Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Translucent Teachers of the Light": Howard and Anna Brinton as Quaker educators

Howard and Anna Brinton are best known as Quaker educators, or as Dan Wilson called them somewhat grandiloquently, “translucent teachers and ministers of the Light.”[1] For sixteen years, during the 1930s and 40s, they served as co-directors and teachers at Pendle Hill, the Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia. After retiring, they lived on campus and continued to teach there for the rest of their lives, where they modeled what it meant to teach in the manner of Friends.

Before coming to Pendle Hill, a unique experiment in Quaker education, the Brintons both had highly successful careers in academia. Howard studied at Haverford, Columbia, Harvard and received his doctorate from Berkeley. He served as an interim president of Guilford College and taught at Pickering, Mills College and Earlham. Anna’s achievements were equally, if not more impressive. She earned her doctorate in Classics from Stanford at age thirty, served as department head at Mills, an elite women’s college in northern California, and taught with Howard at Earlham. But something about conventional education did not satisfy the Brintons. They were looking for something different, something that would enable them to put their Quaker faith into practice.

 Howard and Anna taught at Woodbrooke in England and were intrigued by this alternative Quaker institution of higher education. When he heard of an opening at Pendle Hill, Howard decided to leave Mills College in 1934 to serve as a temporary director and lecturer at this fledging Quaker school that was part seminary, part intentional community, and part think tank.

“To persons as long identified with the standardized academic field as ourselves,” wrote Howard, “an institution which does not readily fit into the American educational mechanism might seem problematical if not quixotic.”[2]

Modeled after Woodbrooke, Pendle Hill was birthed at a difficult time (1929), but with great expectations for its future. Its first director was Henry Hodgkin (1877-1933), a Quaker missionary to China, peace activist, and one of the founders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. A convert to the “Social Gospel,” Hodgkin was deeply concerned with the social issues of his time as well as with the spread of authentic Christian principles. Summoned to the United States by American Friends, he left China at age 58 and became Pendle Hill’s first director in 1930. In two years he placed his personal stamp on what he called a “haven of rest, a school of the prophets, a laboratory of ideas, a fellowship of cooperation.” Because of ill health, he didn’t last long in his position, however. He died on March 26, 1933, in a Dublin, Ireland, nursing home.[3] But he left behind a legacy of fearless inquiry into social issues. The results of one of Pendle Hill’s first courses taught by Henry Hodgkin was published as Seeing Ourselves Through Russia; a book for private and group study (New York: R. Long and R.R. Smith, 1932).

Pendle Hill can be seen as part of the pacifist effort to form alternative schools and cooperative living models that would challenge the mainstream culture of violence of militarism. As Appelbaum explains:

A number of educational experiments with close connection to pacifism also fed into the cooperative-living movement. Brookwood Labor College, founded in 1919 in Katonah, New York, aimed to apply “Christian principles to the use of property, community living, and education.” Under the leadership of A.J. Muste [who later taught at Pendle Hill], from 1921 to 1933, it specialized in the training of labor leaders. Pacifists such as John Nevin Sayre and Sarah Cleghorn, as well as many lesser lights, taught at Brookwood, and members of similar schools were subsequently established.[4]

When Howard came to Pendle Hill, the acting director was Richard Gregg, author of Training for Peace, and one of the leading pacifist theorists of this period. Gregg saw pacifism as a “way of life” rooted in practices that included discussion, folk music, meditation, simple cooperative living, and service.
When Howard became acting director of Pendle Hill, he shared many of Gregg’s concerns, some of which are reflected in his inaugural lecture, “A Religious Solution to the Social Problem” (PH #2, 1934). “This was an attempt to bring into one the two principal interests at Pendle Hill, religion and social reform,” recalled Howard. “I have followed this ever since.”[5]

In this work Howard diagnosed the chief problem of his day as the inability of the individual to find a healthy relationship with his community. People are drawn either to excessive individualism (which glorifies the individual, isolates us from our community, and leaves us feeling spiritually empty and isolated) or to secular totalitarianism (which binds us to group consciousness and makes us prey to social control). In Howard’s view, people in modern secular society have lost their feeling of genuine connection with their community because they have lost a sense of something greater than the individual self. As a result, people lack a sense of inner worth and seek to find meaning and purpose in their lives by joining a secular cause, such as Communism or Fascism, that lead to alienation or war. Such causes end up stifling rather than fulfilling the individual’s deepest needs. The other extreme is renunciation of the world—going off to live in a monastery.

