Transformation and Response

According to Benjamin, Philadelphia Quakers were a close-knit community during the early nineteenth century. The changes brought about by industrialization and the market economy caused Philadelphia Quakers to vigorously debate how to reconcile their values with the demands of industrial city life (Benjamin, 212-215). Members of Cope and Evans families also took up this debate.

Their letters provide insight into their thoughts and feelings about these problems. Education reform, philanthropy, and business ventures in Philadelphia’s booming economy were some of the most significant ways in which the families engaged with the changing world around them.

Orthodox Friends and the Hicksite Split of 1827

Orange Street Friends Meeting House. Quaker Meeting Houses. Tri-College Digital Library. Orange Street Friends Meeting House. Quaker Meeting Houses. Tri-College Digital Library.

The Hicksite Split was a result of theological debates among Friends that occurred at the 1827 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hamm, Transformation, 15-20; Barbour and Frost, 169). When the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting for the Southern District was established in 1772, members met at the Quaker Meeting House on Orange Street. After the Hicksite separation, this Meeting remained with the Orthodox Friends, who were distinctive by their attire.

1834 March 10, Philada, to Alfred, Madeira. Cope Evans Family Papers. Tri-College Digital Library.

Our meeting for worship for First day mornings & afternoons [-----] days have been discontinued at the Pine Street House, & all belonging to the Southern District Monthly Meeting now assemble at the Orange St. House. It has however been concluded by the Monthly Meeting to allow a First day evening meeting to be held in the Pine St. House & last evening it was for the first time so held. It was well attended, was very quiet & several of our friends had service I have no doubt to general satisfaction. How long these evening meetings will be held I don't know but I suppose not after warm weather begins. - Henry Cope to Alfred Cope, March 10, 1834

While exploring the collection, consider how their Orthodox values may have guided their actions.

Educational Reform

Magill Library. Cope Evans Family Papers. Tri-College Digital Library.

Quaker education had undergone a transformation from the eighteenth century to the Industrial Age. Benjamin describes the curriculum of early Quaker schools as a “guarded education.” Simplicity in dress, the preservation of "the distinctive culture of Friends," and the discouragement of the arts were important characteristics of this education.

Founders Hall

The Westtown boarding school in Chester County, founded in 1799, offered a "guarded education" for students with an emphasis on subjects such as math, science, grammar, writing, and religious instruction. Students who attended Westtown were expected to respect Quaker traditions of simple dress and plain language. After attending Westtown, members of the Cope family attended Haverford for their college education (Benjamin, 26, 35-37).

Read More

Text Analysis

The use of plain language, such as "thee" and "thy," among Quakers provides one indication of changing traditions from the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century (Hamm, 101-102). These graphs chart the frequency of the use of plain language words “thee” and “thy” within the transcribed Cope Evans letters.

In looking at the top graph, one could conjecture that the decreasing frequency in the use of the word “thy” was a reflection of the changing curriculum in Friends' schools, a generational shift away from plain language, or a result of outside cultural influences while traveling abroad. The peaks, perhaps, can be explained by movements towards tradition and re-establishing the use of plain language. Further research in this area could support this hypothesis.

Philanthropy and Social Reform

Quaker resistance to change initially served as a barrier to participation in philanthropic works required by the industrial city. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, however, Quaker involvement in charities in the city gradually increased (Benjamin, 102). These charities were aimed at helping women, the poor, Native Americans, African Americans, and the mentally ill.

The Cope and Evans families were involved in several social reform efforts in the city. Alfred Cope, Francis Pim Cope, Thomas Pim Cope, Charles Evans, Robert Evans, and William Evans were all members of the Prison Society, which was devoted to improving prison conditions. An expanded reach of philanthropy was documented in an 1851 letter written by Jonathan Pim Cope to Thomas Pim Cope on the condition of his donation of fifty pounds to the Belfast Ladies Relief Association.

I have to thank thee for again making me the medium of thy bounty to the Belfast "Ladies Relief Association for Connaught." I sent the Fifty pounds on receipt to my friend Mary Murphy, and have the enclosed acknowledgement from her son. In a few days I hope to receive from her some particulars of the present condition of the Association.

Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association

Quakers were "pioneers in the crusade against slavery." In the early half of the eighteenth century, Quakers had been slaveowners and actively involved in the slave trade. However, "the emergence of a Quaker stand against slavery" became clear during the Revolutionary period (Hamm, 33-34).

Dear Friend: The urgent need of the Freed People again compel to renewed activity on their behalf, 1865. Cope Evans Family Papers. Tri-College Digital Library.

According to Benjamin, it was not until late 1863 that Philadelphia Meetings became active in the cause to aid Southern blacks. The Pennsylvania Freedmen’s Relief Association was an effort by six Orthodox Friends who had traveled to the Southern states and reported on the poor health and living conditions of Southern blacks during the Civil War (Benjamin, 128-129). Located on Walnut Street, members of the Freedmen’s Relief Association “appeal[ed] for food, and clothes, and teachers,” the latter proving to be the greatest need. Providing freedmen with an education was the association’s primary goal (Pennsylvania Freedmen’s Relief Association, 15). Members of the Cope and Evans families were actively involved in the Association as leaders, members, and teachers.

Read More

Economic Engagement

While commercial life in Philadelphia continued to grow, the pursuit of wealth ran counter to the principles of Quakerism. “The Disciplines issued by both Orthodox and Hicksites in the late 1860s and early 1870s required of Friends complete integrity in their dealings with all men, urged them to keep strict accounts of financial transactions, and inveighed against the evils of speculation. An excess of riches constituted as bad a mark against a man as dire poverty” (Benjamin, Philadelphia Quakers, 51).

Those who found economic success were integral to the growth of the "civic and institutional life of the city” (Benjamin, Philadelphia Quakers, 50).

Read More