Common Misconceptions about Quakers

1.  I thought Quakers were Extinct?

Actually there are a number of Quakers in the United States and most other countries around the world.  Quakers are an active, involved faith-based community living in the modern world. We are a diverse people consisting of several distinct branches. We continue our traditional testimonies of peace, equality, integrity, community, and simplicity, which we interpret and express in a variety of ways. Today, many Friends include stewardship of our planet as one of our testimonies.  Quakers don’t often advertise their presence in a community although there may be a Meeting announcement in the local newspaper.  However, Quakers are often working behind the scenes by supporting a variety of events and serving in under served populations.

2.  Are Quakers the same as Amish?

No, Quakers aren’t Amish, Shakers or Puritans–we come from a separate tradition than these other groups.  There are some similarities we share with these groups but then we share similarities with other religions as well.

3.  Don’t Quakers wear weird clothing?

No, not any longer.  In the past some Quakers choose to wear simple or plain dress.  Yes, that’s where the Quaker Oats man came from in his traditional Quaker garb.  Women wore plain dresses with no adornment or frills. Although gray is most commonly seen, they were able to wear colors as well.  Some Quaker women wore bonnets. The reason for plain dress was that expensive clothes were used to show social inequality and make statements about wealth. Only a select few could afford expensive adornments, which could then be used to exacerbate differences between people based on class, where people in fancy clothing would not want to be seen socializing with others dressed tattily. This was part of the inspiration for the Quaker testimony to equality.

4. Do Quakers live in communes?

No, Quakers live in various communities throughout the world.  Some live in cities, others in rural areas.  Some Quakers do explore and live in some alternative housing such as intentional communities or cohousing.  Some Quakers are also interested in living off the land and off the grid.

5.  Do Quakers still speak funny?

Up until a couple of centuries ago Quakers often used the terms thee and thou in speaking.  Early Friends practiced plainness in speech by not referring to people in the “fancy” ways that were customary. Often Friends would address high-ranking persons using the familiar forms of “thee” and “thou”, instead of the respectful “you”. Later, as “thee” and “thou” disappeared from everyday English usage, many Quakers continued to use these words as a form of “plain speech”, though the original reason for this usage had disappeared; their usage was also grammatically distinctive, saying “thee is” instead of “thou art”, a holdover from a dialect formerly common in the north of England. Today there are still Friends that will use these terms with other Quakers.

6.  Why do Quakers call Sunday School, First Day School?

Early Friends objected to the names of the days and months in the English language, because many of them referred to Roman or Norse gods, such as Mars (March) and Thor (Thursday), and Roman emperors, such as Julius (July). As a result, the days of the week were known as “First Day” for Sunday, “Second Day” for Monday, and so forth. Similarly, the months of the year were “First Month” for January, “Second Month” for February, and so forth. For many Friends today, this is no longer a priority, though the tradition is still kept up by some—especially in the term “First-Day school” for Sunday Schools organized by Friends. Many Friends organizations continue to use the “simple calendar” for official records.