The annual conference of the Quaker Studies Research Association (QSRA)
and the Centre for Postgraduate Quaker Studies
Nonconformist Responses to World War One
Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham B29 6LJ
September 15/ 16 2015
The 2015 Quaker Studies Research Association and Centre for Postgraduate Quaker Studies Annual Conference is open to all those with an interest in academic research and its findings. Papers will cover the broad area of nonconformity and World War One and proposals are welcome. The 2015 George Richardson Lecture will begin at 7.30pm and will be given this year by Professor Brycchan Cary of Kingston University.
For booking, please visit:
For booking, please visit:
2015 Conference Programme
Tuesday September 15
10.30am: arrivals and morning drinks
11am: Welcome and Introduction to the Conference
11.10am – 12.10pm:
Jo-Ann Curtis, Birmingham Museums Trust
Quakers response to Belgian Refugees in Birmingham during the First World War
This paper will explore the role Birmingham’s Quakers played in the city’s Belgian war relief. It will also explore to what extent they worked alongside other religious groups, in particular Catholics, as well as Trade unions, and the local authority in this effort.
In September 1914 a Birmingham branch of the War Refugee Committee was established. The committee was chaired by Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury, a Quaker, and member of a prominent Birmingham industrial family. By the end of the First World War over 4,000 Belgian refugees had registered as living and working in Birmingham and the surrounding area.
Penelope Cummins, University of Birmingham
‘It is not lawful for us to fight’: the Religious Society of Friends’ response to the Conscription Act of 1916.
When the Conscription Bill was passed in January 1916, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) called a special session of their national annual gathering, the Yearly Meeting, to deliberate Friends’ response to the legislation. The Quakers, unlike the Prime Minister in his speech about the new law, were clear that their objection was not merely to participation in killing, which might be accommodated by the offer of non-combatant duties, but to war as such. In the ‘Adjourned’ Yearly Meeting, they affirmed their position that it is a moral as well as a theological imperative that individuals in a society should be able to follow their own consciences.
Friends in Britain had foreseen this situation since the end of the Boer war, and their antipathy to conscription had been refined in the course of their campaigning against its introduction in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
This paper discusses the Religious Society of Friends’ response to the legislation, and their attempts to influence its drafting and the ways in which it was interpreted and applied.
12.15 – 1pm:
Betty Hagglund, University of Birmingham.
‘ “Those Enemy Aliens”:Quakers and Germans in Britain in World War 1’
In 1914, there were approximately 60,000 Germans living in Britain. Some had been there for many years, with English wives and children. Anti-German feeling led to attacks on homes and shops, loss of jobs and male enemy aliens being interned, leaving their families destitute. Drawing on original archive material, this paper tells the stories of Quaker involvement with the prisoners and their families, through the war and beyond. This paper was originally given as the 2015 Friends Historical Association Presidential Address.
2pm: QSRA AGM
2.45 – 4.15pm:
Lois Bibbings , University of Bristol
Questions of Conscience: Conscientious Objectors to Military Service During the First World War
This paper re-examines the different and often contradictory perspectives of some of the men who came to be conscientious objectors, reflecting on their dilemmas, beliefs and goals in the context of a legal regime which at one and the same time introduced military compulsion but, at least in theory, recognised a right to conscientiously object to it. Amongst the reflections, a key concern will be a reconsideration of what WW1 COs can tell us about conscience.
5 – 6pm:
Nicola Sleap, University of Birmingham
'Change in Quaker Businesses and their Environment during World War One'
Wars have a huge impact upon business. This can be both in terms of their effect upon the national economy and the financial state of a business, as well as in terms of wars being the trigger for significant organisational change and learning.
At the opening of the first Quakers in Industry conference in 1918 Arnold S. Rowntree asserted that World War I had fundamentally altered the business climate in Britain, and that it heralded the beginning of an era of self-governance and democracy amongst employers and employees. Rowntree strongly implies that the war itself was the trigger for Quaker business people to begin thinking more deeply about business ethics and industrial relations.
