Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Anna Curtis

In a previous post (one of my first) I said I might talk about the forerunners of the contemporary practicioners of the "New Plain", especially William Bacon Evans and Anna Curtis.

It turns out that I don't actually have much solid information about them, knowing of them only from oral history (aka Quaker legend). However, did stumble on a biographical statement about Anna Curtis. I am going to put the link here and also in my sidebar list of memorials. I find it somewhat surprising that this statement doesn't mention her plain way of dressing or speaking.

Biography of Anna Curtis


Blogger Lorcan said...

To my memory, Anna Curtis used plain speach on occation with the children, but did not use plain speach all the time. Often, it was to make a point.
Thyne in the light

8:58 PM, December 29, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your list of Quaker blogs. I suspect there are others not part of "blogspot."
I looked at your note on Anna Curtis. My understanding, which is consistent with the brief bio you refer to, is that Anna Curtis wore plain dress for the children, in her storytelling role: Something more, I suspect, than "dressup," but something less than wearing plain dress as her everyday clothing.

Feel free to post this to your blog as a comment if you wish.

Peace and love, Tom

12:36 AM, January 01, 2005  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

I don't know much of anything about Anna Curtis but I've watched for references to William Bacon Evans ever since seeing a picture of him in a display case at the Philadelphia Arch St. Meeting that called him the last plain Friend in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Later I stumbled on a small book of testimonies about him written shortly after his death and was surprised how emphatically some of the contributors claimed him as the last plain dresser. It seemed to me they were protesting a bit too much. So many of these leading mid-20th Century Friends wanted plainness to be over. Evans sounded like a much-loved uncle who nevertheless was just too embarrassing. All those musty testimonies just didn't jive with the brave new world of tomorrow! And could you really get into the Haverford Cricket Club dressed like that?

I find the Arch Street display case particularly funny since that's where Phila. YM's Interim Meeting convenes. And if if you look out over a crowd of these weighty Quakers you'll definitely see there's a plain aethetic clearly manifested. Maybe the "last plain" mantra has worked though: if you ask one of these clearly plain-leaning Friends about their attire, they'll protest loudly that they're not plain.

For me plainness is just another of the traditional testimonies I've been acquainting myself with lately There's a lot that Friends threw out. I feel like I'm rooting in an attic and saying, "hey, what about this?" I'd just hate to think that 300 years of Quaker wresting with the call to plainness died with William Bacon Evans in 1964.

7:57 PM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:32 AM, January 31, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

It's interesting to hear - from Martin Kelley - that a sign in a display case at Arch Street Meetinghouse calls William Bacon the "last plain Friend". Martin may be right that this reflects an embarassment about plainness on the part of modern Friends. We often seem quite ambivalent about how "respectable" we want to be. We want to be radical but at the same time we want to be accepted and understood and respected. "Plain dress" and "plain speech" in the traditional Quaker sense of those terms does not make public understanding easier.

I have some questions though. Martin says that in looking over a crowd of weighty Quakers at Interim Meeting in Arch Street today "'ll definitely see there's a plain aesthetic clearly manifested." Is Martin talking about broad-brims, bonnets and suspenders here or just about garden variety modesty and simplicity of attire? If the latter, then I see little contradiction with the display case: the display case is saying that Evans was the last Friend to wear the old Quaker costume, so to speak, not that he was the last to care about simplicity and modesty. Neither claim is true, of course, but the latter is more plausible and a tad closer to being true.

As for the issue of embarassment. I wonder if a consistent non-traditional plainness doesn't get one into even more trouble with society than traditional plainness. I dress for work without a tie or suit and am able to get away with it most days because my company tolerates or encourages "business casual" (whatever that means). But when I have to meet a client representative I think it would be almost impossible for me to refuse to wear a tie. My company would not want me representing them that way, and the client would likely be offended. In this, I think that my company and its clients are surrendering to false and superficial standards, and I can fantasize about trying to enlighten them, but I frankly don't have the guts and stamina that would take. If I dressed like Lorcan (identifiably Quaker) every day, however, I think it would be easier to get away with dressing the same at client meetings. I have noticed that Orthodox Jews can dress according to their beliefs and be accepted in business settings, at least here in New York and I should think that Friends could do the same.

None of the above should be construed as an argument either for or against traditional plain dress. It's just a set of observations.

11:37 AM, January 31, 2005  

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