Journal Article

Muscular Quakerism? The Society of Friends and Youth Organisations in Britain, <i>c</i>.1900–1950

Mark Freeman

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXV, issue 514, pages 642-669
Published in print June 2010 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online May 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/ceq158
Muscular Quakerism? The Society of Friends and Youth Organisations in Britain, c.1900–1950

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This article examines the relationship of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to organised youth movements in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. It shows that, despite the Quaker testimony against war and militarism, many members of the Society participated, often enthusiastically, in youth organisations that were considered militaristic by many other Friends. In doing so, they openly acknowledged the ‘military virtues’, and were willing, especially during the Second World War, to collaborate with the military state in undertaking youth work. Although they tended to emphasise the spiritual aspects of the youth movements in which they participated, Quaker involvement in youth organisations – such as the Scouts, the wartime Youth Service and Outward Bound – reflected an acknowledgement of the relationship between militarism and character-building that had underpinned some earlier versions of muscular Christianity. The article emphasises the ubiquity of the language of ‘character’ in Quaker discussions of youth and adolescence in the first half of the twentieth century, although there was no single Quaker position on the suitability of particular youth organisations. Three conclusions are drawn. First, Quakers both shaped and were influenced by evolving conceptions of the role of youth work, particularly the emergence of an agenda of ‘personal growth’ in place of ‘character-building’. Second, however, the appeal of the ‘military virtues’, and the benefits of the military experience in promoting them, remained a powerful dimension in Quaker approaches to youth movements. Finally, the experience of British Quakers in this period demonstrates the extent of the ‘cultural assimilation’ of Nonconformist denominations into the mainstream of British life during this period.

Journal Article.  12533 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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