As with Quakers generally, World War I was a potentially divisive issue for Quaker families running businesses. Did their pacifist leanings lead Quaker business people to resist any collusion with a state at war in their activities? Did they see non-military activities as acceptable, or even admirable? In this paper I would give a brief overview of several Quaker businesses and their activities during the First World War, as well as referring to the letters of Quaker business people in the Friend magazine during the war. I would highlight several different paths taken by Quaker business people, and seek to assess to what extent Rowntree’s 1918 assertions ring true in the realities of the stories of Quaker businesses during wartime.
Nan Macy, Bellingham, Washington
‘Farming for Peace: An American Quaker Conscientious Objector in World War One France’
Amidst unrelenting reminders that war and conflict are and seemingly always have been present, is the reality that people have always—both
individually and collectively—worked for peace, often at great personal sacrifice and peril. Accounts of these often humble efforts risk being
lost to history.
Drawn from extensive archival research and the letters, photos, and diaries of a specific Quaker, this paper recounts the distinctive
experience of an ordinary American Quaker farmer serving his country, his conscience, and the French people outside the military but in/near war
zones during WWI.
Despite being subject to the U.S. draft, he and ninety-nine other U.S. conscientious objectors known as the ‘Haverford 100’ trained together in
1917 before going to France. Once there he worked bombed-out, trenched, and barbed-wired fields, returning them to food production for the French
people. He also tended and raised animals for food and for transportation and working the land.
This quiet story of courage and commitment illuminates the bigger picture of Quaker relief and reconstruction work, particularly the beginnings of
the peace and humanitarian effort that grew into the American Friends Service Committee, which shared the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize with the
Friends Service Council. Serendipitously, the conference opening date—September 15—is the same date that he arrived in Europe in 1917.
7.30 – 9pm
2015 George Richardson Lecture
The annual prestigious public lecture in Quaker studies given on the topic of the speaker’s choice.
Brycchan Carey, Kingston University:
‘From Friendly Advice to Historical account: Thomas Tryon, Anthony Benezet and the Origins of Antislavery’
Wednesday September 16
7.45 – 9am: Breakfast
9.15 – 10.45am
Andy Vail, University of Birmingham
‘Letters from the Front’ insights into the faith of Birmingham Protestant Nonconformists in the Great War from their letters home.
Wilkinson has argued that members of English Free Churches who had been at the forefront of opposition to the Boer War, upon the outbreak of the Great War, largely supported active participation in the conflict. To test his assertion, I am examining the responses to the Great War of the members of churches of all Free Church traditions within Birmingham.
In my paper I seek to discover what can be learned about the theology and beliefs of Birmingham non-conformists from their letters home to family, local church, Adult School, ABC/Brotherhood or Bible Class during the Great War.
Themes I consider include the faith of the letter writers, the impact of the war and of the experience of war on their faith. I have also found examples of comments on the faith of their fellow combatants, of opportunities to share their faith and a personal report on involvement in the Christmas truce of 1914.
The sources I consider include a variety of letters and extracts as reported in a variety of individual and regional church magazines and journals. These include magazines from individual Baptist and Congregational Churches, a Wesleyan Methodist Circuit Magazine, and the West Midlands supplement to the national Adult School journal One and All.
By contrast I also include a few extracts from letters home from those who served with the Friends Ambulance Unit and other non-combatant roles and a Baptist Adult School secretary who was refused non-combatant service and arrested as a deserter.
Anne Logan, University of Kent
‘If I were a man I’d enlist’: Margery Fry’s Views on War and Peace
This paper examines the conflicted opinions about war of S. Margery Fry (1874-1958). Best known for her work in penal reform and higher education, Margery Fry spent much of the First World War in Eastern France with the Friends Emergency War Victims Relief Committee. But despite her membership of a prominent Quaker family (including two sisters who were prominently associated with pacifism) her own attitude towards war was highly ambivalent.
