History of Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting

Quakers have worshipped continuously in what is now New York City for over 350 years. In 1657 the first Quakers arrived aboard the ship “Woodhouse” in the port of what was then New Amsterdam. When Friends’ worship in Flushing, New Amsterdam, was banned under an edict from the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant, Flushing residents signed a petition in defense of Friends’ freedom of worship. The petition, known as the Flushing Remonstrance (1657), was the earliest defense of religious liberty in the American colonies. The Friends Meeting House in Flushing is the oldest house of worship in New York State and the second oldest Quaker meeting house in the nation.

The unique history of Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting begins in the nineteenth century. Friends built the Meeting House as a place of worship for Manhattan members of the “Hicksite” branch of Quakerism just before the Civil War in 1861. By the late 1770s all the Quaker Meetings in North America had united against slavery and some Quakers in New York City were active in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement, while others, though opposed the practice of slavery, were reluctant to break the law and join the activists. Manhattan Friend Isaac Hopper (1771–1852), a zealous abolitionist, selfless philanthropist, and Quaker bookseller, was “disowned” by New York City Friends for his public denunciations of Friends who did business with the slaveholding South, though he continued to attend Meeting for Worship. Lucretia Mott (1793–1880), a Philadelphia Friend, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist, delivered a discourse at the Fifteenth Street Meeting House on November 11, 1866, in support of women’s rights.

Throughout the twentieth century, Fifteenth Street Quakers remained active on behalf of women’s rights and civil rights, including gay rights, and peace and disarmament. Fifteenth Street Friend Bayard Rustin, an African American social activist, practitioner of nonviolence, and advocate for gay rights, worked closely with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., sharing with him the teachings of Gandhi and serving as a principal organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Fifteenth Street Friend Rachel Davis DuBois, a distinguished writer and educator, worked in the South at the request of Dr King. Fifteenth Street Friends were active in opposition to the Vietnam War and war-tax resistance and engaged in military and draft counseling in the American Friends Service Committee’s New York City office and elsewhere. In the 1960s Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting created the Quaker Project on Community Conflict, a program addressing the problems of violence and homelessness. Out of this work came the Alternatives to Violence Project which continues worldwide to address violence in prisons and other communities. The Meeting came to officially celebrate same-sex unions years before the Supreme Court Obergefell vs. Hodges decision of 2015. In 2020 the Meeting called for the abolition of the exception clause of the Thirteenth Amendment. All of these actions constitute a living witness that has continued much in the same manner over the centuries.

(From the Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting Handbook)