Background & History

The Atwater Kent Museum and the Friends Historical Association

The Friends Historical Association

Established in Philadelphia in 1873, the Friends Historical Association (FHA) is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and studying the history of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. The FHA has played a pivotal role in documenting the rich and diverse history of Quakerism, ensuring that the contributions of Friends to social, religious, and cultural history are recognized, remembered, and highlighted through exhibition and accessibility. 


Operating as a formal body to oversee the preservation of Quaker history, the FHA has strong partnerships with Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges.  With the housing of the Friends Historical Library and the Quaker Collection, respectively, these colleges have become the starting point for all Quaker research in the Philadelphia area and beyond. 

Partnership with the Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel University

Almost immediately after the formation of the Atwater Kent Museum, the FHA moved to create a partnership between the two organizations.  One of the first major collaborations between the two organizations was their joint efforts to highlight the work of Quaker artist Edward Hicks.  Through correspondence in museum records, we can see representatives from both AKM and FHA working to obtain works produced by Hicks to build out the exhibition, which was housed in the Atwater Kent Museum.

After the exhibition, FHA began housing materials with Atwater Kent for display, allowing the museum to highlight the rich Quaker history of Philadelphia.  These long term loans developed into such a strong partnership, that the organizations reached an agreement that had donations of materials to the FHA be brought directly to the Atwater Kent Museum.  This trend continued into the late 60s.  After the standardization of museum loan practices in the late 1970s, the organizations began to discuss the permanent transfer of materials from FHA to AKM. 

In preparation for this, two professors from Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges, analyzed the materials on loan with the museum and selected which artifacts would stay with the AKM and which would return to FHA repositories.  The result of this process was that most historic objects (Textiles, garments, accessories, etc.) were to remain at the museum, while archival materials (manuscripts, books, photographs, etc.) were to reside with Swarthmore College or Haverford College.  This transfer was completed in 1987 with the formation of the Friends Historical Association Collection and the Atwater Kent.



The Collection

With over 1,800 objects from the Friends Historical Association, it is one of the largest focused collections within the AKC.  The objects are heavily textile based, showcasing the spirituality of the Society of Friends through their subdued color pallets and lack of ornamentation.  These choices were made to reject vanity, while allowing the person a sense of individuality through personal fashion choices.  We can see these style choices through the bonnets, dresses, and kerchiefs highlighted within the FHA collection. 

The collection is also highlighted through the toys and crafts created, primarily by Quaker women, and preserved by the FHA to show the strong principles of the society.  Many of these toys are represented in dolls and doll furniture.  Within that toy collection, we can see Black dolls, created by Quaker women to highlight, and often raise money for, their abolitionist campaigns. 

– Michael Shepherd, Assistant Director