An Early History of Ithaca Friends
and the Formation of Ithaca Monthly Meeting
In 1912, Edward and Marianna Wood, the parents of Sarah Wood Oliver, moved to Ithaca and began a small Meeting in their home at 238 Linden Avenue. In the spring of 1913, Job Gidley and Horace Foster of New England Yearly Meeting visited and offered encouragement to the group. William W. Comfort, Professor of Romance Languages at Cornell, had been in France at the outbreak of World War I and saw the “un-Christ-like behavior” of the churches of Europe—that instead of standing for peace, they were a part of the war machine. He also saw the noble work the English Friends were doing to further peace, and as non-combatants to relieve the distress and aid the persecuted. After returning to Ithaca, it was natural that he should throw himself into the Ithaca Friends group and try to make it a force for peace and liberty of conscience.
Around 1913, the Meeting moved to Barnes Hall, where it met in one of several rooms over the years until Anabel Taylor Hall was built. Meetings for worship were most commonly held in the evening, either at 7:00 or 7:30 PM.
Early in 1926, the Ithaca Friends group felt it should have some kind of organization and then notify other meetings of its existence. The Meeting communicated with the Buffalo Meeting and patterned itself somewhat after that Meeting. Early Friends in Ithaca were members of several yearly meetings—New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Canada.
A formal organization, the Ithaca Association of Friends (IAF), was formed at a special meeting on March 7, 1926. At this meeting, Alfred Wray was named Clerk and Amy Grace Mekeel, Treasurer. Notice was sent to all of the above yearly meetings asking for recognition. On February 20, 1927, a special committee sent by New York Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) visited to consult with Ithaca Friends relative to their petition for recognition. Later, on June 9, 1929, Anne Bronson and her daughter visited the Meeting from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hicksite) for a similar discussion.
The microfilmed records from which this summary was prepared contains the early history reported above, but the monthly minutes do not begin until 1928.
On March 4, 1928, Rufus Jones came to Ithaca as the Sage Chapel speaker, and while here, met with Ithaca Friends. Over the next two decades, Rufus was a fairly frequent visitor to Ithaca, often coming two times a year, usually as Sage Chapel speaker, but also visiting with Ithaca Friends.
The early minutes show that on May 12, 1929, David Pennock was appointed the IAF representative to Religious Group Committee of the United Christian Work at Cornell. This organization later became the Cornell United Religious Work (CURW). From 1929 on, the Ithaca Meeting has had a representative to what is now CURW, and clearly the Meeting was actively involved with Cornell students. For example, at the beginning of the 1929-1930 college year, the minutes show that 15 or 16 new Friends registered, and a very enjoyable party was held at the Eastmans.
On March 23, 1930, the IAF decided to hold its first annual meeting, and did so on April 15. Joshua Cope reported for the Committee on Plan of Procedure, and noted that the group were members of various yearly meetings. The IAF agreed that there shall be an annual business meeting on the second Third Day after the spring recess at Cornell. A program committee was also formed at this time.
At the 1930-31 Annual Meeting, Josh Cope was named clerk. Grace Mekeel continued as treasurer. During this year, attempts for joint meetings with Jacksonville, Perry City, and Popular Ridge were noted. Rufus Jones visited on Sunday Dec. 3 as Sage Chapel speaker, and the minutes show that on March 15, supper was served to a group of 30. In the next few years, visits by Rufus Jones continued, and for his February 19, 1933 visit, many Syracuse and Elmira Friends came to hear him speak at Sage Chapel.
On December 7, 1937, the Ithaca Friends applied for membership as a monthly meeting affiliated with the Friends Fellowship Council. This organization had its origin in the Fellowship Committee of the AFSC. Founded in 1933, its primary purpose was to foster an increased interest in Quakerism throughout the US and to draw all Friends groups into closer fellowship. The Fellowship Council merged with the Friends World Committee, American Section, in 1954. Monthly meetings organized in New York under the Friends Fellowship Council included Big Flats, Buffalo, Elmira, Ithaca, Jamestown, Mt. Vernon, Riverside, and Rockland. The formal organization for Ithaca Monthly Meeting under the Friends Fellowship Council was approved on February 27, 1938.
Thus, although Friends in Ithaca had met independently since 1912, Ithaca Monthly Meeting formally dates from 1938. It was at this time that IMM secured the right to accept members into the Society of Friends. The minutes show that on July 30, 1938, Joshua Cope and his family transferred their membership from Baltimore Monthly Meeting to Ithaca Monthly Meeting. Alfred Wray, the first clerk of the IAF, was also named the first clerk of Ithaca Monthly Meeting in 1938.
Prepared by Tom Brown
February 3, 2007