Howard proposes a third alternative, a “religiously integrated” community of individuals who are bound together by a common experience of unity, and yet respect each other’s individuality. In Howard’s view, the goal of Pendle Hill was to create this kind of “religiously integrated group.” Such a group would model how human beings could get along together by simplifying their lives and living together cooperatively.

More will be said later about Howard’s views on society and social relations, but for now one picture expresses more than thousands of words. In an annual Christmas letter dated December 1939, beautifully drawn by Anna, Howard explained social development and “what makes men live together peaceably” with a light touch of humor.  Rhyming couplets explain the six stages of society: tribalism, liberalism, anarchism, utopianism, super-humanism, and “on earth as in heaven.” Each stage is illustrated with a geometric design showing how human beings relate to each other on both a horizontal and vertical plane. At the bottom of the picture are Anna’s drawings of various family members, each with his favorite pet. Anna is shown feeding her chickens, Mary and Martha; Howard is shown holding two rabbits and gazing fondly towards his family. This letter illustrates how the Brintons managed to integrate teaching, family life and the mission of Pendle Hill into a delightful and instructive whole.

Anna was no doubt a factor in Pendle Hill’s decision to hire Howard as director. When she arrived just before Christmas in 1934, she made a very strong initial impression, as this Log entry makes clear (with some Quaker humor):

Anna Cox Brinton arrived today from California with three children; established the family at Pendle Hill, visited two sets of grandmothers and cousins, changed the children from California wardrobes to Pennsylvania ones, obtaining two extra coats apiece just by momentum, prepared a Christmas entertainment with festivities and gifts for filling stockings for all the Pendle Hillers left behind, wrote a paper on the ‘Illustrated Editions of Horace,’ and packed her suitcase for Toronto.[6]

Anna proved to be a very effective teacher and had the ability to get along with a wide variety of people, including a rather stodgy and conservative Friend named Henry Bartlett, who has originally opposed the idea of forming Pendle Hill, but was willing to co-teach a class with Anna.

Anna attracted students from Westtown, her alma mater, and gave talks on Chinese art that were well received. She became friends with a local Quaker art teacher named George Whitney and his wife Janet, who wrote biographies of Elizabeth Fry and other notable women.

When Anna and her family left Pendle Hill, the community sent her off with a humorous ballad expressing its affection:

Over valleys, over mountains
            With her clan came Clementine,
Came to wake us, stir and shake us,
            Make us all snap into line.
Chinese art and Chinese idols,
            Buddhist sculpture and design
Would have floored us or have bored us,
            Save as taught by Clementine.

Summoned hither, summoned thither,
            She could never quite decline,
And her speeches (which were peaches)
            Numbered nine and ninety-nine.

Now those days are gone forever,
            We are left to wail and pine,
Must she leave us, sadly grieve us,
             Our beloved Clementine.

The Brinton clan left Pendle Hill, but not forever. Soon afterwards Howard was asked to be director of studies, and Anna director of administration. They were to begin in the fall of 1936.

Upon their arrival at Pendle Hill, they were pleased to learn that the Board of Managers had made plans to build them a new home. When Anna saw the plans, however, she “radically altered them to resemble [their] home at Mills College.”[7] She named the house “Upmeads” from a medieval fantasy novel by William Morris entitled The Well at the World’s End. Little known or read today, this work was much beloved by C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Howard quotes the passage that inspired Anna:

They had but little world’s wealth save and except good meat and drink, and enough or too much thereof; house-room of the best, fair friends to be merry with and maidens to kiss, and these also as good as might be, freedom withal to come and go as they would; the heavens above them; the earth to bear them up, and the meadows and acres, the woods and fair streams, and the little hills of Upmeads for that was the name of their country.

