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George Willoughby and Lillian Willoughby Papers

Identifier: SCPC-DG-236

Scope and Contents

George and Lillian Willoughby, with help from their children, sorted through a houseful (and beyond) of papers that document their lifelong passion for peace and justice at home and abroad, as well as other involvements. Much of it was put into cartons unfoldered and in no order, except for a large portion collected by George regarding nonviolence. Most of this latter material was discarded because it duplicates what may be found in other SCPC collections.

This collection has been processed, according to professional standards, by several interns and the archivist. However, having 4-5 people working on it may have resulted in some tasks not being completed, such as all metal paper clips being removed, etc. If a researcher comes across such, please alert a staff member.

Because this is a collection of papers for a married couple, who did much together but also some things on their own, their name/s are prefixed before each folder title according to which was involved. The exception to this is when there is an underlined subseries title. Series A starts with them together, then has George's material, followed by Lillian's. George's name comes first in the collection title and in arrangement strictly because of alphabetical sequence.

Letters written between George and Lillian appear first in Series B. (However, the letters they wrote to each other while overseas are in Series D, along with their other trip material.) Letters written to family members, including their children, may be found next in Series B. This is followed by general correspondence, which includes letters written to George and Lillian by non-family members, or by George and Lillian to non-family members. These are arranged by name or by date. Correspondence to friends and colleagues in other countries is in Series D, arranged first by the country in which they lived. It should be noted that most of the correspondence in these series was sorted by interns, who may not have caught all of these possibilities (i.e., there may still be foreign letters in Series B, for instance).

It was sometimes difficult to decide where to file the different sorts of material that pertain to a specific event. Probably most prominent in this regard is from George Willoughby's stint with The Golden Rule. His journal, letters, and other material are in three series. When researching a topic, it would be best to do a Find command (F1) to search the whole document for places the topic might be found.


  • Creation: 1931-2010


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Limitations on Accessing the Collection

The collection is open for research use.

Physical Access Note

All or part of this collection is stored off-site. Contact Swarthmore College Peace Collection staff at at least two weeks in advance of visit to request boxes.

Copyright and Rights Information


Biographical Note

George Wilson Willoughby was born in Cheyenne (Wyoming) on December 9, 1914. His early years were spent in Panama, where his father helped build the Panama Canal. There George met teacher Elinor Robson, the daughter of Francis (Petey) and Ermina Douglass. He went to live with them in 1931; Elinor legally adopted him at age 21. George earned a B.A. in 1937. He became a conscientious objector and resigned his ROTC commission in 1939. He met Lillian Ruth Pemberton in the 1930s. She was born in West Branch (Iowa) on January 29, 1915 into a Quaker family. She graduated from Westtown Friends School near Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and earned a degree in dietetics from the University of Iowa in 1938. After an internship at Anker Hospital (St. Paul, Minnesota), she began work as the dietician for Scattergood in June 1939, which had become a hostel for Central European refugees fleeing Nazism. Lillian and George were wed on July 19, 1940. Both worked at Scattergood after their marriage, until the summer of 1941. George returned to the University of Iowa to complete his PhD at the University of Iowa, which he finished in 1942. Lillian worked at Broadlawns Hospital as a dietician until November 1942. In her spare time she got involved with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in a project in Des Moines (Iowa) that highlighted a flood plain near the city's African-American section used as community gardens. George headed up the history department at New Mexico State Teachers' College in 1942. He then served with the War Relocation Authority during WWII, in charge of Japanese-Americans in Montana and Colorado, from June to December of 1943. When he was drafted, he was granted conscientious objector status, and opted to enter alternative service. He arrived at Trenton Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp (North Dakota) in January 1944, where he worked as a land surveyor and then as the camp dietician. He transferred to Alexian Brothers hospital in Chicago (Illinois) in September 1944, at the same time that Lillian also found work there as a dietician.

At the age of 29, George applied to the West Branch Monthly Meeting (Iowa) to become a Friend; it was approved in February 1944. His convictions about peace and nonviolence, and Lillian's, continued to play a large part in directing their choices in future years. George went with an UNRRA cattle ship to Poland in 1946, part of an effort to provide needed livestock to war-torn Europe. When he returned, he was recruited to work at the American Friends Service Committee's Peace Institute in Des Moines. Lillian had moved back there and settled in at the Douglass homestead, where she and George would live for eight years. From 1946-1954, George was the regional office executive secretary for the AFSC; he transferred to their Philadelphia office in February 1954 as head of its C.O. Services Project. He left that post in February 1956 to head the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO). Both George and Lillian were arrested in the 1950s for civil disobedience. George was involved with the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA), formed in 1957 to resist the U.S. Government's program of nuclear weapons testing, one of the first organizations to employ direct nonviolent action to protest against the nuclear arms race.

