused people to listen to what they had to say about the harms of slavery, the need for slavery to end, and the hope for the training and education of freed blacks to become full citizens. They held that if all men are created equal, no man can hold another in bondage. Angelina was the first woman to speak to the Massachusetts legislature for the “20,000 women” of that state. To pay for these speaking tours, Angelina and Theodore started several schools, inviting their abolitionist friends to send their children. Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent her children to one of their New Jersey schools. Sarah lived with them and supported their efforts while continuing to help others still traveling like Lucy Stone, Maria Stewart, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony.

Sarah’s famous words are still remembered by those who work for women’s rights and human rights in 2019:

I make no claim for favors for women, but claim only equality and for men to take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on ground which God destined us to occupy.

Books and resources:

  • The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina by Grace Lerner – an excellent adult resource
  • The Grimke Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke by Catherine Birney
  • Sisters Against Slavery by Stephanie McPherson
  • Lift Up Thy Voice by Mark Perry
  • The Power of Woman: Sarah Grimke by Pamela R. Durso
  • Turning the World Upside Down: the Story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke by William and Patricia Willimon
  • https://wn.com/grimke_sisters – an hour of several videos on sisters
  • http://utclath.virginia.edu/abolitn/abesaegat.html – complete copy of “Letter to Christian Women in the South”

Questions to consider:

  • Why did the Grimke sisters’ upbringing in Charleston cause people to listen to them so closely?
  • Have you ever believed in something so strongly that you had to support it no matter what? What did you do? How did you get others to support you?
  • Although both sisters were saddened by their being asked to leave their Quaker meeting, what things did they find difficult during their time with Quakers?
  • Angelina was a stronger speaker; Sarah was a more prolific writer. Do you have talents different from your siblings and friends? How do you use them to help yourself and others?

# 8 Cyrus Bustill: The Man Who Knew His Worth

Cyrus Bustill was the grandfather of Sarah Mapps Douglass, whose courage in calling out the Quakers of Arch Street Meeting in Philadelphia for their “back bench” treatment of black attenders, was noted in an earlier post. Stories of her grandfather surely encouraged her to “speak her truth.”

Cyrus Bustill was born in Burlington, New Jersey on February 2, 1732. His father, Samuel Bustill, was a white lawyer, and his mother, Parthenia, was one of Samuel’s slaves. Samuel’s wife, Grace, was an active part of his life. Cyrus had four sisters. He described them as being two darker, two lighter, with him in the middle. His early childhood was a happy one at school and at home. He accompanied the family to meeting for worship each Sunday. Though encouraged to free his slaves by his fellow Quakers, Samuel Bustill, did not.

Samuel Bustill died suddenly when Cyrus was ten years old. Cyrus and his mother’s ownership was passed to Grace Bustill. Although circumstances did not change too much, Cyrus recognized that he had to take charge of his future. He asked to be apprenticed to a tradesman so he could gain skills, earn money, and purchase his freedom. His requested was granted, and he was sold to a Quaker friend of his father’s, Thomas Pryor, a baker. Cyrus was freed in 1769, one of a hundred slaves freed between 1763-1769 in the Burlington Quarterly Meeting.

He opened a bakery and gained a reputation for honest practices and good bread. During the Revolutionary War, he was one of the bakers recruited by Thomas Ludwick to supply bread to the troops at Valley Forge. Cyrus saw this as a patriotic duty, not a distraction from his Quaker beliefs. The family tradition describes a personal appreciation from Thomas Falconer, head of supplies for the troops, and a gold coin reward from George Washington.

Following the war, he moved his family to Philadelphia, where he and his wife Elizabeth set up their household and his bakery. Elizabeth had also been attending Quaker meeting since her childhood. Her mother was a Native American woman, Satterthwait, and her father, Richard Morey, the son of the Quaker appointed by William Penn as the first mayor of Philadelphia. Cyrus built up a successful business and became a leader in the African American community. He and his family regularly attended the Arch Street Meeting.

Cyrus’s clientele included both white and black families, all of whom he treated with dignity and respect. He was concerned about the treatment of blacks in the city and joined with other members of his community to found the Free African Society. This group promoted education for the children of their families, care for the poor, and protection from capture of runaway slaves. He participated in the underground railroad and helped found the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church even though he continued to attend Arch Street Meeting.

