The Religious Society of Friends was founded by George Fox in England in the 1640's. Fox was a staunch critic of the mixing of faith and politics in the Church of England, especially as it related to war. Pacifism remains a central value for the Quakers.
By the 1660's, the Friends movement had organized and was holding meetings regularly. Worship was (and still is) characterized by silently and patiently waiting for the Holy Spirit to move and speak to them.
Today, there are approximately 400,000 Quakers worldwide; about 100,000 of those are found in the United States. Well-known people with roots in Quakerism include frontiersman Daniel Boone, actor James Dean, former U.S. presidents Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon, musician Dave Matthews, philanthropist Johns Hopkins, seamstress of the first American flag, Betsy Ross, and American poet, Walt Whitman
Why the Name “Friends”?
It is thought that Fox's early followers called themselves "Friends of Truth," which over time was shortened to just "Friends."
Why the Name “Quakers”?
“Quakers” is an unofficial nickname for the Religious Society of Friends. Accounts differ as to its origins. One tradition says that sometimes adherents would shake as they sat waiting for the Holy Spirit to move and speak, which led others to label them "Quakers." Another story says that once when Fox was brought before an English judge in 1650, he was mocked for encouraging the judge to "tremble" at the word of God and the group was nicknamed "Quakers" as a result.
As with other Christian denominations, there is diversity within the Society of Friends. The approximately 1,000 Quaker denominations in the United States can subdivided in the following manner:
- Evangelical Friends International - 36,000 members
- Friends General Conference - 32,000 members (liberal leanings)
- Friends United Meeting - 40,000 members (closest to mainline Protestantism; note: the General Conference and the United Meeting have overlapping members)
- Unaffiliated Friends - 6,700
- Conservative Friends - 1,500 members (has commonalities with Old Order Mennonites and Old German Baptists)
Pocket Dictionary of North American Denominations. Edited by Drew Blankman and Tod Augustine. InterVarsity Press. 2004