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Margaret Askew Fell Fox

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Margaret Askew Fell Fox

In the seventeenth century, a commanding female public minister emerged during the radical religious movement of Quakerism. Margaret Askew Fell Fox was one of the founding members of the Religious Society of Friends, and was popularly known as the "Mother of Quakerism". She has been known less as a minister and more as a founder and provider of financial support then other young women. Throughout this paper I will refer to her as Fell Fox, name she acquired through marriages during her lifetime. Through her struggles and triumphs, radical actions and beliefs, and her desire to worship God, Fell Fox had a significant impact on the world around her. In this essay, I hope to share how Fell Fox's life, writings, and actions contributed to her radical contribution to life in seventeenth century England.

In 1614, Fell Fox was born in Lancashire, England. She was born into the landed gentry, a level of society with both good education and breeding. In her late teens, she married an older man, a highly respected judge, by the name of Thomas Fell. Fell was politically involved in the society and several times was a member of Parliament. During their marriage, Fell inherited a house from his father and he and Margaret lived at the estate. The estate had been named Swarthmoor Hall by Fell's father. During that time, Fell was often away from home on court circuits. Fell was well known in the region for his hospitality to travelers, and accordingly, the Hall was open to travelers. Fell Fox followed her husband's desire for hospitality.

In June 1652, George Fox came to Swarthmoor while Fell was away on a circuit. (Fox was later credited with being the founder of the Quakers.) When Fell returned home, Fell Fox and their nine children were no longer attending their community Anglican Church. Instead, Fell Fox had deeply involved her family and herself in the "Principle and Persuasion" that was introduced to her through Fox. We have later learned that the moment Fell Fox met Fox, she changed her religious alliance. According to a analysis of Fell Fox's works, her conversion from the Anglican Church to Quakerism revealed "none of the traditional Puritan obsession with self-doubt and self-introspection, while going through a gradual faith-awakening process." (Kunze, Margaret Fell, 13) Fell was both troubled and surprised by his wife's sudden and radical conversion. According to Fell Fox's writing, The Testimony of Margaret Fox, he was also troubled by rumors he had heard from neighbors, telling him "that a great disaster was befallen amongst his family, and that they [Fox and his circle] were witches." (Kunze, An Unpublished, 14) However, being a temperate man, Fell agreed to listen to Fox concerning the religious matters at hand. In her Testimony, Fell Fox also reveals that Fox spoke very convincingly to her husband. As a result, Thomas allowed a meeting of Friends at Swarthmoor, a tradition that lasted over thirty-eight years.

Thomas never converted to Quakerism, but he never shunned his wife for her newfound beliefs. Due to his status as a judge, Fell was able to protect his wife and her fellow Quakers from persecution. However, in 1658, six years after his wife's conversion, Fell died. As a result, the Quakers were no longer protected by Fell's "kindness at the local bench." (Hugh, 2) Previously, Fell Fox was protected by her class standing as well as her husband's authoritative position in the society. Eleven years later, in 1669, Fell Fox and Fox were wed. Historians state that in the six years that followed until his death, their respective ministries and periods of incarceration kept them apart most of the time. She carried on despite imprisonment and died in 1702 at the age of 88, the last surviving leader of the first generation of Friends.

I turn first to the most well known of all of Fell Fox's works. Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ's Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father (John 20:17) was published in 1666, which was during her four year imprisonment. According to Historian Bonnelyn Young Kunze, "Feminist historians have recognized it as a key document, one of the first by a woman, in the evolution of woman's vision as an equal partner with man." (Kunze, Margaret Fell 13) In this work, Fell Fox defended women's right to be public preachers with the claim that whether male or female members of the Quaker faith were "called to ministry," they were being divinely led by the Holy Spirit. Much debate arose between the Quakers and Catholics over this writing; the Protestants did not believe that women could be stirred by the Holy Spirit, much less have a commanding role in society. Although she was met with much criticism, she was the first Quaker woman to forcefully defend women's spiritual equality and justified the active role of women in public ministry. In today's society, women are still being repressed in religious organizations. Fell Fox not only spoke out about women's role in the church, but she led by example, being a powerful woman through which the Lord worked.

Also significant for outlining her faith in the Society of Friends was a second work that I would like to analyze, A True Testimony from the People of God, which was published in 1660. Fell Fox expressed her concerns about the drifting of religious organizations away from God. She was especially concerned by the fact that the Book of Revelation prophesized about the church turning away from God. Her solution to this problem was to have people worship God not in outward forms of organization, but in "spirit and in truthÐ'...and this will demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit." (The fruits of the Spirit are found in Galatians 5:21-23) (Fell, A True). In her work Fell Fox also wrote, "Look not at men, nor at the times, as they stand in relation to men, for in so doing, the god of the world will blind the eye. Look at the Lord, at His truth, and eye his dealing and dispensation of His will, according to His wisdom." (Fell, A True) This work illustrated the one of the main Quaker concerns, the drifting away from God by the local church.

Fell Fox not only was radical in her writings, but her life mirrored her words. She lived what she wrote, and showed no fear in standing up for her beliefs. In 1662, Parliament passed an act that forced anyone who did not take the Oath of Loyalty to the King to be put in jail. The passing of this act was a blatant effort to repress the



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