12.1.12

Moses Brown's Dream

12 January 1891 - Providence, Rhode Island

Campus of Friends School
Today I visited the Friends School here in Providence. It’s run by the Society of Friends or Quakers. Originally meant for the moral and mental training of Quaker youths, it was always open to all, no matter their religion, race or sex. Founded in the days before public schools, it allowed parents to educate their children who otherwise couldn’t afford it, since this is a day school instead of a boarding school.

Moses Brown
The school was founded by Moses Brown, the same chap that co-founded Brown University, along with several other family members. The Browns were descended from Chad Brown who helped Roger Williams start up Providence. The Browns are strict Baptists and were heavily involved in the slave trade. Moses however converted to the Quaker religion and became an abolitionist. However, he didn’t give up his factories with some of the country’s spinning machines, so Moses had plenty of money with which he could be benevolent.

In 1777 at the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, Moses Brown joined a committee dedicated to creating a school for young Quakers, to teach them of their faith and to give them an education to make a living. They finally opened the school in 1784 at the Yearly Meeting administration center located in the Portsmouth Friends Meeting House on Aquidnick Island. Problem was it a rather isolated location. After four years of trying to recruit students and teachers, they decided to close the school for one year. It turned into 31 years.

Moses Brown, however, never did not give up on the idea of a school. He was only able to convince the committee by donating 43 acres of his own farm in Providence in 1819. The New England Yearly Meeting Boarding School was opened. Three years later his son Obadiah, left $100,000 in his will to the school, assuring it’s success. This was the largest single contribution ever made to an American school at the time.

Alumni Hall and Drawing Room at Friends School
The school’s name was too long and has been shortened to Friends School. Since the Civil War, the curriculum has been expanded to include music, art and athletics. The school has evolved into a prep school, , teaching children from five to eighteen years old, many graduates going on to Brown University.

Friends School Scholars
In 1904 the board of trustees will change the name to Moses Brown School, a name it still retains in the 27th century. While it still remains a Quaker School, the teachers are of all denominations, even now in 1891.

I must say I enjoyed walking through the campus and watching all the eager faces of the children. The Quakers are teaching them to believe in peace, equality and tolerance--lessons I think we all need to learn.

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