Saturday, June 13, 2015

Transformative Quakers at Pacific Yearly Meeting

Transformative Friends

One of the highlights of Pacific Yearly Meeting are presentations about Quakers who 
have made a significant difference in the world. I have published a revised version of a book which highlights these significant Friends. See  This year’s presentations will feature the following remarkable Quakers (and presenters):
  • Heberto Sein (1898-1977), a Mexican Quaker, activist, poet and interpreter, and one of the founders of Mexico City Friends Meeting and Casa de los Amigos. Presented by Nick (Nico) Wright, Nicholas (Nico) who lived and worked at Casa de los Amigos for ten years and is current writing a book about the Casa. 
  • John and Alice Way, founders and co-directors of Pacific Ackworth Friends School in Temple City, California.  John (1906-1986) and Alice (1909-1989) were social visionaries involved in the cooperative movement as well as in AFSC. Presented by Phil Way (son of John and Alice, and Friend in Resident at Orange Grove Meeting) and George Mills, a member of Palo Alto Meeting, alumnus and former staff member at the school.
  • Marjorie Sykes (1905-1995), a notable Quaker who lived and worked as an educator in India and was a friend and colleague of Tagore and Gandhi. Presented by Mary Miche, member of Red Forest Meeting and a teacher and song writer.
  • Albert Smith Bigelow (1906-1993), a pacifist and former United States Navy Commander, who came to prominence in the 1950s as the skipper of the Golden Rule, the first vessel to attempt disruption of a nuclear test in protest against nuclear weapons. Presented by Jim Summers, former clerk of La Jolla Meeting and a member of Veterans for Peace.

Heberto Sein  (1898–1977) was a Mexican  Quaker leader, peace activist, language interpreter and diplomat. Born in Matehuala in the state of  San Luis Potosí in   Mexico , Sein was one of the founders of the Mexico City Friends Meeting and Casa de los Amigos. He was married to a Swiss-born  Quaker , Suzanne Sein. He was an interpreter at the founding of the  United Nations  and at many other international gatherings. He also promoted the workcamps of the   American Friends Service Committee  in Mexico. He was part of the larger struggle in Latin America for non-violent social change.   He was often invited to speak on peace in the United States, and was a strong yet tactful voice at international peace conferences throughout the world.  
MARJORIE SYKES - Quaker GandhianMarjorie Sykes (spent the greater part of her life in India, and became an Indian citizen in 1950 when this became constitutionally possible. Having graduated with First Class Honours from Cambridge University, she first went to India at the end of 1928 to teach at a girls’ school in Madras. Ten years later she moved to Bengal to work with Rabindranath Tagore at his innovative university at Shantiniketan. Already fluent in Tamil, she learned Bengali, and at Tagore’s request translated some of his works into English.
After Indian Independence was achieved she was free to accept Gandhi’s invitation, given two years earlier, to help with his Basic Education programme at Sevagram. In 1957 Vinoba invited her to convene the first all-India Shanti Sena (Peace Army) Committee, which he wished to be led by women. She later went to the U.S. and Canada as a consultant to the non-violent Civil Rights movement, and from 1964-67 was a member of the Peacekeeping team monitoring the ceasefire between the Indian Government and the Nagaland Independence fighters. She died at the age of 90 in 1995.
Her published work includes biographies of Rabindranath Tagore and C.F. Andrews, translations of Vinoba’s Thoughts on Educationand other works, and (in collaboration with Jehangir Patel) a book of personal reminiscences of Gandhi, Gandhi: his gift of the fight. A biography, Marjorie Sykes: Quaker Gandhian by Martha Dart, was published in 1993.

