In transcribing the following article from the Hathi Trust online version of a copy of the Illustrated London News in the University of Michigan Library, I have used ABBYY software to produce the text below. I have added subtitles and links to material in the Victorian WebGeorge P. Landow

Meetings of the Societty of Friends”. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

May and June are the months in which the Society of Friends hold their “yearly meeting” in London, which this year opened on Wednesday, May 24, and continued into June. This is the most interesting season in their year. To this great meeting the business of all their lesser meetings points, and is here consummated.

For the better understanding of the working of the system, it may be well to explain that, in every place in the kingdom which the Friends have a meeting-house for worship, they hold, once a month, after the meeting for worship is over, a meeting of discipline—a meeting, in fact, for the transaction of the civil affairs of the society; such as providing funds for the support of the poor, for the education of the children of the poor; inquiring into the general moral condition of the meeting, or taking individual delinquents to task. This is called a preparative meeting—that is, a meeting preparative to the monthly meeting, which is a meeting consisting of several preparative meetings. To the monthly meetings one or more representatives are sent from each preparative meeting; and from the monthly meeting others are sent to the quarterly meeting, which generally includes within its jurisdiction one or two counties, and, of course, several monthly meetings. From the quarterly meetings then, in spring, representatives are sent to the yearly meeting.

Gender Equality among the Quakers

The engraving represents a monthly meeting of discipline at the meeting-house in Houndsditch; and we have selected that of the female Friends—for the women, as well as the men, hold their preparative monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings of discipline, as they are called, in contradistinction from those of worship. The grand basis of the society is that of the most perfect human equality—an equality which extends to sex, as well as to every other condition of humanity. Women are placed on the footing of companions and coheirs of all social rights and privileges, and therefore hold their own meetings of discipline, and transact all affairs belonging exclusively to their own sex; that is, they watch over the wants, interests, and moral conduct, and religious consistency of the female part of the community; so that, at the close of a meeting for worship, once a month, the women retire into another apartment, and open their books, and discuss their own concerns, as the men do theirs in their meeting; and of course they send to the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings their own representatives too.

What Female Members of the Society of Friends Wore

William Howitt describes an assemblage of young women Friends as very dove-like. There is such a delicacy and spotless purity in their whole appearance, and they sit in such a profound and devotional quietude; there is such a subduedness, and, indeed, total absence of colouring in the whole scene, so different from the strong and varied colouring of most assemblages of females; there is something so unworldly, so exquisitely clean and fresh, that they look rather like an assembly of spirits, or of vestals, than women who have to move amongst the corrodings, harassings, and bedimmings of every-day life. The costume of the elderly women—Friends—is very becoming, and that of the younger ones truly graceful; and, by their taste, they have even given it a certain elegance. The bonnets of the most genteel and refined amongst them have a striking superiority of figure over those of the rest, though constructed of the same materials. Their shawls are more tastefully disposed. There is an air, a style about the Quaker-lady, which it is not easy to describe. The prevailing colour of their bonnets at this season of the year is delicate silver-grey; their shawls of rich crape, of delicate French white, or of silver-grey, to correspond with the bonnet, sufficiently large to fall in graceful folds, pinned in front in a manner peculiar to them, and of so soft a texture as to show the bust and fall of the shoulders. A clear muslin collar, and a light zephyrine scarf round the neck; the gown of a delicate shade of drab; and kid gloves to match, always well-fitting, new and spotless — complete the young lady Friend’s costume. Occasionally you see a darker gown, a shawl of a darker shade, or even a bonnet of a rich brown, giving some variety and contrast to the mass; but it is really wonderful, with so few elements to work with, with almost no colour at all, how they produce so good an effect as they do. It is the extreme delicacy, the purity, the freshness, of the whole which impresses you with an irresistible feeling of a corresponding purity and tone of mind. They remind you of Charles Lamb’s “Hester,” one of their own sisterhood.

When maidens such as Hester die,
Their placa ye may not well supply,
Though ye among a thousand try,
      With vain endeavour.
Her parents held the Quaker rule.
Which doth the human feeling cool;
But she was trained in nature’s school—
      Nature had blest her.

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“Meeting of the Societty of Friends.” Illustrated London News 1 (1843): 407-08. Hathi Trust online version of a copy of the Illustrated London News in the Princeton University Library. Web. 13 June 2021.

Last modified 13 June 2021