Last spring, our friends at Haverford College in Pennsylvania celebrated the 150th birthday of Rufus Jones, the highly influential American Quaker (1863-1948). Jones hailed from South China, Maine, and came to Moses Brown in 1879. His autobiography, Small Town Boy, written in 1941, includes a passage about his going to “Providence Friends School.” Rufus’ father was a farmer and did not have enough money to pay his son’s tuition, so Rufus applied for a scholarship and got it. He later went on to become a professor at Haverford.
Rufus taught philosophy at Haverford and helped bring together two divisions of American Quakerism. Often described as a Quaker mystic, he was able to reconcile science and modern, liberal thinking with his Quakerism.
Rufus was born to an old Quaker family. His uncle and aunt, Eli and Sybil Jones, established Friends Schools in Lebanon (then part of Syria) and Palestine. He went on to obtain an MA from Harvard, then returned to Haverford as a professor of psychology and philosophy.
From the writings of the early Quakers, Jones crystallized the concept of the ‘inner light,” an idea central to modern liberal Quakerism. Rufus’ beliefs were always strongly coupled with a sense of responsibility towards the world at large.
In 1917, when the U.S. entered the First World War, Rufus and Henry Cadbury established the American Friends Service Committee, to provide ways for young conscientious objectors to serve without joining the military. They set up courses for COs, training them to work with groups like the Friends Ambulance Unit in Europe. At the end of the war, Rufus steered the AFSC towards relief work and was instrumental in organizing the Quäkerspeisung, the large-scale feeding effort that saved millions in Germany from starvation.
In 1927, Rufus traveled to Asia where he met Gandhi and visited the birthplace of the Buddha. Shortly after, he addressed the World Missionary Conference in Jerusalem, calling on them to be open to positive influences from other world religions, “gladly recognizing the good they contain.”
Following the attacks on Jews on Kristallnacht in 1938, he went to Germany with two other Quakers and met with Reinhard Heydrich, later one of the architects of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution,’ to plead for better treatment for the Jews. Rufus believed that it was in part Heydrich’s awareness of their work with the Quäkerspeisung that led to their appeal being heard politely. “The promise made to us was kept,” he wrote after the war, “and the door was opened for the extensive relief which followed our visit, including the emigration of many Jews.”
In 1947, Rufus represented the AFSC in Stockholm when the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Considering all of Rufus Jones’ accomplishments, we’d say his scholarship was money well spent.
Read more at http://www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/230.
Thanks to George Chappell, MB ’55, for inspiration for this article. A member of a Friends Meeting in Maine, George read Small Town Boy as part of a recent study group.