Why are the Quakers often confused with the Shakers? Who are the Quakers? Did you know they exist worldwide with a historical tie to southwest Ohio. In fact, southwest Ohio is the perfect destination for those who would like an up-close-and-personal look at the history and culture of the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends). These people were drawn to the area in the early 1800’s and were some of the earliest setters.
Wilmington, Ohio, is home to Wilmington College, founded by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1870. The college features the Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center, the only one of its kind in the nation. The Center is a facility dedicated to celebrating the local, regional and national history of the Religious Society of Friends featuring 1,261 square feet of display areas and a traditional 1840’s Quaker meetinghouse. The Quaker Heritage Center celebrates the history of the Religious Society of Friends who settled in southwest Ohio, as well as their contributions to America and its culture. Quakers have a long history of activism on issues such as peacemaking, civil rights, racism and social justice. The Center hosts a variety of exhibits and programs that highlight Quaker contributions to American and local history. Visitors can explore the permanent and special exhibits and the timeline of Quaker history in Ohio and around the world.
Wilmington College also honors its Friends history with a bronze statue depicting local Quakers, Isaac and Sarah Harvey, on their way to Washington D.C. to speak with President Abraham Lincoln about the emancipation of enslaved persons in 1862.
About The Statue
The statue on Wilmington College’s campus features Quakers and tells a uniquely Quaker story. Indeed, members of the Society of Friends were behind much of
its $84,000 fundraising effort. Yet, in many ways, the sculpture is intended largely for non-Quakers. In 750 pounds of sculpted bronze, the piece titled Who Sends Thee?, reflects the Quaker testimonies of peace, integrity, simplicity, community and equality, which are included prominently among Wilmington College’s core values. The statue depicts local Quakers, Isaac and Sarah Harvey, on their way to Washington D.C. to speak with President Abraham Lincoln about the emancipation of enslaved persons in 1862. The story behind the statue is based on Isaac Harvey’s revelation in which God called upon him to petition the president to end slavery in the United States. Shortly after the couple’s visit to Washington D.C., on Sept. 22, 1862, Lincoln presented a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Roy Joe Stuckey ’48, a WC trustee and one of the project’s major donors, noted that local persons lobbying elected officials did by no means end with Isaac and Sarah Harvey in 1862. “Quakers are still going to Washington to try to influence national legislation and the administration’s policy on behalf of peace and social justice,” he said.
The sculptor, Alan Cottrill, recalled hearing in 2003 that “some Quaker ladies” wished to speak with him about creating a statue. He was impressed with the “Who Sends Thee?” story and especially inspired by its inherent “human emotion.” “There’s an understated energy and power in this piece,” he said. WC President Dan DiBiasio noted the statue complements the Ohio Historical Marker installed on campus as part of the Ohio Bicentennial in 2003 that denotes the Quaker migration from the East Coast into Ohio and the founding by Friends of a Quaker college in Wilmington.
Wilmington College is also home to the largest depository of materials outside of Japan relating to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and the College Archives/Quaker Collection, at the unique Peace Resource Center. The Center’s museum was opened in 1975 by Barbara Reynolds who was called “the flower of Hiroshima” as she sought to educate the world about the effects of the atomic bomb. She was an activist, author and peace educator.
In addition to Wilmington, nearby Waynesville has its own wealth of Quaker history. Large numbers of the Religious Society of Friends arrived to settle in the community beginning in about 1799. Coming mostly from North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the Quakers were attracted by the rich soil of the Little Miami Valley, the prospect of independent homes and their own opposition to slavery. Waynesville’s Museum at the Friends Home is housed in the 1905 Friends Boarding Home which looks very much as it did when retired Quakers and single school teachers lived there in its early days. Sixteen rooms of historic exhibits are offered on three floors. Each room highlights a local community or an aspect of early Quaker life, period clothing, local medicine, education and more.
Just down the street from the Museum at the Friends Home is the 1811 Hicksite Meeting House, the oldest religious building in continuous use west of the Allegheny Mountains. Visitors can go inside the meeting house and hear a Quaker farmer talk about the way things were in the past.
Established in 1831, the Harveysburg Free Black School was the first free school for African-American children in Ohio. Quakers Jesse and Elizabeth Harvey founded the school. Like most Quakers, the Harveys believed strongly in education. They also believed in equal opportunity for African-Americans with whites. Elizabeth Harvey was especially concerned about the lack of free education for Ohio’s African-American children and convinced her husband to construct a one-room schoolhouse to assist black children in attaining an education. While the institution is now known as the Harveysburg Free Black School, the school permitted any children of color to attend. Constructed of brick, the Harveysburg Free Black School remained in operation as a school until the early 1900s, when African-Americans were finally permitted to attend historically white schools in the community.
Groups are invited to take a Quaker Heritage Tour in southwest Ohio. Visit the campus of Wilmington College and a memorable visit to the Quaker Heritage Center and the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College. Travel to Waynesville for a tour of the Friends Home and Hicksite Meeting House. Lastly, a visit to the first free school in Ohio for African-American children rounds out the day and provides each individual with an up-close-and-personal look at the Quakers’ history and culture.
Visit our area and learn about the Quakers, their past and their future.