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A CENTURY OF QUAKER CONCERNS By Edward Thomas* The Quaker Meetinghouse on Gramercy Park, New York City, officially known as Twentieth Street Meeting, celebrated in December 1959 the close of its first century of use, but the house deserves more to be remembered by the Quaker concerns that began in it and flourished around it, than for the gatherings of people that assembled in it from time to time. Some Quaker concerns begun elsewhere came to this house with the benches that were brought from the Orchard Street Meetinghouse and, perhaps, these benches suggested the greatly admired proportions of the large upstairs meeting room, frequently visited by architects who have heard of it and want to see it. One of the concerns that came, the Colored Orphan Asylum, had been begun in 1836 on Twelfth Street as a shelter for a few orphan children of runaway slaves and of freedmen. That Asylum, as later enlarged, stood on Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street, was burned by a Civil War anti-draft mob, and eventually occupied a large building in Riverdale. At least one of the members of this meeting, David S. Taber, was wounded in the Civil War burning, while helping children and attendants to escape from the violent invading mob. The Riverdale building was finally sold as an Old Folks Home, and the proceeds are now used in placing orphans in selected families where they learn the ways of family life. A pocket memorandum book with a blue cardboard cover, found in the Meetinghouse vault, lists collections in 1848 for the concern to send corn or wheat to Ireland to meet the great potato famine. *Edward Thomas, a New York Friend, recently deceased, was by profession a patent attorney. 103 104Quaker History An entirely separate concern, about 1862, led to setting up the Colored Mission, about 1865, to provide Sunday Schools and other training for Negroes coming from the South or already settled in New York. Fifty years ago, that Colored Mission occupied a house near where Pennsylvania Station stands. That had to be sold and, bought with the proceeds, three large houses, forming a unit, in Harlem now shelter the work. In 1861 concerned Friends established the 21st Ward Mission and Industrial School. The School was incorporated by special act of the Legislature in 1871, to give adequate powers to take in non-Friends. Out of that concern grew one of the first vocationaltraining public schools in the upper East Side. The Mission property at 305 East 4lst Street was sold when the neighborhood changed, and in May 1950 the funds were distributed to other Quaker work. During the last half of the eighteen hundreds the large Twentieth Street ground-floor room was occupied each Sunday by a First Day School, which was given up when most Meeting families with children lived in the suburbs. Shortly after the Civil War, a ministering Friend, whose name cannot be verified, came to New York, on a traveling minute, concerned to visit meetings in New York, New England, and Ohio Yearly Meetings. Custom required that a younger Friend accompany the ministering Friend, but none could be found. The Meetinghouse janitor offered to fill the place some young Friend should fill. The horse-and-buggy trip opened the eyes of the janitor to the ignorance of Friends they met and visited. He was appalled. At his death his estate of $40,000 was found to be divided among those three Yearly Meetings. These were the H. H. Mosher Funds for the distribution of Friends books. That distribution for New York was administered from the northeast room on the ground floor of the Meetinghouse, where David Taber kept for sale religious books by the hundreds, ranged on shelves all around the room. This local Friends bookstore was the property of Book and Tract Committee. Edward Thomas followed David Taber, but could not devote the same amount of time to it, and that concern of the Meeting was closed out in 1935. But the Mosher Fund still provides funds, and the Committee man- A Century of Quaker Concerns105 ages book distribution and the "Book Table" for selling books at Yearly Meetings. In 1885...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 103-108
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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