In 1903 Hannah Whitall Smith, a free-spirited product of "Orthodox Quakerism” in the nineteenth century, proudly admitted in her spiritual autobiography:
“I have always rather enjoyed being considered a heretic, and have never wanted to be endorsed by any one. I have felt that to be endorsed was to be bound, and that it was better, for me at least, to be a free lance, with no hindrances to my absolute mental and spiritual freedom.”
When I read that line I knew I had found the Quaker woman of my dreams! A woman who defies classification even today, whose life embodied multiple identities and contradictions, yet a woman who has illumined my own life as well as my understanding of the evolution of Quakerism. Hannah was evangelical in orientation, and today she is read and revered largely by conservative Christians-- yet she was a universalist, and admitted she held heretical views. She was progressive, even radical in politics, a fierce feminist who marched with her daughters for woman’s suffrage. Later in life she gave labor union speeches and explored Christian socialism. A birthright Orthodox Quaker, she was baptized by water as an adult. An author who wrote her most famous book on the subject of happiness and truly espoused joy in life, she experienced deep pain and suffering, and both fame and scandal in her very public life.