Life at Pendle Hill was not as idyllic as this beautiful passage implies. At this time Pendle Hill was a struggling institution with only a handful of students. It took tremendous faith and courage for Howard and Anna to leave the comforts of their tenured academic life at Mills College and move to Pendle Hill. Living conditions at Pendle Hill were relatively primitive. Funds were scarce and future prospects uncertain. The directors not only had to teach, they also had to raise funds, recruit students and faculty, and even do chores, like cooking, changing the beds, taking care of the plumbing and making repairs. Students also participated in these tasks as part of their educational and spiritual discipline since at Pendle Hill there was not supposed to be a sharp line drawn between students and staff.

While Upmeads was being built, the Brintons lived in various small apartments at Main House and “The Barn,” a stable that had been converted, thanks to the frugal Quaker spirit, into living quarters, a place of worship, and offices.

 After moving into their new house, Howard set to work cleaning up the grounds, preparing a lawn and planting a number of trees.

“Some still stand,” recalled Howard proudly. “I also constructed a new road by building it up with ashes. This road is still in use.”[8]

Howard loved handy work and one of his first acts upon moving to a new house was to set up a tool shop in the basement of Upmeads so he could repair furniture and other objects.

“The Pendle Hill chairs were frequently breaking down [so] I was [often] busy repairing them,” Howard recalled. “I also built a stone fireplace for cooking outdoors.” Just so no one would doubt who built it, he added, “A stone on it was marked 1932. This came from an older place.”[9]

According to Howard, his “largest and most important accomplishment at Pendle Hill was to institute a method of tutoring the students individually.” At that time, most colleges and universities in the United States used the lecture mode of instruction and a course of study that was standardized—or as Howard would say, “mechanized.” Howard adopted a system similar to the practice at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, where each student has an individual tutor. Howard used the tutorial method as well as the lecture mode. Students met individually with Howard each week, and were expected to write a term paper.

“At the beginning of my interviews many students would declare that they had no special interest about which they could write,” recalled Howard. “But I assumed that everyone has some special interest which can be discovered. It might appear at first like a passing fancy. . . . Every person needs some ideas around which his life can be integrated and given meaning and purpose.” The job of the teacher, in Howard’s view, was to help students discover that idea.

Howard spent two days a week conducting these interviews, but he also observed boundaries. If students wanted to talk about personal problems, he sent them to Dora Wilson, who had the ability and the calling to deal with such issues.

Howard was proud of the fact that students often produced memorable works, many of which did not fit into the traditional academic mold.

“One term paper developed into a novel which was published,” recalled Howard. “A brilliant Japanese girl read a paper on Zen. She said she didn’t want to have it preserved because she wanted to be like a fish that did not leave any path behind in the water. Some papers were collections of poems. Some were dramatic and could be acted. Others appeared only as pottery, weaving and drawing.”

These productions were shared with the community, often with tea and other refreshments.

“This process of teaching through term papers lasted more than twenty years,” Howard observed. “It was gradually given up by my successors, though occasionally term papers were still written and read to the Pendle Hill community.”[10]

Anna made an important contribution to the academic life of Pendle Hill through her persuasive skills. A prominent Quaker named T. Wistar Brown bequeathed an endowment to Haverford to establish a graduate school of religion. This school lasted from around 1925-35, but was laid down in part (Howard believes) because Haverford did not wish to grant degrees to women in this department. When it was decided to discontinue this graduate school, a large meeting took place at Haverford Meetinghouse to discern what to do with this bequest. During this meeting it was proposed that Pendle Hill might carry on the work that T. Wistar Brown had wished to promote. The idea didn’t gain much favor, so Anna decided to visit President Comfort of Haverford and see if she could persuade him to let Pendle Hill continue the work of the T. Wistar Brown School. Her idea was to let students live at Pendle Hill and take some of their classes at Haverford College. President Comfort liked this idea, so Anna traveled about mostly to Quaker colleges looking for likely candidates. Of the students she found, Haverford selected four.[11]

