Questions of class – inside and outside the Society

The Foundations proclaims a “universal brotherhood” and calls for an end to restrictions based on race, sex and class. But was the Society of Friends itself in 1918 an organisation with “no restriction of… social class”? The War and Social Order Committee did not think so – and it had a few proposals for change.

  • At the Committee’s first meeting one of the issues discussed was “The Question of Domestic Service”. The presence of servants in Quaker households – and at Quaker schools – continued to trouble the Committee; were upper-middle-class Quaker children being “raised to assume their right to the labour of others” (i.e. to expect other people to do their dirty work)?
  • The Committee was concerned about the lack of “working-class Friends”… on the Committee itself!
  • And there might have been a practical reason for that lack. Yearly Meeting did not pay expenses for Friends to attend committees – which meant that only “men and women of leisure and assured income” could take part, unless funding was supplied by local Meetings (which seems to have been unreliable).
    • So the first practical suggestion the Committee made to Yearly Meeting, after the Foundations was accepted and as a way of putting the principles into practice, was that travel expenses should be paid for Friends attending Yearly Meeting committees!
    • To the Committee’s frustration, this suggestion was considered at great length but eventually rejected – mostly because Friends were not giving enough in total to Yearly Meeting central funds.

Today, some but not all aspects of this situation have changed. Friends attending Yearly Meeting committees now have their expenses paid, but observation suggests that many Friends are still middle class. Members of the Society tend to be better educated than average and those who are free to serve on committees are often retired on comfortable pensions.