Quakers have made significant contributions to science in many fields. Quaker scientists have typically found little conflict between their science and their faith. The Quaker concept of continuing revelation fits well with the need for scientists to remain open to ideas and observations that challenge received wisdom.
Studying the Mind: Psychology and Mental Health
The Quaker concept of God in Everyone has inspired Quakers from the 18th Century to today to strive for more humane treatment of the mentally ill. Quakers have been involved in some significant breakthroughs in the study of psychology, but also in some significant controversies.
From the 17th to the 19th century there were many more Quaker botanists than would be expected from the number of Quakers in the world. Botany fitted well with their respect for and care of the environment, but there were many other factors too.
Environment and sustainability
Like many others, Quakers’ understanding of environmental issues has developed over time, and continues to do so. Quaker actions have changed too, in response to this. Today planetary sustainability is a key focus, often known as Earthcare.
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, many Quakers set up businesses as pharmacists. In 1841, three of them helped establish the Pharmaceutical Society, to oversee and regulate the profession.
The interest of 18th and 19th century Quakers in observing the natural world led to a flourishing of Quaker scientists, including a small but influential group of entomologists.
The interest of 18th and 19th Century Quakers in observing the natural world led to a flourishing of Quaker scientists in both Britain and North America, including a number of ornithologists.
Quakers and early Anthropology
In C19 several Quakers were involved with the early development of anthropology as a scientific discipline. At a time when there was still controversy as to whether all human beings belonged to the same species, these Quakers were powerful advocates for the unity and equality of all humanity.
Studying the Skies: Meteorology and Astronomy
The spiritual values of Quakerism have led many Quakers to closely observe and seek to make sense of the natural world around them,notably in Meteorology and Astronomy.
Alastair Heron (1915 – 2009) was a Scottish Quaker and psychologist, known for his work on physical, physiological and psychological changes with age. He edited the controversial 1963 publication, Towards a Quaker View of Sex.
Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) was a Quaker astronomer. His observations of the 1919 solar eclipse confirmed Einstein's predictions. He felt that religious mysticism, and the feeling of inspiration scientists sometimes have, were rather alike .
Botanists and the Study of Trees
Trees played an important part in the Quaker interest in plants. Saplings were transported across the Atlantic in both directions, and arboreta were created both for study and the general public.
Botanists in America
Several early American Quakers were significant botanists, sharing their knowledge widely. Some established arboreta, some studied and wrote about plants and trees, and some taught.
Botanists: the Illustrators
Many Quaker botanists were talented illustrators. Their work was particularly valuable because of their attention to detail and the care that they took to accurately represent the plants that they drew.
Catharine Cox Miles
Catharine Cox-Miles (1890-1984) was an American psychologist and Quaker, associated with the genetic study of genius and with the Terman-Miles test of masculinity and femininity. She took part in AFSC’s relief effort to feed German children after the First World War, earning medals for her work.
Edward Burnett Tylor
Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) was an English anthropologist. he helped to establish anthropology as a recognised scientific discipline. I his work he upheld the Quaker belief in the equality of all humankind; he classified the cultures he observed as savage, barbarian or civilised, but saw these as stages through which all societies must pass.
Elizabeth Brown (1830-1899) was a British Quaker and amateur astronomer who made important observations of sunspots and the solar eclipse.
Gardeners and Nurserymen
Many Quakers ran businesses supplying plants to wealthy landowners. There were famous nurseries in Lancashire, York and London. Some worked as gardeners on large estates and had a reputation for diligence and hard work.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a ground-breaking astrophysicist and also a prominent Quaker. Her discovery of pulsars changed the view of the life cycle of stars and helped confirm Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves. She has spoken widely about the relationship between scientific method and her Quaker faith.
John Dalton (1766-1844) was a significant meteorologist. He also transformed chemistry with his realisation that atoms of different elements have different weights and that atoms combine in predictable ways. As a Quaker, he lived simply, but such were his achievements that his funeral procession was followed by 40 thousand people.
John Fletcher Miller
John Fletcher Miller (1816-1856) was considered one of the foremost meteorologists of his time. One of a group of Quakers from the north of England to take a great interest in meteorology in the 19th Century, his meticulous observations and network of weather stations established the Lake District as one of the wettest places on earth, with higher rainfall than parts of the tropics.
John Ford and the Natural History Society of Bootham School
18th and 19th Century Quakers interest in observing the natural world led to a flourishing of Quaker scientists, particularly in the fields of botany, meteorology and astronomy. In Britain, one important way in which this interest was fostered was through Bootham School’s Natural History Society.
John Fothergill (1712-1780) was a Quaker scientist who made significant advances, both as a medical doctor and as an amateur botanist. He made accurate observations and advanced the treatment of diseases include scarlet fever, epilepsy, tuberculosis, influenza and migraine. In his extensive hothouses he cultivated over three thousand rare plants and has species of lily and geranium named after him.
Kathleen Lonsdale was a Quaker chemist who was instrumental in developing the science of crystallography. She was a peace campaigner and a prison reformer, and also served as President of the British section of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1956 she wrote, Is Peace Possible?, exploring the relationship between world peace and world population needs.
Lewis Fry Richardson
(1881-1953) Lewis Fry Richardson was a Quaker mathematician, physicist and pacifist who is regarded as the father of modern weather forecasting. His work – which spanned numerical methods for weather forecasting, the study of turbulence, methods for measuring the length of coastlines, and the statistical study of armed conflicts – was frequently well ahead of its time, only verified and made practicable decades after Richardson published it.
Luke Howard (1772 – 1864) was a pharmacist and meteorologist who created a classification of the clouds.
Mildred Creak (1898-1993) was a ground-breaking child psychiatrist who helped to develop nine-point criteria for the diagnostics of autism. Creak maintained that autism, far from being caused by parental inadequacies, as was believed at the time, was primarily due to genetic factors. She was a member of a Quaker peace degation to Russia in 1951.
(1694 - 1768) was part of a prosperous family of cloth merchants. He worked in the business, but his wealth enabled him to spend much of his time on philanthropy, and on scientific matters, especially botany.
Publishers and Writers
William Curtis founded the Botanical Magazine in 1787. The magazine is still published today. James Maddock produced the first directory of florists' flowers. Priscilla Wakefield wrote very successful books about botany for children.
Robert Were Fox (The Younger)
Robert Were Fox the Younger (1789 – 1877) was a Quaker geologist and mine owner from Cornwall in the UK. He was the first person to demonstrate that the Earth’s temperature increased with depth. He also developed a special form of compass accurate at all latitudes, used by Sir James Clark Ross in his expedition to discover the South Pole. With his daughters, Fox founded the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society.
Silvanus Phillips Thompson (1851-1916) was an electrical engineer, professor of physics, and a gifted communicator of scientific ideas. Like other Quaker scientists before and since, he drew parallels between the quests for truth in his science and in his faith.
The James Nayler Foundation
For nearly fifteen years (1997-2012) the James Nayler Foundation was a Quaker inspired charity, named after an early Quaker. It worked with people suffering from severe personality disorders, n the belief that all can be helped.
Ursula Franklin was a Canadian physicist, pacifist, feminist and Quaker. Her particular concerns are women’s rights, economic justice and for the environment.
(1770-1843) became an eminent pharmacist. A generous philanthropist and activist, he supported many causes - anti-slavery, poverty, emergency relief, and education. He travelled widely in Europe and Russia, in connection with these.