In a box found a decade ago in a highboy inherited by my mother, Caroline Sargent Furnas Trueblood, was a collection of letters written almost daily to each other by her parents, Paul and Betty Furnas, during the year they met, courted, and married. These letters tell an endearing, intimate story of their love, their Quaker beliefs, and their plans for marriage. They also reveal details about life during the “Coolidge Prosperity” years, 1922-1923, as well as the important work these young Friends and others were doing to revive the Religious Society of Friends and to unite Quakers in the United States.
A Quaker Courtship is a love story and a tantalizing glimpse of the life, key leaders and organizations among Quakers in 1922. Both sets of parents were Quakers from different branches of Friends: the Furnases were Orthodox and the Walters were Hicksite. These branches eventually united in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the 1950s (and other yearly meetings united about the same time), but Paul and Betty had been leaders in the national Young Friends Movement decades before, and much was made in 1922 of their own union. Paul and Betty were married at Swarthmore Friends Meeting in September, 1923 where our story opens.
The box of letters sat in my home office for over a year, too precious to discard or ignore, but not rising to a high priority for attention. While sitting in the Haverford College Library one day for a meeting I suddenly realized that the collection of letters deserved to be placed permanently in a Friends Historical Collection eventually.
But which one? I thought about the Friends archives I am familiar with at Swarthmore, Guilford, Earlham and Haverford colleges and realized that the one most dear to my grandparents — Paul and Betty Furnas — was Earlham’s Quaker Collection. So as I thought about delivering the box to Thomas Hamm, Quaker Archivist at Earlham’s Lilly Library, and realizing it would disappear into the stacks for study and posterity, at best, I decided I would transcribe the letters so that the contents could be available to my cousins and other family members.
In February 2010 I arranged the letters, still in their original envelopes, in chronological order and started typing. Right from the start I was astonished to read of their expressions of love-at-first-sight and then very shortly realized they had become engaged to marry just ten days after meeting at a conference of young adult Quakers. I downloaded an August 1922 calendar and plotted their letters and visits with each other. Their love and respect for each other leaps from their letters and I continued typing and following their developing love story over the next several months.
In addition, I realized that as young Quaker leaders from two different and separate groups of Friends they were in the forefront of working toward bringing these disparate Friends organizations into unity, something that wasn’t accomplished until the 1950s and even today there are theological disagreements among Quaker groups. Quaker history was being made as Betty Walter worked as the executive secretary for the Young Friends’ Movement at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Paul Furnas was in the last years of voluntary service leading Young Friends Activities among Orthodox Young Friends.
Now a book — A Quaker Courtship — is complete. All of their letters and some text explaining contexts, family history, Quaker terminology and references they make are shaped into a Quaker love story set in the early 1920s.
A few of the photos, letters and telegrams from A Quaker Courtship -
(Click any image to open gallery, hover/click again for captions)