Glossary of Terms

  • Birthright Friend
    Someone who was born to Quaker parents; it is assumed that they will grow up to be a Quaker and a full member of their Meeting.
  • Blister
    A plaster made out of the crushed wings of the Spanish fly, cantharides; when put on the skin, the plaster raises a blister, which was meant to draw out the excess blood causing a patient’s insanity, and also distract the patients from his or her “disordered” thoughts.
  • Business Meeting
    Also called a "Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business"; conducted out of the silence like Meeting for Worship, Business Meeting is when Quakers meet to carry out the Meeting's business; decisions that come out of Business Meeting are thought to be divinely inspired.
  • Concern
    A divinely inspired interest in some issue; an individual or a group of Quakers might feel led to work on a concern; for example, Bonsall describes the Asylum as a concern.
  • Continuing Revelation
    The idea that God is still revealing the Truth to us, and that we must listen for the voice of God and act on that Truth; this idea is at the heart of Quaker faith and practice.
  • Convinced Friend
    Someone who was not born Quaker, but becomes "convinced" of Quaker truth and therefore joins a Meeting.
  • Disowned
    See “read out of Meeting”; in this context, disowned refers to the actions of a Quaker’s Meeting, not necessarily their family.
  • Elders
    "A small group of men and women appointed to assist and also oversee the ministers" (BMC Quakers and Slavery Glossary).
  • Fatuity
    Someone is in a "state of fatuity" when they lose the use of their reason later in life; it is assumed that people do not recover from a state of fatuity; the Asylum does care for these people, despite its preference for patients who can recover.
  • First Day, Second Day, etc.
    Sunday; Monday; Early Quakers disapproved of using the "pagan" names for days of the week, so Sunday became First Day, Monday Second Day, and so on; the same process applies to months, making January First Month, etc.
  • Friend
    A Quaker; Quakers may call each other Friend ____ or refer to someone as a Friend; nineteenth century Quakers are much more likely to refer to themselves and each other as Friends than Quakers.
  • Hicksite Quakers
    Named after the controversial minister Elias Hicks, whose preaching inflamed tensions in the Religious Society of Friends; Hicksite Quakers began after the 1827 split; Hicksite Quakers tended to be rural and/or poorer than Orthodox Quakers; they put more emphasis on the importance of continuing revelation and the Inner Light; they objected to the power structure that meant a lot of people were getting disowned.
  • Idiot
    In nineteenth century medical parlance, the term idiot referred to someone who had displayed "lack of reason" since birth; idiots fell outside of the Asylum's concern.
  • Inner/Inward Light
    The Inner Light is the small part of God that Quakers believe is in each person; Quakers try to recognize the Inner Light in others, and listen to their own Inner Light (that is, continuing revelation); it is often described as speaking in a "still, small voice."
  • Leading
    A divine feeling that a Quaker gets, telling him or her to must do some action; a leading can make a Quaker take up a concern.
  • Mania
    One of the two main types of insanity described in the nineteenth century; mania described any kind of wild or crazy behavior, like fits or ranting, etc.
  • Meeting for Sufferings
    A committee of Quakers who meet to assist Quakers who suffer for their religious beliefs; for example, Quakers who were persecuted for their pacifism or anti-slavery work might ask for help from the Meeting for Sufferings; the nineteenth century Meeting for Sufferings was made up of very influential Quaker men.
  • Meeting for Worship
    A time when Quakers gather in silence to listen for that of God within them; if someone feels led to share a message out of the silence, they stand and do so; in the nineteenth century it was mostly recorded ministers who spoke.
  • Melancholy
    Melancholy was thought to be one of the two main forms of insanity; melancholy corresponds fairly well to modern-day depression.
  • Monthly Meeting
    The basic unit of Quaker religious structure; a Monthly Meeting is the Meeting a Quaker worships with on a regular basis; it is called a Monthly Meeting because it meets to take care of business once a month.
  • Orthodox Quakers
    Formed during the Hicksite-Orthodox schism in 1827; Orthodox Quakers moved more towards standard Protestantism; they were on top of the Quaker power structure, and they were uneasy with what they saw as the Hicksite Friends' dismissal of the Bible as a source of authority.
  • Out of the Silence
    Usually part of the phrase "to speak out of the silence"; this refers to what happens when people feel led to speak during Meeting for Worship and/or Business-they speak out of the silence; it comes from the fact that there should be silence before and after someone speaks.
  • Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM)
    The biggest Yearly Meeting in the United States in the nineteenth century, and the heart of American Quakerism; the Asylum was founded for the use of Quakers associated with PYM.
  • Preparatory Meeting
    A Preparatory Meeting is one that is too small or new to be a Monthly Meeting; it may become one in the future.
  • Professor
    Someone who is not technically a member of a Meeting, but believes ("professes") Quaker doctrine; a spouse/child of a Quaker, or someone who attends Quaker meetings, but hasn't yet become a full member.
  • Quarterly Meeting
    "Meetings for business held four times per year, attended by representatives of all monthly meetings in a region; an intermediary between the monthly and yearly meeting, serves as an appellate body for disciplinary matters, and considers problems too large for a local meeting to solve; holds the authority to establish or discontinue a monthly, preparative, or particular meeting for worship" (BMC Quakers and Slavery Glossary).
  • Read out of Meeting
    Being disowned from one's Meeting; could happen if someone married a non-Quaker (or married without the consent of the Meeting), or joined the military, etc.
  • Recorded Minister
    Someone who is recognized by their Meeting as having a gift for vocal ministry (that is, speaking during Meeting for Worship); in the nineteenth century, it was unusual for people who were not recorded ministers to speak often during Meeting; both men and women could be recorded as ministers.
  • "That of God in Everyone"/"That of God"
    A phrase used to describe the Inner Light, the idea that each person has something of God in them, which they can listen to for guidance.
  • Traveling Minister
    A minister who feels called, with the support of his or her Meeting, to travel to Quaker Meetings in other places and minister to them; traveling ministers often traveled in pairs, and could be away on trips for years.
  • Visiting Manager
    The Asylum's Visiting Managers were in charge of admitting and discharging patients; they inspected the Asylum once a week and the superintendent's accounts once a month; there were four of them at a time, and they served two-month terms.
  • Weighty Friend
    A Quaker who is widely thought to have spiritual wisdom and Quaker expertise.
  • Witness
    An action taken by a Quaker because of a leading or a concern; a witness is meant to demonstrate the Truth about some social/religious issue; for example, an early Quaker’s witness might have been to interrupt a sermon argue with the priest.
  • Yearly Meeting
    A Quaker organizational structure made up of many monthly and preparatory meetings; called a Yearly Meeting because it meets once a year to do business.
Word Definition