- A Biography of Lillian and George Willoughby: Twentieth-Century Quaker Peace Activists
When Haverford College awarded honorary PhD degrees to George and Lillian Willoughby in 1995, it was observing a three-century-long commitment to peace that had been one of the distinguishing features of the Religious Society of Friends. Among twentieth-century Quakers it would be hard to find two people whose lives have as consistently mirrored the peace testimony than these two.
The Willoughby marriage is one of contrasts. Lillian grew up in rural Iowa of a third century Quaker family that lived simply, worshiped regularly, and put their beliefs into action, notably by supporting the Scattergood School, which became a hostel for Central European refugees during World War II. George's childhood was spent between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the Panama Canal Zone, where his father worked on the canal. It was a military environment, and there was discord in the home.
From these two different backgrounds emerged two very different people; Lillian calm, centered, George excitable and irascible. Lillian trained as a dietician; George earned a PhD in Political Science and taught at the college level. Their marriage in 1940 produced four children and a lifetime of leadership in peace activism. [End Page 55]
After many years of peace work in the Midwest, the Willoughbys moved to Philadelphia in 1954. Here they bought an old farm house with three acres in Deptford, New Jersey. Though they lived elsewhere for many years, this became their home base. George worked for the AFSC, then a number of other peace organizations. Lillian was often the principal breadwinner, working as a dietician.
At the time of their move East the Willoughbys became involved in increasingly radical protests against preparations for nuclear war. They both entered forbidden nuclear sites, and were jailed. George joined the crew of the ship The Golden Rule, and of other ships sailing into forbidden waters. In 1963 George took the first of many trips to India to take part in the Delhi-Peking March for the World Peace Brigade. Later, Lillian joined him for trips to India. They made contact with the remaining Gandhian movement, stayed with Indian families, and lived simply. They made many friends, and were honored by Indian peace organizations.
In the United States protests against nuclear armaments were heating up. The Willoughbys refused to pay taxes and were both fined and jailed for this, Lillian most recently in 2004 when she was 89. In 1971, they established with their comrade, George Lakey, the Life Center, a communal living arrangement in West Philadelphia where activists could count on basic support, as Gandhi had proposed in first expounding his theory of satyagraha. The Life Center lasted some 20 years. When it was dismantled, the Willoughbys moved back to their farm in New Jersey, converting it to a land trust, and continued with their social activism well into their nineties.
Greg Barnes has made little attempt to analyze the story of the Willoughbys. Instead, the book is written in a rather prosaic, as-told-to style. Nevertheless, the author has done us a favor in recording the inspiring story of George and Lillian.