The Inner Light and popular enlightenment: Philadelphia Quakers and charity schooling, 1770-1820

William C. Kashatus, University of Pennsylvania


Philadelphia's Quakers were at the forefront of an unprecedented movement for humanitarian reform that swept the United States during the period 1770 to 1820. Quaker benevolence inspired a plethora of reform activities including abolitionism, prison reform, and most relevantly, charity schooling. Recent scholarship suggests than Quaker humanitarianism originated with the emergence of the market revolution and the rise of evangelical doctrine among Friends and that Quaker benevolence can be best understood as a means of social control. However, an examination of three Quaker-initiated charity school organizations--the Overseers of the Friends Public School, the Adelphi Society, and the Controllers for Philadelphia's first public schools--reveals that the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light, a concept that was not unique to evangelical Friends, along with the moral conventions of a new market culture inspired Quakers to adapt their traditional reform ideology based on moral uplift to meet the educational needs of the urban poor. Quaker faith and social convention became fused around the new ideological imperatives of a market culture: equal opportunity, human agency, and individual effort. By the 1820s Philadelphia's Quaker educational reformers had transformed their reform ideology of moral uplift from one based on sectarian outreach with its primary emphasis on the religious instruction of the Quaker poor, to one of interdenominational cooperation for the educational welfare of all the city's children.

Subject Area

Education history|Religious education|American history

Recommended Citation

Kashatus, William C., "The Inner Light and popular enlightenment: Philadelphia Quakers and charity schooling, 1770-1820" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9331796.