In 1958, George was a member of the four-man crew of The Golden Rule, a 30-foot ketch which sailed from San Pedro (California) to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, to protest the testing of nuclear bombs. Along with William R. Huntington, James Peck, Orion Sherwood, and skipper Albert Bigelow, George was arrested five nautical miles from Honolulu and sentenced to 60 days in jail. Their act of nonviolent protest against the testing of nuclear arms and the nuclear arms race attracted worldwide media coverage. Upon his return, George again took up his post with the CCCO, only to resign a few years later to join the year-long Delhi-Peking Friendship Walk, which began in March 1963. Lillian stayed home with their four children (Sharon, Sally [Sara], Anita and Alan), and worked as a dietician at a local hospital(?).

Lillian was a tax resister, and she and George attempted to live frugally in order to keep below taxable income rates. From 1971 to 1987 the Willoughbys lived communally with others in West Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), in an effort to share resources, learn and teach nonviolence skills, and work together for the good of their neighborhood. This was part of the Movement for a New Society, which established various such houses for similar purposes. This interest in nonviolence training took George and Lillian to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries many times over the last few decades of their lives (at times George went alone for long periods). Both kept journals and wrote many letters about their experiences, so that this period is well documented. In 1981, George helped to establish Peace Brigades International. He was also a co-founder of the Muste Institute's International Nonviolence Training Fund. George was given the Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for Promoting Gandhism in 2002; there was a recommendation for Lillian to receive it in 2008. At the time of his death George was planning another visit to India for the dedication of a fund in Lillian's name.

When the U.S. declared war on Iraq after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Lillian became fearlessly outspoken for peace. In 2003, she and other demonstrators had their heads shaved outside the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia; their intention was to send the shorn hair to senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to express their opposition to the war. In 2004, Lillian and other activists spent seven days in the federal detention center in Philadelphia for blocking the entrance to the Federal Building in a protest against the Iraq war. They chose jail over $250 fines. In a statement read in court, she summed up her philosophy: "I am approaching my 90th year… I had high hopes of leaving this earth confident that the people on it knew more about nonviolence and conflict resolution.… Even after 9/11 we had a window of opportunity to do just that. By working with the United Nations and the World Court we could have helped build a stronger world community, a community of fairness and justice for all, where compassion, understanding, forgiveness, imagination, sharing and courage are valued and practiced." In 2006, Lillian and other members of the Granny Peace Brigade were charged with defiant trespass for refusing to leave a Center City (Philadelphia) military recruiting station after trying to enlist to serve in Iraq. A judge dismissed the charges.

George and Lillian became deeply involved in land trust issues, particularly after purchasing a home in Deptford, New Jersey. They helped to establish(?) and lived on the Old Pine Farm Land Trust, part of the New Jersey Green Acres program.

Lillian Willoughby died on January 15, 2009. George Willoughby died on January 5th, 2010.

See also:


2.1 Linear Feet (25.25 linear in.)


George Willoughby (December 9, 1914 - January 5, 2010) and Lillian Willoughby (c. 1916 - January 15, 2009) were Quaker activists who took part in nonviolent protests against war, conducted nonviolence trainings in India and other countries, and advocated for preservation of land in New Jersey and elsewhere.


The Willoughby papers were sorted into five categories:

  1. biographical information (Series A)
  2. correspondence (Series B)
  3. work and involvements, in the United States (Series C)
  4. foreign travel, involvements and contacts (Series D)
  5. reference material (Series E)

These are repeated in the 2010 accessions and in the later accessions.

Custodial History

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for these papers/records.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Timothy Miller and Sally Willowbee, 2010 [acc. 10A-025, 10A-027, 10A-028, 10A-053]; Alan Willoughby [acc. 12A-002, 2013-022].

Related Materials

For related materials, search the library's online catalog

Separated Materials

  1. Audiocassettes and audiotapes (reel-to-reel tapes) were removed to the Audiovisual Collection.
  2. Photographs (all sizes, including oversize) and slides (including CPS camp/s and India as subjects) were removed to the Photograph Collection [see list of photographs and slides available].
  3. A scrapbook of newsclippings re: The Golden Rule voyage was removed to the Oversize Scrapbook Collection (#137).
  4. Several graphics (drawing of Lillian as a young woman, etc.) were removed to Subject File 1: Art in War and Peace -- from DG Collections.

Legal Status

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Anne M. Yoder (Archivist), with the help of interns in August, 2010, and for later accessions.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2018: The file list was standardized in Summer 2017 by Min Cheng in preparation for importing into ArchivesSpace. Elisabeth Miller added the notes in Fall 2017.
  • 2024: Photographs series was added by Laura Melbourne in 2024. Items that had been filled as miscellaneous were added to existing sub-series.

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 reproductions from Swarthmore College Peace Collection Library

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