Historical Markers
American Friends Service Committee Historical Marker
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American Friends Service Committee

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
November 6, 1999

Behind the Marker

Group photograph
The first unit of American Friends Service Committee trainees, Haverford College,...
In the 1600s, European nations engaged in one war after another. After receiving the land grant in North America that would bear the name the name of his family, William Penn established a new society based on the principle of pacifism in his colony's capital city of "Brotherly Love."

Inspired by the Society of Friends' refusal to take human life and proclaimed in a written declaration to King Charles II of England when Quakers were ordered to go to war, Penn established a penal code for Pennsylvania that reduced the application of the death penalty from the nearly 200 offenses that existed in England to only two: murder and treason. His rejection of violence also conditioned the Quakers' friendly relations with Native Americans, as well as a new and gentler treatment of people with mental disabilities, who had formerly been victims of severe cruelty.

Over the next three centuries, pacifism remained a fundamental article of the Quaker faith, emphasizing the spiritual worth of each person and the path of love as the most lasting way to resolve conflict between people. That pacifism emerged in the twentieth century as the most distinctive belief of Quakers was largely due to the work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

American entrance into World War I was accompanied by the first military draft since the Civil War. In the fever of militarism, most Americans had little understanding of religious conscientious objectors, or sympathy for their opposition to war. In 1917, Quakers in Philadelphia founded the AFSC to provide conscientious objectors with a constructive alternative to military service and to aid the civilian victims of the war. Stating their desire to offer "a service of love in wartime," Friends offered their services to the United States government "in any constructive work in which they could conscientiously serve humanity."

Black and white portrait
Henry J. Cadbury, Chairman of American Friends Service Committee of Philadelphia,...
Henry J. Cadbury, a professor at Haverford College, who was instrumental in founding the AFSC, combined his involvement in both institutions. Conscientious objectors were trained at the small college located just outside of Philadelphia and formed into a Reconstruction Unit under the auspices of the American Red Cross for service in war-torn Europe. That first summer, about 100 young men and women, Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren and others staffed hospitals and orphanages, rebuilt homes, factories and farms, and provided material relief in France and Russia.

As neutralist sentiment faded in the United States, however, intolerance for dissent and a stifling intellectual conformity followed. A patriotic fervor swept the country, encouraged by an elaborate government campaign to promote enthusiasm for the war and Cadbury became a victim of those circumstances.

In an October 1918 letter to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, the Quaker professor denounced U.S. war policies and the American public's pro-war attitude. His pleas for "moderation" and "fair play" as well as his prediction that "a peace on any other terms will be no peace at all, but will be the curse of the future" were lost on an incensed public. Cries for his dismissal followed. Cadbury was suspended by the college and in 1919 accepted a position at the Harvard Theology School in Massachusetts.

Photograph of a group of well dressed people, one woman carrying a suit case shakes the hand of a gentleman.
Jack Waddington shakes hands with AFSC volunteer Mrs. M.C. Morris on the steps...
Over the next few years, American Friends, with Cadbury's enthusiastic support, involved themselves in post-war reconstruction in Germany, Poland and Russia, where they repaired farm machinery, planted thousands of fruit trees, distributed medicine, and fed millions of small children.

American entry into World War II required American Quakers to again make life-changing decisions about their faith. Some Pennsylvania Friends abandoned the pacifism of their faith and served in the Armed Forces. Others, like schoolteacher Henry Scattergood, chose alternative service, where he could "be of use, marker but not killing, not in uniform." During the war, the AFSC helped refugees escape Nazi Germany, provided food and medicine to Spanish children who were victims of that country's civil war, fed refugees in Nazi-occupied France, and provided aid to Londoners who were bombed out during the Blitz. In the United States, the AFSC worked to remove young Japanese Americans from government internment camps and place them in colleges and universities.

Scene showing American Friends Service Committee midwives and refugee women helpers in a clinic at Khan Yunis in Southern Palestine.
American Friends Service Committee midwives and refugee women helpers in a clinic,...
After the war, the AFSC engaged in more specialized services: developing small community centers for dislocated persons (called "DPs") in Germany, France, and Japan, establishing small industries in Finland, and repairing transportation systems in Italy. These efforts were so vital to the reconstruction of war-torn Europe that the AFSC, along with the British Friends Service Council, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for "demonstrating a way of life founded on faith in the victory of spirit over force." Cadbury himself accepted the honor for the AFSC, appearing at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway, in a tuxedo he borrowed from the AFSC material-aids program.

Since 1947, the AFSC has worked to broaden people's understanding of pacifism. The organization has refined its mission to stress that peace can no longer be defined as the absence of organized violence and the relief of human suffering, but that it is necessary to understand the conditions for making and maintaining peace. Under these circumstances, peace involves a critical appreciation for human rights, a careful understanding of how social justice can be served and the conditions under which developing nations can flourish. To this end, AFSC now directs volunteer efforts to address domestic poverty in farm labor camps, mining communities, on Indian reservations, and on the streets of inner cities. Just as important are the committee's overseas efforts that support community development projects in Africa, Latin America, Kosovo, and the Middle East.
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