The Yearly Meeting Archives

The Archives are located at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Special Collections and University Archives at UMass Amherst (SCUA) envisions itself as the New England research center for Quaker history (the equivalent of Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges for the Mid-Atlantic region and Guilford and Earlham Colleges for their respective regions). You can view the collection descriptions currently available on the Library website.

Are you a meeting looking for information on what you should send to the archives and how it should be sent? Visit this page.

Are you an individual who is curious about what the Archives offer? Visit this page.

If you would like a more in-depth view of what the Archives contain, visit the Guide to the NEYM Archives page.  You can also contact SCUA: Ask an archivist.

Introduction

The current Archives of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM) began in the 1960s, the results of the unceasing work and dedication of Thyra Jane Foster. After retiring from teaching, Thyra Jane worked with monthly and quarterly meetings as well as Yearly Meeting and Quaker schools to establish a centralized place for Friends records, one that would be accessible to the public for research. For many years, the archives were housed at the Rhode Island Historical Society. As of 2016, that centralized repository is Special Collections and University Archives at UMass, Amherst (SCUA). The Archives and Historical Records Committee of NEYM (hereafter the Archives Committee) coordinates a regular, ongoing records program to encourage Yearly Meeting and affiliates to send their records to SCUA.

Scope and Content of the Collection

In 1661, less than a decade after the first Friends arrived in British North America, the precursor to New England Yearly Meeting was organized as Rhode Island Yearly Meeting. As one of approximately two dozen yearly meetings in the United States, NEYM currently comprises eight quarterly meetings and approximately 85 monthly meetings, which are the basic unit of organization for the Society.

Like many yearly meetings, NEYM has been diverse in spiritual practice, reflected in a history of separations and reunions. Most famously, Orthodox Friends in New England divided in the 1840s into the increasingly evangelically oriented Gurneyites, who went by the name Yearly Meeting of Friends for New England (joining Friends United Meeting in 1902), and the Wilburites, sometimes called Conservative Friends. In 1945, the disparate branches formally reunited.

Consolidated beginning in the 1960s, NEYM collection contains the official records of New England Yearly Meeting from its founding in the seventeenth century to the present, along with records of most of its constituent quarterly, monthly, and preparative meetings and records of Quaker schools and trusts. As varied as the Quaker practice they document, these records include minutes of meetings for business, committee records, newsletters, financial records, some personal papers, printed books and serials, and an assortment of photographs, audiovisual materials, microfilm, and electronic records. Of particular note are the vital statistics recorded by the monthly meetings, including general information on births, deaths, marriages, membership, and obituaries, and specifically Quaker information on removals (formal letters written as members moved from one meeting to another), denials, testimonies (beliefs and convictions), and sufferings (penalties Quakers suffered for following testimonies). The Archives Committee of NEYM is a partner in records management and ongoing documentation of the Meeting and its constituent bodies.

The collection also includes several thousand Quaker books and pamphlets, including the libraries of Moses and Obadiah Brown and several individual monthly meetings. The records of most monthly meetings in Maine are held at the Maine Historical Society, while important bodies of records are held at the Newport Historical Society (some Nantucket and Rhode Island Meetings) or at individual monthly meetings.

How Are the Records Used?

The New England records have been used to study the peace testimony during King Philip’s War and the Revolutionary War, literature and tract distribution of Moses Brown, and for genealogical research. Not only is the early Quaker history important and necessary for research, but twentieth century material is also important as it provides information on how Quakers dealt with both World Wars, and on the unification of the two Yearly Meetings in 1945. Since Quakers seek to keep their testimony and discipline current with the demands and needs of the world, the archives are useful for reference to older practices.

Questions? Need more help?

Contact Elise Riley, Consulting Outreach Archivist, by email to begin the conversation