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Quaker Disciplines

Identifier: SFHL-MSS-005

Scope and Contents

Friends Historical Library collects printed, manuscript, and other materials by and about the Society of Friends, its members, and its testimonies. This collection of disciplines has been assembled over the last 140 years through deposit and gift, and is probably the largest in the world.


  • Creation: 1689-2018

Conditions Governing Access

Access to the collection is unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Some of the items in this collection may be protected by copyright. The user is solely responsible for making a final determination of copyright status. If copyright protection applies, permission must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns to reuse, publish, or reproduce relevant items beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to the law. See

Biographical / Historical

The Society of Friends or Quakers (the terms are synonymous) was founded in the middle of the seventeenth century in England by George Fox and others. American Quaker activity has been documented in Massachusetts and Virginia as early as 1656. By the time William Penn's colony, Pennsylvania (whose lower counties became Delaware) was founded in 1681, Quakerism was well established in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. In 1827-28, there was a major doctrinal split among Quakers over the views of Elias Hicks. Further fragmentation occurred later in the 19th century, particularly in the Midwest. Many of the branches of Quakerism have reunited.

What we today commonly refer to as a Quaker discipline has been defined as a book compiling rules of behavior for Friends bearing on all matters of church government such as qualification, description and transfer of membership; duties of ministers; methods of filing appeals; and attitudes toward marriage. From its earliest days, London Yearly Meeting issued epistles which contained advices concerning behavior of members of the Society of Friends. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting published a "Loving Exhortation to Friends," printed by William Bradford in 1689. The latter Yearly Meeting, in fact, raised the issue of the need for a more comprehensive book of discipline or rules at least as early as 1717, and produced multiple manuscript volumes for the use of quarterly and monthly meetings in 1719. This book was prefaced by an epistle, and was divided into topical sections, with the sections labeled in the margins. These books were annotated as directed by the Yearly Meeting; manuscript compilations of these extracts in Britain were called Christian and Brotherly Advices at least as early as 1756. In 1783, London Yearly Meeting was the first to publish a printed book of extracts from its minutes and epistles because the Yearly Meeting was concerned that some meetings were not keeping up-to-date with their annotations. In the United States, New England Yearly Meeting was the first to follow their lead in 1785, with Baltimore and Philadelphia issuing their own printed volumes in 1794 and 1797 respectively.


9 linear ft.

Language of Materials



The Society of Friends or Quakers (the terms are synonymous) was founded in the middle of the seventeenth century in England by George Fox and others. The Friends Historical Library has collected Quaker disciplines since its founding in 1871. FHL is also the official repository for the records of seven American yearly meetings.


The collection is organized in series, with the series arranged alphabetically by meeting.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.


Friends Historical Library's Collection of Quaker Disciplines, 1689-2009
Finding Aid prepared by FHL Staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish.

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA