English Quakers were severely persecuted for refusing to attend the state church, take oaths in court, or fight in wars, insisting on freedom of speech, assembly, and worship, and condemning slavery and the treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill.
Schisms and Sects
In the late 18th century, American Quakers began enforcing strict discipline on members, losing followers and converts. During the revivalism of the early 19th century, Quakers seeking fresh expression of their faith split into three groups: Hicksites, Wilburites, and Gurneyites.
Missions and Expansion
Early Friends were persecuted in the American colonies, but William Penn (1644-1718) made Pennsylvania a refuge for fellow Quakers. He allowed complete religious toleration, separating government from religion. This was a landmark on the way to Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
Exploration and Conquest
A historic peace church, the Society of Friends has made a significant contribution to American history and society by consistently advocating for peace, public education, temperance, democracy, women's rights, and the abolition of slavery.
During WWI, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and its British counterpart provided ways for conscientious objectors to contribute to relief and reconstruction efforts. Still highly esteemed and active, the groups were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.