Albert Smith Bigelow (1 May 1906 - 6 October 1993) was a pacifist and former United States Navy Commander, who came to prominence in the 1950s as the skipper of the Golden Rule, the first vessel to attempt disruption of a nuclear test in protest against nuclear weapons.
Francis Bigelow (1880-1958), and Gladys Williams. He married his first wife, Josephine Rotch, the daughter of Arthur and Helen (née Ludington) Rotch, on the 21st of June 1929. She, however, had resumed her affair with Harry Crosby within two months of their marriage, and then, on the 10th of December that year she and Crosby were found dead in an apparent murder suicide. Two years later, Albert married Sylvia Weld, daughter of Rudolph and Sylvia Caroline (née Parsons) Weld, on the 10th of September 1931 and they had three daughters, Lisa, Kate, and Mary, their youngest, who died when she was seven months old. Albert's father was a partner in the Boston law firm Warren, Hogue & Bigelow from 1908-1914.[2]
Peace Movement
Prior to his involvement in the peace movement, Bigelow served in the United States Navy during World War II, first as commander of a submarine chaser patrolling the Solomon Islands, and later as captain of the destroyer escort Dale W. Peterson. On August 6, 1945, Bigelow was on the bridge of the Peterson as it sailed into Pearl Harbor, when he heard news of the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. He resigned from the US Naval Reserve a month before becoming eligible for his pension.[1][3]
In 1948, Bigelow's wife, Sylvia, joined the Religious Society of Friends. Bigelow joined in 1955. It was through the Society of Friends that Albert and Sylvia came to house two of the Hiroshima Maidens: young Japanese women, severely disfigured by the effects of the atomic bomb, who were brought to the United States to undergo plastic surgery in 1955. Bigelow was humbled by the experience, in particular by his realization that the two young women "harbored no resentment against us or other Americans".
Bigelow became involved with the American Friends Service Committee in the mid-1950s, attempting to deliver a 17,411 signature petition, opposing atmospheric nuclear tests, to the White House via Maxwell M. RabbCabinet Secretary. Repeated attempts to gain an appointment with Rabb were unsuccessful, leading Bigelow to conclude that other measures must be taken.
On August 6, 1957, on the 12th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Bigelow and twelve other members of the newly formed Committee for Non-Violent Action were arrested when they attempted to enter the Camp Mercury nuclear test site in Nevada, as part of a nonviolent vigil against the testing.[3] The following day, they returned and sat with their backs towards the site as the nuclear test took place.
Sailing The Golden Rule
In February, 1958, Bigelow set sail for the Eniwetok Proving Ground, the Atomic Energy Commission's atmospheric test site in the Marshall Islands, in the Golden Rule, a 30-foot (9 m) ketch. He was accompanied by crew members James PeckGeorge WilloughbyWilliam R. Huntington, and Orion Sherwood. The voyage had been deliberately and widely publicized, and while the Golden Rule was en route to Hawaii, the Atomic Energy Commission hastily issued a regulation banning US citizens from sailing into the Proving Grounds.[1][3]
When they arrived in Hawaii, the crew of the Golden Rule were issued a court summons, resulting in a temporary injunction against any attempt to sail to the test site. Bigelow chose to break the injunction on May 1, but theGolden Rule was intercepted by the US Coast Guard only 5 nautical miles (9 km) from Honolulu. A second attempt on June 4 was also unsuccessful - the crew were arrested, charged with contempt of court and sentenced to sixty days in jail.[1][3]
But while the Golden Rule was docked in Honolulu, Bigelow and crew had met Earle and Barbara Reynolds. Earle L. Reynolds was an anthropologist who had visited Hiroshima to study the effects of the atomic bomb on Japanese society. Hearing of the plight of the Golden Rule, Earle and Barbara were inspired to take their own nonviolent action, and later that year their yacht, the Phoenix of Hiroshima became the first vessel to enter a nuclear test zone in protest when they sailed sixty-five nautical miles into the test area at Bikini Atoll.[1] Earle was arrested and sentenced to six months in jail.
In 1959, Bigelow published a book, Voyage of the Golden Rule which documented his journey. Bigelow's story would go on to inspire fellow Quaker Marie Bohlen to suggest the use of a similar tactic to members of the Vancouver-based Don't Make a Wave Committee (later to become Greenpeace) in 1970.
Bigelow continued to take part in non-violent protests during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was a participant in the Freedom Rides organized by the Congress on Racial Equality in 1961.[4]
In his later years (1971–1975), he was a trustee to The Meeting School, a Quaker school in Rindge, New Hampshire.

