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Quaker Studies

Abstract

Participation in popular, or worldly, culture was a moot point for the early Friends. Although they were not encouraged to do so many still took part in aspects of male or female culture, but experienced tension between Quaker and 'carnal' ideals of behaviour. Female Friends were expected to limit their clothing according to the edicts of their Yearly Meeting, although female culture treated clothing as a medium of exchange and' gifting clothing was central to female social life. This proved difficult for women such as Sarah Kirkby (d.1692) of Auckland, a fabric seller, who traded with non-Quakers and could not have avoided the expectation that she would participate in aspects of female culture. Even Margaret Fell's daughters succumbed, as their household book testifies, although Durham Quakers and the Fells' meeting at Swarthmore agreed that silk weaving and selling lace respectively were inappropriate trades for a Friend.' From the 1680s Women's Quarterly Meetings sent epistles on the subject to Monthly and Preparative Meetings, who reported back their findings. At almost every women's meeting lists of forbidden garments were noted and their wearers, usually young women, were reprimanded. Female Friends who deviated from this rule were likely to be condemned as 'disorderly walkers', and the censure of their families was expected. Such clothing was not merely seen as 'light' or wasteful, but deeply immoral as it sullied the image male Friends had constructed of women as symbols of the purity of the restored Church.

Men were treated with more sympathy than women if they strayed, and the temptations they experienced were more often related to the alehouse than to clothing. Women were sometimes accused of drunkenness and disorder. A disorderly wife was seen as bringing dishonour to Quakerism, as it gave the impression that Quaker men could not control their wives, even though they had arguably already taken steps to do so by instituting separate meetings and limiting the activities of female ministers. However, wives of alcoholic husbands were advised to treat them with respect, not contempt. Friends seem to have appreciated the tensions faced by many men, who had formerly participated in alehouse culture alongside their peers, and found it difficult to break this tie to their old lifestyles. By the early eighteenth century the 'perruque controversy' led Quaker men also to consider their own appearances and condemn the use of wigs as bodily adornment. Although this may seem to suggest equality, alongside their uniform rejection of ostentation surrounding any rite of passage regardless of the participants' social status, it ultimately led to John Wesley's condemnation of Quaker costume as a 'uniform'. This also gave rise to the belief that there was a uniformity of thinking, which had abandoned the originality of earlier thought, most notably their justification of women preachers.

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