My favorite story about Cyrus Bustill led to the title of this post. One day he was driving his wagon along a country road to make a delivery. He encountered a buggy that was moving along the same road, rather slowly but fast enough to kick up dust in his face and on his goods. Soon he recognized the driver as a local judge, accustomed to tarry as he chose feeling certain in his social position. Cyrus decided he had eaten enough dust, encouraged his horses, and passed the judge, leaving him to “eat dust.” He knew his was as good a man as any other. The judge recognized Cyrus and shouted to him that he would buy no more bread at his shop. Cyrus shouted, “So be it, Judge,” in return. Later, the Judge, missing his tasty bread, returned to Cyrus’ shop, purchased bread, and became his friend. Both men understood each other and the situation, but showed dignity and respect.

Cyrus Bustill’s legacy and influence in the African American community was large. His abolition activities were carried on by his daughter Grace and her daughter Sarah Mapps Douglass and by his grandson David Bustill Bowser, who was also a portrait painter of Abraham Lincoln and John Brown. Another grandson Robert became a portrait painter and was asked to come to England to do a portrait of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State refused him a passport, saying he was not a “citizen.” There were many of the family who followed in his footsteps as an educator, teaching and founding schools for African American children. Perhaps the most famous of his ancestors was Paul Roberson, actor, musician, and civil rights activist.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you think it was important that Cyrus Bustill had close relatives in the African American, Native American, and white communities? What do you think he might have taken from each one to shape his character?
  • Cyrus Bustill attended Quaker meeting from childhood until his death but was never a member. How did he shape his personal and business activities in line with his beliefs?
  • If you had been a Quaker during the Revolutionary War, how would you have responded to a call to supply food to the troops at Valley Forge?
  • What do you like about the way Cyrus stood up for himself after his father died and when he found himself behind the judge? Do you find it easy to stand up for yourself with your peers, with your parents, or with your teachers? How do you do it?

# 7 Ruth Miheso – a Little Here, a Little There Makes a Lot

When I was growing up, my mother was a magician with money. She was very good at robbing Peter to pay Paul and keep us going. She was also a giver, always making sure we had what we needed with little extras now and then. She was a walking welfare provider for her students, home helpers, neighbors, relatives, and church members. No one ever felt belittled, an object of charity. They were just grateful.

Ruth Miheso is a woman of that same ilk. Born in western Kenya in a small village, she grew up and married a Quaker pastor, Bartholomew, who fed his family working in manufacturing and mining. They had ten children so Ruth ran a nursery school and had a licensed stall at the town market. She took care of her family, but like my mother, she was a giver. Her gentle manner led others to share their troubles and their needs. Where she could, she shared a little here, a little there. It was what their family did.

Bartholomew became a leader in the large Quaker community in Kenya and was tapped for leadership in Quaker organizations nationally and internationally. In 2003 after retirement, he came to the United States and spent a year at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center near Philadelphia and spoke at yearly meetings, conferences, and gatherings. He stayed in the US in the Washington, DC area, worked as a pastor and as a security guard, sending money home to Ruth as he was able. She took care of the family but continued to use a little here, a little there to help others, especially widows and orphans, She listened to their stories and saw their daily needs. She was their safety net.

In 2008, Ruth came to join Bartholomew, got a job taking care of children, but still helped the widows and orphans in her home village of Magada. Some were Quakers, most were not. It wasn’t easy sending money to Kenya. They found an “angel” there to distribute the funds, but there were dangers for this helper and for the recipients. The need was so great and jealousies could arise, money could be taken, people harmed. Ruth and Bartholomew truly believed that God is good and that way would open. They found Adelphi Friends Meeting (AFM) in Adelphi, Maryland, a Quaker community where they could worship and share their lives. Some members at AFM welcomed them, heard their story, and came together to create a non-profit, The Cornstalk Project. (Cornstalk is the translation of the name of their village, Magada.) Supported by AFM, donations, and proceeds from their annual African-oriented dinner, the project has paid school fees, repaired a widow’s roof, helped some elderly women with daily food and health needs, bought a sewing machine to generate income, and contributed to job training for a young adult.

The little here, the little there has grown. Ruth, with Bartholomew’s support, was the original giver. She has opened the possibility for others to join her, to widen their Quaker circle, and to form a bond with women and children, listening to their stories and being “with” though thousands of miles away. You can help. Go to the website, The Cornstalk Project.org, to see more stories and/or donate.

Possible activities:

  • Read or tell “The Widow’s Mite” and/or “The Good Samaritan.” Have the children share or create a modern version they can write as a story or dramatize as a short play. Talk about why people give to others. Ask them to look back at the stories and share the nature of the giver and the receivers.
  • With older children, talk about the saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” How do they feel about that? How would there be a giver if there were no receiver? How can they be both a cheerful giver and a cheerful receiver?
  • Build empathy by talking about the meaning of “walking in someone else’s shoes.”
  • Talk about possible class projects to reach out to someone who has a need. After exploring options, decide on an activity the class can do and implement it.