“In this way Pendle Hill secured each year four first-class students,” recalled Howard. “They prepared good term papers and acted as pace setters for the other Pendle Hill students. Although these four studied at Haverford, they were very loyal and cooperative members of the Pendle Hill community. They felt more attachment to Pendle Hill than to Haverford. When they returned to the area for visits, they usually visited Pendle Hill rather than Haverford.”[12]

Even though academic work was important, at least to Howard and Anna, Pendle Hill was conceived not as an academic institution, but rather as a spiritual community that “seeks to heal the inward confusion that is so great a part of the world’s outward confusion.”[13] It had qualities of a monastery, graduate school, think tank, and settlement house. While its primary purpose was to nurture contemplation and study, Howard noted that “members are encouraged to undertake regular field work, often in connection with some local agency, provided this does not interfere with their main objective in coming to Pendle Hill.” Opportunities for such field work were readily available in nearby Chester, a working class community with its share of needy indigents.[14]

Situated in a tranquil rural setting, Pendle Hill became in many ways the Mecca of the American Quaker world. During the 1940s and 50s, Clarence Pickett, the executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, lived in a neighboring house built by the AFSC for its director. American Friends Service Committee volunteers and staff frequently came to Pendle Hill for training and debriefing. [15] There was also a steady stream of lecturers, visitors, and conference attendees at Pendle Hill then as there are today.[16]

Pendle Hill endeavored to help students balance social activism with inward spiritual development, a goal of Quakerism since its earliest days. Activists would come to Pendle Hill for spiritual rest and relaxation, sometimes turning to pottery or gardening as a way of centering down. People going through life crises would go to Pendle Hill and find new direction and purpose for their lives. The goal was to help people to find inner peace and to become involved in social betterment.

Howard quotes the familiar line of William Penn to explain Pendle Hill involvement in progressive political causes, such as the labor movement: “True godliness does not turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.” Classes were offered in such “radical” subjects as labor relations and cooperative ventures, led by activist scholars such as Howard Haines Turner. The International Ladies Garments Workers also met on the Pendle Hill campus.

The focus of study during the Brintons’ second year as directors at Pendle Hill (1937-1938) was on “two major inquiries: A) The Function of Religion in Social Change and (B) The Problem of War and its Solution.” According to Howard, “these two subjects represent the inner and outer aspects of a single problem; how can a better social order be attained without resort to violence?”[17]

These questions became increasingly urgent as the world edged closer and closer towards a second global war. For more about the Brintons as teachers and practitioners of pacifism, see See




[1] Living in the Light: Some Quaker Pioneers of the 20th Century, Volume 1, in the U.S.A. Leonard S. Kenworthy, Editor. FGC, Kennett Square, PA, 1984, p. 41.
[2] Brinton, “Why We Came to Pendle Hill,” The Friend, 5/20/1937.
[3] Tall (six-foot-five), athletic offspring of an old Quaker family in Northeast England, Hodgkin began his career as an evangelical Friend. A turning point in Hodgkin’s life came when he made friends with the Kaiser’s chaplain at the onset of World War I and they swore eternal friendship. When Hodgkin wrote a paper defending pacifism for a Lambeth conference of Christians and I was rejected, he decided to form a group called the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1914. Thus began his career as peace activist. For a good brief biography of Hodgkin, see Kenworthy’s Living in the Light.
[4] Appelbaum, p. 148.
[5] Autobiography, p. 62.
[6] Pendle Hill: A Quaker Experiment in Education and Community by Eleanor Price Mather. Pendle Hill: Wallingford, PA, 1980, p.21.
[7] Autobiography, p. 80.
[8] Autobiography, p. 81-82.
[9] Autobiography, p. 82.
[10] Autobiography, pp. 83-84.
[11] Autobiography, p. 85-86.
[12] Autobiography, p. 85.
[13] The Pendle Hill Idea, PH Pamphlet #55, 1951, centerfold.
[14] Ibid, p 17.
[15] Henry Cadbury said, “For my own part, I always regarded the Service Committee and Pendle Hill as the obverse and reverse of the same good currency of American Quakerism” (Ibid, p. 47).
[16] Ibid, p 17.
[17] Pendle Hill Bulletin, Number 13, January 1937.

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