Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part I

Historical Narrative






The Formation of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends


          The full import of what had actually come to pass in western Quakerism during the decade between 1850 and 1860 can not be fully appreciated without a view of the field as it appeared at the end of that period: a survey of the new meetings which had been established, and the strong tendencies towards more effective organization in the order.

            When the year 1850 came to its close there were thirteen Quaker settlements in the state of Iowa, varying in size from a few persons to many families. Ten years later, in 1860, there were no less than forty-five such meetings of Friends, scattered through eighteen different counties.(96) As these settlements increased in numbers and in strength, it was natural that each should pass through the various stages of Quaker church organization for the handling of the community interests, namely: the Preparative, the Monthly, the Quarterly, and the Yearly Meetings. The Preparative Meeting(97) dealt with a single local community; the Monthly Meeting usually cared for a more extended field of one or more settlements; the Quarterly Meeting had supervision over a number of Monthly Meetings in a given district; and finally, the Yearly Meeting exercised final control in religious matters over all those composing its membership.(98) It was through these various steps, therefore, that the Quakers passed as they continued to plant their homes, their churches, and their schools in Iowa.

            It will be remembered that with the growth of Salem the first Quarterly Meeting of Friends west of the Mississippi River was organized at that place on May 20, 1848. This meeting of Friends west of the Mississippi River was organized at that place on May 20, 1848. This meeting having become unwieldy by the rapid rise of the communities of Friends to the west, Pleasant Plain was set off as a new Quarterly Meeting under that name in 1852, (99) with the more western settlements under its care. Then came the Friends of Cedar County, who, in their newly built frame meeting-house with floors of rough and unplaned boards, were granted the privileges of a Quarterly Meeting on the 8th day of May, 1858.(100) The fourth group of settlements thus to organize was Western Plain, now called Bangor. Starting with a little settlement in Marshall County in 1853,(101) the Quakers settled in such numbers upon the fertile lands along the upper courses of the Iowa River that within five years they were prepared for a Quarterly Meeting, which was duly established among them on the 5th day of June, 1858.(102)

            The Quakers in Iowa, having developed into four strong and well organized Quarterly Meetings, were now ready for the formation of a Yearly Meeting. It seems that the initial move towards such an organization was made by the Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting, the matter being considered on the 13th day of November, 1858. In the records of that meeting may be found the following statement:


            This meeting was introduced into a deep exercise on the very important subject of the establishment of a Yearly Meeting in Iowa. After a time of serious deliberation during which a very general expression was made the meeting believing the time had come, for action thereon, and being fully united, it was concluded to appoint a joint committee of men and women friends, to meet and confer with similar committees from the other quarterly meetings, and take the whole subject in all its bearings into serious consideration. The place of meeting of these committees to be at Spring Creek, meeting house, on the second seventh day in 12th mo. next at 10 o’clk A. M.(103)


                    The proposed plan was heartily espoused by the Friends of Pleasant Plain and of Western Plain; and when December 11, 1858, arrived, representatives from all four of the Iowa Quarterly Meetings were present at the appointed place. Having convened, the “conference was introduced into a lively exercise on the important subject”, and after a “free expression of sentiment” it was clear to all that the Friends in Iowa were ready for a Yearly Meeting separate and distinct from that of Indiana. Various locations were suggested for the annual gatherings, which, after being “freely discussed in much harmony and condescension”, the conference united in recommending to their home meetings that the gatherings be held “in the vicinity of Oskaloosa, in Mahaska County”—an indefinite recommendation which was fraught with may difficulties.(104)

            Having confederated their interests, the four Iowa Quarters now pressed their claims for independence upon the Indiana Yearly Meeting at its annual gathering in 1859; and at its session held on October 1st, after “serious consideration, and, under a feeling sense of the responsibility and importance of the proposed movement”, the meeting appointed a committee of nineteen Friends “to visit the Quarterly meetings in Iowa, with the liberty of visiting any of their subordinate meetings, if they should think it right to do so, and to report… their judgment as to the propriety of granting the request”.(105)

            During the summer days of 1860, twelve members of this official committee passed from community to community in Iowa, observing and noting the conditions here existing. It its report to the Indiana Yearly Meeting on October 6th the committee said:


Our Friends in Iowa received us with much kindness, and assisted us in traveling form place to place, as was laid out to suit our convenience. We found large and respectable bodies of Friends at Red Cedar, Bangor, South River, Pleasant Plain, and Salem Quarterly meetings, and entered into much sympathy with them in their situation, and also in regard to their proposition, concerning which we found a united sentiment at each meeting.


