September 17, 2010
Allen Jay (’51): that’s 1851.
Allen Jay was one of Earlham’s first students, a student when we were still a boarding school providing a guarded education for young Quakers. He was only here for one year (1850-51) as a student, and then returned in 1881 to be involved with Earlham in a variety of ways until his death in 1910.
We held a symposium last weekend on Allen Jay, on the occasion of the centennial of his death. As one of the speakers (Josh Brown) put it in trying to assess Jay’s importance, “If you want to understand 17th century Quakers, you have to read The Journal of George Fox. If you want to understand 18th century Quakers in the United States, you have to read The Journal of John Woolman. And if you want to understand 19th century Quakers in the United States, you have to read The Autobiography of Allen Jay.”
Josh Brown (an ESR alumnus), has just completed a new edition of Jay’s Autobiography, published by Friends United Meeting Press. Brown gave an overview of Jay’s life, emphasizing particularly his role in the renewal of Quakerism in the mid-19th century, especially in the context of the great (Gurney-Hicks) separation that began about the time Jay was born. The other two speakers at the symposium were Max Carter (another ESR alumnus), who spoke about Jay’s role in the rebuilding of Quaker communities in the Carolinas after the Civil War; and Tom Hamm, Professor of History and Archivist at Earlham, who spoke about Allen Jay in his later years at Earlham.
Hamm emphasized Jay’s role not only in raising money, but also in providing support and protection for young Earlham faculty (like Elbert Russell) who were bringing a critical and historical sensibility to the study of the Bible.