Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

T. Edmund Harvey


Harvey was born to a prosperous Quaker family in Leeds on 4th January 1875. He appears in the childhood memoir, We Were Seven, by his brother, the writer William Fryer Harvey (1885-1937 as ‘Tom, the kindest and most good natured of elder brothers’.   After an education at Bootham School and Oxford, he became the Warden of Toynbee Hall and in January 1910 the Liberal MP for West Leeds.  At the outbreak of the First World War he resigned as a parliamentary private secretary and threw himself into relief work on the continent.  The high point in his parliamentary career came in early 1916 when military conscription was being introduced and he won a statutory exemption for conscientious objectors.  He went on to work on the Pelham Committee helping to place exempted men in work of alternative national importance.  Because of his wartime pacifism he was not allowed to stand again for West Leeds at the general election in December 1918 and, except for ten months in 1924, was out of Parliament until 1937, when he was elected for the double-member constituency of the Combined English Universities, the other member being the social reformer, Eleanor Rathbone.  During a time of growing international tension, he continued to work for peace.  He was among the many MPs in September 1938 who welcomed Prime Minister Chamberlain back to Parliament after the Munich Agreement, and he continued to hope for peace by negotiation. After war began in September 1939 and conscription was re-introduced, he reprised the role he had played in the First World War of the protector of the rights of the conscientious objector. 

Harvey took a lifelong interest in prison reform and the rehabilitation of offenders.  In 1921 he was one of the first of a new breed of independent prison visitors.  For the next thirty years, every Sunday that he was at home in Leeds, he devoted the evening to the needs of the prisoners in Armley Gaol. He wrote a book in 1941 arguing for the duty of the Christian citizen to work for penal reform and the wellbeing of the prisoner.   He was the author of over eighty other works, including The Long Pilgrimage, (1921) and Stolen Aureoles, a witty set of spoof hagiographies, an unusual genre he used for a witty apologia for his profession of politics.

Harvey retired from Parliament in July 1945, the month before the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was one of the first Quakers to speak out against the atomic bomb. He continued to work as a prison visitor until 1951.  After his death on 3rd May 1955, a fellow Quaker, Wilfrid Allott, wrote the following appreciation:

As chance would have it whenever I saw Mr. T. E. Harvey it was over some question of helping an orphanage, helping people in trouble or helping to get citizens informed about some wrong that ought to be put right. I feel sure there was no day of his life on which he did not try to think of some good that he could do. So I am wrong to say ‘as chance would have it’. What I saw of the man was typical of his interests. He was one the products of the best education in England, France and Germany. I was often impressed by the wealth of his knowledge of social problems in various countries. He served in many capacities […] He was not a demagogue who could inflame a public do his good work quietly and with no desire for acclamation. Few of our reformers have such a record of continuous, solid work (Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 04 May 1955 p.7).

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