In recommending that the request of the Iowa Friends be granted the committee suggested that “the time of opening the new Yearly Meeting be fixed not earlier than 1863, nor later than 1865… in order to give ample time for suitable preparation and arrangements”. Adopting the recommendations of their committee, the Indiana Friends now authorized the opening of the new Yearly Meeting “to be held in the vicinity of Oskaloosa, in Mahaska County, Iowa, on Fifth-day preceding the second First-day in the Ninth month, 1863.” It was in accordance with this direction that the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends came into being at the Spring Creek meeting-house on the 10th day of September, 1863.(106)

This project for a Yearly Meeting had apparently moved along smoothly, and peace ad concord seemed to prevail. But unexpectedly an almost insuperable difficulty arose. In the early part of January, 1861, representatives from the five Iowa Quarterly Meetings reconvened at Oskaloosa to lay plans and make arrangements for the opening of the Yearly Meeting two years hence. They early agreed upon the erection of a permanent building for the Yearly Meeting, at an estimated cost of $16,000; but when they came to consider just where this building was to be placed, grave and embarrassing differences of opinion appeared.(107) That it was to be “in the vicinity of Oskaloosa” had been made clear both by the former conference at Spring Creek in 1858 and by the direction of the Indiana Friends of the Spring Creek settlement about two and one-half miles to the east of Oskaloosa, the demands of the Friends of the Center Grove settlement about two miles to the north of Oskaloosa, and the demands of the Friends in the town of Oskaloosa—all contending for the erection of the proposed building in their midst—was a puzzle.

Unable to come to any mutual agreement the conference of January adjourned until April. Upon reviewing the whole situation, a dead-lock again appeared at the adjourned meeting, and the joint committee was compelled to report back to the home meetings that “we cannot agree upon any location”.(108) The Bangor Quarterly Meeting now proposed to submit the contention to an impartial body of Friends outside of Iowa,(109) but Pleasant Plain refused to concur in this suggestion.(110) Then Red Cedar appealed to the Indiana “Meeting for Sufferings”(111) to interfere, and asked that the opening of the new Yearly Meeting be indefinitely postponed.(112) The Indiana Yearly Meeting was now compelled to act; and in a statement made on October 2, 1862, it informed its Iowa offspring with true Quaker firmness “that it would [not] be proper for it to make any change in the conclusion heretofore had”.(113) Thus left to make the best of the situation, the western Quakers for the time being laid aside their differences and made haste to prepare for the long to be remembered birthday of the first Yearly Meeting beyond the Mississippi.


Notes and References


96-The writer compiled his data for the Iowa field in 1850 and 1860 chiefly from two booklets published by the authority of the “Meeting for Sufferings” of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, each entitled: Statement of Indiana Yearly Meeting, and All the Meetings Thereunto Belonging: The Days of Holding them, and Their Location, one covering the year 1850, and the other the year 1859.


97- With the adoption of the uniform Discipline in 1902 the Orthodox Friends in Iowa abandoned the old Preparative Meeting as a business unit, and it became in most cases merely a meeting for worship.


98- In 1902 all of the American Yearly Meetings of Friends except Ohio, Philadelphia and Canada, united under a uniform church discipline termed “The Constitution and Discipline for the American Yearly Meetings of Friends”. Though now banded together in what is called the “Five Years Meeting”, each Yearly Meeting retains the right “to adopt additional disciplinary regulations not inconsistent herewith.”—Thomas’s A History of Friends in America (4th edition), pp. 24, 25.


99- Minutes of Salem Quarterly Meeting of Women Friends, 5 mo., 15th, 1852, p. 52. See also p. 67.


100- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 5 mo., 8th, 1858, p. 1.


101- Minutes of Salem Quarterly Meeting of Women Friends, 11 mo., 19th, 1853, p. 80.


102- Minutes of Western Plain Quarterly Meeting of Women Friends, 6 mo., 5th, 1858, p. 1.


103- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 11 mo., 13th, 1858, p. 20.


104- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 2 mo., 12th, 1859, p. 23; Minutes of Western Plain Quarterly Meeting of Women Friends, 3 mo., 5th, 1859, p. 17.


105- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1863, pp. 1, 2.


106- Minutes of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1860, pp. 20, 21.


107- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 2 mo., 9th, 1861, pp. 67-69.


108- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 8 mo., 10th, 1861, p. 76.


109- Minutes of Bangor (Western Plain) Quarterly Meeting of Women Friends, 12 mo., 7th, 1861, pp. 62, 63.


110- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 5 mo., 10th, 1862, pp. 89, 90, 91.


111- Minutes of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting of Friends, 5 mo., 10th, 1862, p. 91.

            The “Meeting for Sufferings” had its origin in England during the severe persecutions of the Quakers in that country. In order to provide a convenient medium through which the sufferers might reach the ear of the government, in 1675 it was agreed “that certain Friends of this city [London] be nominated to keep a constant meeting about sufferings four times in a year, with the day and time of each meeting here fixed and settled. That at least one Friend of each county be appointed by the Quarterly Meeting thereof, to be in readiness to repair to any of the said meetings at this city, at such times as their urgent occasions or sufferings shall require.”—The Friends’ Library, Vol. I, p. 119.

            In later times these “Meetings for Sufferings” became the representative bodies of the Society when the Yearly Meetings were not in session. Among the Iowa Friends to-day this “Meeting” is perpetuated in the “Permanent Board”.


112- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 8 mo., 9th, 1862, p. 95.


113- Minutes of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1862, p. 5.



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