This paper traces Margery Fry’s interactions with peace activists and her shifting opinions on foreign policy before, during and after the First World War. Connections with her feminism and her general political positions and views on religion will be made. The paper concludes that her attitudes – and, by implication perhaps, those of other, less well-documented individuals, were fluid rather than static, responding to changing circumstances. Ultimately Margery Fry’s stance was what Ceadel (1980) termed ‘pacificism’.
Gethin Evans, Aberystwyth, Wales
Quakers in Wales and the First World War.
Many studies of Quaker involvement during the First World War have tended to focus on examining issues around conscientious objection and related activity. Overviews of the broader response within the Society have been sparse, with little attention paid to the actions of those Quakers who volunteered for the military forces. Much remains to be done. Quakers in Wales were not a large group and their activities probably mirrors closely what happened across the whole of the Society as its members struggled with the demands made upon them – the call to be patriotic, conscription and the relief of suffering. This paper explores these issues. The move to 'absolutism' and the fight for liberty of conscience needs also to be understood in the context of the way the state had organised its military during the nineteenth century, and the way Friends had developed their peace witness in that time.
11.15am – 12.45pm:
Joanna Dales, University of Birmingham
John William Graham and World War 1.
John William Graham (1859-1932) was active and voluble in the cause of peace in the years leading up to the outbreak of war and during the war years. From his position as Principal of Dalton Hall, a residence for students at Manchester University, he campaigned vigorously against the build-up of arms and the increasing militarisation of society and of education. He gave talks and addresses, wrote innumerable letters to the press, debated publicly, and made the cause of peace his own. He was instrumental in the founding of the Northern Friends’ Peace Board in January 1913, and was its first Chairman. During the War he worked with the No-Conscription Fellowship, defended conscientious objectors at tribunals, and acted as prison chaplain at Strangeways Prison in Manchester. After the War he wrote Conscription and Conscience, the official history of the No-Conscription Fellowship.
Yet there was a certain ambivalence in Graham’s attitude to war and peace. From early on he associated peace and war with evolution. Although he was not one of those who thought that the ‘survival of the fittest’ was promoted by warfare, he believed that war had been necessary in the past to create the nation states, and that the world was only now reaching a situation where war was becoming obsolete. Quakers were called to lead the world in a great movement towards peace, but the consummation was in the future. It followed that war was relatively, not absolutely wrong: at some times and in some places it was necessary. Patriotism too had its claims: even peaceable Quakers had obligations to their country in its time of need.
This talk sets Graham’s war-time activities against the background of his lifelong thinking about war, peace and evolution, along with Quakerism and Englishness.
Sian Roberts, University of Birmingham
A ‘position of peculiar responsibility’: Quaker women in transnational humanitarian relief, 1914-24
Given the scale of Quaker women’s involvement in humanitarian responses to the First World War they have received remarkably little attention in either Quaker historiography or the study of global conflict in this period. This paper grows out of ongoing research into a network of Quaker women in Birmingham who were particularly active on behalf of non-combatants affected by the war, and some of whom spent long periods undertaking relief work with the Friends War Victims Relief Committee in France, Russia, Germany, Austria, Poland and elsewhere. Motivated by an opposition to war in all its forms they conceived of this activity as part of their witness for peace, a cause in which they also engaged politically through their support for The Hague Congress and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. As well as a commitment to peace they shared a background in local civic activism, and came from families with a long tradition of engaging in issues of global social justice. This paper will adopt a biographical approach to consider how individual women responded to the opportunity to exercise leadership and initiative within the FWVRC. It will also explore how their identities as Quaker women, and the cultural transmission of a tradition of global concern within their families, shaped both their opposition to war and their sense of responsibility to intervene directly to alleviate its consequences, a responsibility that for them did not come to an end in 1918 but which continued well into the 1920s.
Panel: Reflections on the Conference with Lois Bibbings (Bristol), Betty Hagglund (Birmingham), and Rebecca Wynter (Birmingham).
Lunch and departures.