The Race Street Friends Meetinghouse, which was built in 1856, now, ironically, fronts Cherry Street. The site has been in continuous use by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, for over 150 years. The site was converted into the Friends Meeting Center when a modern addition was built in 1975 while still maintaining the integrity of the original meetinghouse. The meetinghouse played a significant role in the social movements of both the 19th and 20th centuries, to include the abolition, women’s rights, temperance, peace and civil rights movements. And, not surprisingly to the Quakers, women, such as Lucretia Mott, Hannah Clothier Hull, Alice Paul and Jane Rushmore, who were associated with Race Street, led the way. Group tours are available by appointment and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.
meetinghouse has served as the home to the Hicksite Sect of the Society of
Friends since 1856. They have been in
the Cherry Street area since they broke from the Arch Street Meeting house back
in 1827 over ideological differences.
That original Cherry Street meetinghouse no longer stands. However, the “Hicksites”
as they were called, finally reconciled with the “orthodox” Quakers of Arch
Street in 1955.
The house was
originally divided into two meeting rooms as Quaker business meeting were
segregated by gender until 1926. The
south meeting room was then used for social gatherings and serves that function
to this day. Both rooms are surrounded
by balconies, or “youth galleries” on three sides. The meetinghouse is now part of the larger
Friends Center Campus that includes national offices and the Greater
Philadelphia Chapter of the United Nations Association. The campus was completely renovated in 2009
and designated a LEED Platinum site that is fossil-fuel free and produces zero
carbon emissions. The modern addition now houses the offices of many non-profit organizations.
meetinghouse gained its National Historic Landmark status due largely to the
role women played in promoting and spreading various social movements beyond
its boundaries. To that end, the Friends
have added a statue of Quaker martyr, Mary Dyer, who was hung in Boston in 1660
in an attempt to overturn anti-Quaker laws adopted by the colony. Dyer represents a long tradition of female
activism within the Society of Friends.
Long before other religious denominations, the Quakers promoted female
equality and women played key roles in the affairs of the church. They were, from the beginning, allowed to
contribute during meetings and worship services on equal footing with men, and
were ordained as Quaker ministers. These
policies proved to many Quaker and non-Quaker women that they could also
contribute to the larger society outside the confines of the meetinghouse.
woman was Lucretia Mott, who was quite active at the Race Street Meetinghouse
and eventually became an ordained minister.
She spoke and preached there on numerous occasions and went on to become
a leading member of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. She travelled to and spoke at various other
meetinghouses, was a collaborator with William Lloyd Garrison, founded the
Female Anti-Slavery Society and spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention on Women’s
Rights in 1848. She was active until her
death in 1880.