John and Alice Way were social visionaries and educators who founded and co-directed Pacific Ackworth Friends School in Temple City, California.  John (1906-1986) and Alice (1909-1989) met as student activists at Stanford in the late 1920's.  After graduation John taught high school in the California Central Valley and they became involved in farmworker politics and the co-operative movement.  Such activities and experiences drew them to the AFSC and to Quakerism.  In 1938 they moved to Pasadena where John established and ran the Pasadena office of AFSC with special focus on migrant labor issues and, during the war, on conscientious objection and Japanese relocation.   John was also deeply involved in the co-op movement, helping to establish or maintain co-op markets, gas stations, and intentional communities up and down the state. 
In 1942 the Ways and other Quaker parents founded Pacific Ackworth Friends School. They began utilizing the homes of parents and teachers as classrooms. However, when the Japanese Internment happened later the same year, the school arranged to lease the Japanese Cultural Center in Temple City for the school for the duration of the internment. The connection came about due to the deep and caring relationship that the Ways and other Quakers established in support of the Japanese Americans who were being tragically uprooted, generally losing their homes, businesses, and livelihoods. In 1945, when the Japanese were released from the internment camps, Pacific Ackworth moved to the co-operatively-owned 5-acre parcel where the Ways and other Quaker families had established residence. New buildings were hastily put up with volunteer labor over the next few years.
The school, grades K-8, operated as a co-operative, with major policy decisions and much of the labor carried out by the parent assembly and committees. Admission to the school was based on the whole family commitment, with parents frequently involved in classroom projects, field trips and other school activities.  The educational philosophy was progressive (a la John Dewey) and Quaker (citing Community, Harmony, Equality and Simplicity as guiding principles), though after the initial period only a minority of students were Quaker.  The emphasis was on experiential learning and on social awareness --- educating the whole child, integrating family and school. 
John had a contagious love of antique and "experienced" cars, so automobiles and auto mechanics played a big role in the curriculum of the upper grades.  By the time they graduated 8th grade, most students had learned to drive on some elderly car that John had around, usually a Model A Ford. Some learned to pilot Fordnik, a Model A Ford converted into a tractor, that was alternately used to pull the hayride trailers around at the annual Spring Fair.
Experiential learning was a major principle of Pacific Ackworth educational philosophy. The whole trip experience and the logistics of carrying it out were part of the experiential learning program. The kids studied the routes, helped develop the itineraries, contacted the parks and other overnight hosts, planned the meals, bought provisions, cooked the meals, packed, set up camp, kept track of mileage and expenses, etc. Another hallmark of the school, usually undertaken in car caravans with parent drivers, starting with short trips in the lower grades and culminating in "Big Trips" up to three weeks for the upper grades (5 thru 8).  There were also even longer summer trips open to non-P.A. students, which many PYM youngsters joined. While John set the main itinerary, students did most of the arrangements and most of the work during such trips, including meal planning, shopping and preparation, packing and unpacking, managing equipment, trash cleanup, etc., From Arizona to Northern California, the Big Trips exposed students to a host of historical, cultural and sociological "learning opportunities" including Hopi culture (where the Ways had numerous personal contacts), Nevada gambling culture, desert water issues, migrant labor, logging, and so forth. 
Alice, though never a classroom teacher at P.A., was centrally important as co-director in guiding the school and interpreting its mission to current and prospective parents, to new staff and to the public.  She bore most of the responsibility one associates with the title "Principal". 
Alice taught remedial reading and math, and performed many of the activities that are now called "Special Education". Pacific Ackworth accepted a number of kids with special needs, and provided individualized instruction and a mainstreamed social experience. Alice was the "special ed teacher", although there was not the same language for it in the beginning years.. Her educational insights and deep spirituality, often expressed in poetry, also infused the school.
John and Alice continued as co-directors of Pacific Ackworth as long as their health permitted.  They passed away in the late 1980's. 


  1. I remember when the Golden Rule left Los Angeles. It was probably the only time my parents took me out of school early, and we went down to the docks to see Bert and the boat. As children do, I was most impressed that he could do a headstand, but I've never forgotten that day. Or the message!

    1. I was there too, with parents, I believe. Very impressive experience. I remember staring at the boating paraphernalia while the adults talked.

  2. Thanks for this. I have lately been remembering some of the important moments for me at Inter Mountain Yearly Meeting. One of these was when a large circle of Friends gathered around under the large tree near the lower pavilion and Herberto Sein spoke to us in Spanish for quite awhile. We had no translation and we asked for none all enjoying the grace of the moment.