Quaker Myth Busters

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Quakers don't use titles

| Filed in: equality

TRUE Quakers have traditionally as part of both Plain Speech and the Testimony to Equality refused to use titles in reference to others. For those with whom the speaker is not intimately familiar enough to be “on a first name basis,” the tradition was to simply use both first and last name. Quaker children tend to refer to adults by name, and at Quaker educational institutions it is common to call teachers by first name.

It may sound funny to some Americans to suggest that titles promote inequality, and indeed for many American Quakers, the common titles “Mr” and “Ms” are non-objectionable these days. In societies where strict hierarchical titles are still common (such as the UK which retains a nobility and monarchy), titles as a whole are still more strongly opposed. I have heard British Friends refer to their monarch as simply “Betty Windsor” to avoid using her title. The history of titles as tools of inequality is well-founded, however.

For example, why is it necessary to distinguish between married (“Mrs”) and unmarried (“Miss”) women but not men (universally “Mr”), as though availability for marriage was an extraordinarily important part of a woman’s identity? In the US, in the Jim Crow era the rules of the time included that Black folks must use titles (such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss”) to refer to White folks, but that when White folks referred to Black folks, it was simply as “boy” or “girl” or some arbitrary first name (“Jack” or “George”). It was also common until recently (and perhaps still occurs in some workplaces), that a boss may refer to a secretary by the first name, while the secretary would be expected to answer the boss using a title. These are just a few examples of sexist, racist, and classist uses of titles which Quakers attempt to avoid.

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MYTH: Quakers landed at Plymouth

| Filed in: history

FALSE This is an example of the Quakers are Puritans myth.

The Plymouth Colony started in 1620. Quakerism did not begin until the 1650s. When Quakers came to the New World, it was mostly to Pennsylvania, since William Penn set it up as one of the two colonies with religious freedom (Rhode Island being the other one).

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MYTH: Quakers are Puritans

| Filed in: religion

FALSE The Puritans in the Massachusetts Colony killed Quakers for being Quakers. A famous example is that of Mary Dyer.

Early Quakers were influenced by English Puritans’ rejection of non-Biblical practices some churches had adopted. For example, neither celebrated Christmas with a tree and mistletoe, because these were traditions adopted from Yule, a Pagan holiday, not from the Bible. Quakers at this time did not have strict rules of dress. Some even went naked as a sign (ex: Solomon Eccles). Legalism developed later, during what is known as the Quietist period, in the 18th century. Eventually a return to rejecting outward forms and human authority, and depending on whether a person was specifically called by the Spirit to live a certain way, led to the abandonment of the strict rules that had cropped up.

Theologically, Puritans started from the basis that all humanity is depraved, unworthy of Heaven, and only able to get there because God is very merciful. Quakers, on the other hand, believe in that of God in everyone, that we all have the spark of the divine, the Inner Light, through which the Spirit speaks. That is, Quakers believe everyone has something good in them, even if they try to suppress it.

People who think this are likely confused by the Quakers dress like the Quaker Oats man myth and possibly are aware of some strict rules Quakers used to have in some areas, such as not drinking alcohol. This often comes up in reference to attitudes toward sexuality, where it is assumed that Quakers, like Puritans, are extremely tight-laced. While attitudes will vary between branches, the game Wink or Ratchet Screwdriver is played fairly universally by teenage Quakers all over the world and involves plenty of kissing.

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