Quakers at Chautauqua: August 1900

In August of 1900, events began at Chautauqua that led to the formation of Friends General Conference (FGC) as noted in this front page article from the Chautauqua Assembly Herald (see photocopy below). A partial transcription follows.

The Chautauqua Assembly Herald

Wednesday evening August 22, 1900


Delivered in the Amphitheater, Tuesday, August 21, 1900

  • An Able Exposition of Quaker Belief and Doctrine
  • Individualism of the Friends
  • The Inner Light.

The philosophy of our time tends to deal with man in the mass. The individual it is prone to consider only as a member of a group. It is out of this doctrine that we have our modern science of sociology and as affecting a large part of the interests of mankind the point of view is right, the philosophy is sound. But the deepest things of life concern the individual. We may talk as we will of our social self, of our civic self; magnify the importance of the group and relegate the individual to obscurity as an invisible molecule in the mass with which we have to do, but after all it is the character of the molecule which determines the properties of the mass. We merge our individual wishes in deference to public opinion; we unite our efforts for the common good; but after all each one of us lives his own life and in the last analysis, he lives his life alone, We depend upon each other for support, assistance, guidance, sympathy; we influence each other, sometimes more, sometimes less, but there is a final barrier beyond which the outside force may never penetrate, even in those human natures which most resemble an open temple inviting all to enter, there is a certain holy of holies whose veil is never parted; within which there is no intrusion. What occurs in this citadel of the soul may be known to others only partially and indirectly, but out of it are the issues of life. This is the fountain head from which the waters flow, making the stream of life bitter or sweet; the stream may wander through broad and pleasant meadows, fair and smiling; it may be harnessed to useful work, defiled by vileness from without; it may be changed beyond recognition by the influence of external forces, but the water retains forever a character which it owes to the source from which it sprung.

       More than any other thing, Quakerism maintains the importance of the individual. “The Kingdom of God,” declared the Master, “is within you,” and the Quaker accepts this declaration as constituting every individual a, citizen of that kingdom. He may be unfaithful, he may, if he will, fling away his birthright and abandon the privileges of his citizenship, but it is a possession of which no man can rob him.

     But the individualism of the Friend goes further than this. The sixty evan- gelists who, in 1654,went out of the north of England to preach a spiritual religion  proclaimed a single great spiritual truth.

Upon it they based their religious system; it has been from the time of George Fox to the present the fundamental doctrine of Quakerism, it pronounces. the worth of the individual to be supreme, holding

that each human soul is imbued with the divine and that every human being may drink for himself of the water of life….

     If one would sum up in fewest words the fundamentals of Quakerism he must, of course, adopt some such language as these first two sentences: “God alone is the teacher of his people. He hath given to everyone a measure of grace which is the Light that comes from Christ.” This, as Bancroft well says, is

the “single word” of the Quaker: the INNER LIGHT. He needs no other, for all necessary help; guidance, strength, support, comes from a single source, the fount of all good, the origin of all truth, and a sufficient measure of his spirit is implanted in every human breast.

Friends General Conference—A Brief Historical Overview

excerpted from Quaker History, v. 89, No. 2, Fall 2000, pp. 1-16

In 1900, the First Day School Association, the Friends Union for Philanthropic Labor, the Religious Conference, the Education Conference, and representatives from the Young Friends Associations met at Chautauqua, New York, from August 21 to August 28. Although each of these groups maintained its own identity, the Chautauqua gathering was not a series of separate conferences, as Swarthmore and Richmond had been, but a single conference mingling the business of the five participating groups. The conference began with a Tuesday morning session sponsored by the Religious Conference, which also hosted the First Day Evening speaker. The Philanthropic Union presented programs on Wednesday and Friday morning, Friday afternoon, and Saturday evening. The Thursday morning session as well as the final session on Tuesday morning was under the care of the Education Conference. The Young Friends Associations were responsible for Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. The First Day School Association ran morning and evening sessions on Monday.

The decision to hold most sessions in the morning was apparently made at the request of the Chautauqua Institute. Chautauqua itself generally offered lectures in the mornings and evenings, and left afternoons free. After 1900, Friends General Conference tended to follow the same model. Most of the program was taken up with invited speakers and time for open discussion, but there were business sessions as well. The Philanthropic Union met to conduct its business on Friday; the First Day School Association on Saturday. By then, however, the most significant of the business sessions had already taken place. On Wednesday morning, August 22, the “General Conference” met to hear reports from the Central Committee that had planned the Chautauqua gathering, the Committee on Isolated Friends appointed at the Richmond conferences, and the Committee on Reorganization. Friends General Conference was about to be born. 

FGC has thrived for the past 120 years. Their mission statement is “Friends General Conference provides services and resources for individual Friends, meetings, and people interested in the Quaker way. FGC is an association of regional Quaker communities in the U.S. and Canada working together to nurture a vital Quaker faith. FGC primarily offers support for the liberal unprogrammed branch of Quakers.”