The Quaker campaign to end slavery can be traced back to the late 1600s, and many played a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad. In 1776, Quakers were prohibited from owning slaves, and 14 years later they petitioned the U.S. Congress for the abolition of slavery.
As a primary Quaker belief is that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect, the fight for human rights has also extended to many other areas of society.
In the early days Quaker views toward women were remarkably progressive, and by the 19th century many Quakers were active in the movement for women's rights.
One of the earliest suffragettes was Quaker minister Lucretia Mott, a fierce abolitionist who refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods. Frustrated by anti-slavery organizations that would not accept female members, Mott set about establishing women's abolitionist societies.
In 1848 Mott helped bring together the first American women's rights meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, and was elected as the first president of the American Equal Rights Association after the end of the Civil War. When slavery was outlawed in 1865, she didn't stop her activist aims and began to advocate giving black Americans the right to vote.
Another Quaker, Susan B. Anthony, also dedicated her life to attaining equal voting rights for women in America, and founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866.
Quaker commitment to bettering the lives of women continued through until the 20th century. Prominent suffrage leader Alice Paul, widely recognized as helping to deliver the vote for women in the United States in 1920, attributed her Quaker upbringing for her beliefs on rights for women.
The belief that all humans are worthy of respect extended to criminals. In the early 1800s, Quaker philanthropist Elizabeth Fry, was actively involved in prison reform and became Europe's chief campaigner for inmates' rights.
Quakers were also actively involved in revolutionizing the treatment of the mentally ill. Philanthropist William Tuke appealed to his fellow Friends to help fund an asylum that pioneered new, humane, methods of treatment such as removing inmates' chains.
One of the basic pillars of Quaker belief is that war and conflict are against God's wishes. Today, with slavery abolished and women granted the right to vote, organizations set up by Quakers continue the activist tradition by campaigning against violence and injustice around the world.