Historic Quaker Meeting Houses of Philadelphia
This heritage trail includes four historic Quaker Meeting House and Friends Hospital. Additional sites related to the history of the Quakers in Philadelphia will be added soon.
The Merion Monthly Meeting began in 1682 when the first Quaker Welsh immigrants arrived in the colonies. Built in two sections, construction on their unique meeting house began in 1695 and was completed sometime around 1714, making it the oldest place of worship in Pennsylvania. It is also one of the oldest meeting houses within the United States. Constructed of local stone, the meeting house was built before the Society of Friends had established architectural guidelines, which explains its distinctive design. It is still an active meeting house, holding unscripted worship services every Sunday. The Merion Friends Meeting House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.
Friends Hospital, founded as the Friends Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, was the first private mental hospital in the United States that focused on humane mental health treatment.
The Quaker meeting house was built between 1803 and 1805. The simplicity and classic beauty of the building reflect the Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) and their values of thrift, humility, charitable work, and the rejection of materialism. The meeting house is open for tours and is still used as a center for worship. It hosts the Philadelphia Yearly Meetings of Friends, a general conference that also serves as the central organizing body for the Quakers. The meetinghouse was built upon a Quaker burial ground. One of the earliest symbols of the Quaker belief in equality, the Society of Friends allowed non-members, Native Americans, and African Americans to be buried here.
Constructed between 1783 and 1784 by a group of Philadelphia Quakers who had been forced out by other Quakers for their early support of the American Revolution, this structure served as the meetinghouse of the "Free Quakers." Because Quakers were pacifists, the majority of the city's Quakers opposed this group's support of the colonists who took up arms against England. A few dozen Quakers met at this meetinghouse until 1836. During the 1780s when the group was most active, members included some of the leading men and women who supported the rebellion such as Betsy Ross. With military conflicts between England, France, and the United States coming to an end after the War of 1812, the factors that led to the division between the Free Quakers and others in the city declined. In addition, fewer and fewer members lived in this part of the city by 1830, and this meeting house was no longer utilized by the Quakers after 1836.
The Race Street Friends Meetinghouse, which was built in 1856, now, ironically, fronts Cherry Street. The site has been in continuous use by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, for over 150 years. The site was converted into the Friends Meeting Center when a modern addition was built in 1975 while still maintaining the integrity of the original meetinghouse. The meetinghouse played a significant role in the social movements of both the 19th and 20th centuries, to include the abolition, women’s rights, temperance, peace and civil rights movements. And, not surprisingly to the Quakers, women, such as Lucretia Mott, Hannah Clothier Hull, Alice Paul and Jane Rushmore, who were associated with Race Street, led the way. Group tours are available by appointment and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.