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The Quaker House on Florida Ave: Unearthing Three Interesting Stories

Uncovering three fascinating stories from the Quaker House on Florida Ave, including President Hoover’s attendance at the opening, civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy speaking, & Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee being sued.
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GoDCer Patrick sent in a great suggestion a couple of weeks ago and we’re now digging up some great stories about the Quaker house on Florida (i.e., The Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C.).

The Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, dates back to the mid 1600s in England. To escape religious persecution, they began emigrating to New England. Interestingly, only two original colonies tolerated Quakers, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, where the largest groups began settling.

Well known for their pacifism, a number of notable Brits and Americans have been part of the church, including Susan B. Anthony, Joan Baez, Judi Dench, George Cadbury (i.e., the chocolate guy), Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Dolley Madison, Dave Matthews (yes, that one), James Michener, Edward R. Murrow, Presidents Hoover and Nixon, William Penn, Bonnie Raitt, and quite a few more.

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Contrary to common belief, Benjamin Franklin was not a Quaker.

So, let’s share three interesting stories from the Quaker Meeting House on Florida Ave.

Florida Avenue Friends Meeting House (Haverford College)
Florida Avenue Friends Meeting House (Haverford College)

1. President and Mrs. Hoover at opening

Built in 1930, the dedication and first services at The Friends Meeting of Washinton, D.C. took place early in 1931. The Washington Post published the following account of the service.

President and Mrs. Hoover were present yesterday at the first services conducted in the new Friends Meeting House at 2111 Florida avenue northwest.

Many Government Officials, members of Congress and persons in all walks of life, gathered at the new house of worship with the President of the United States and the First Lady of the land. Long before the service began, the building was filled to capacity, and hundreds crowded about the doors.

The edifice is of colonial design and is considered the most beautiful building of its kind in the Eastern section of the United States.

It was constructed as a national institution and will be used as a meeting place by Friends from all parts of the country.

Those who made addresses were Dr. Augustus T. Murray, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Henry Roth, Miss Esther Smith, George Waltham and Dr. Hornell Hart.

Never knew that Hoover was a Quaker. Frankly, didn’t know Nixon was either. Did you?

inside the Florida Avenue Quaker Meeting House (Haverford College)
inside the Florida Avenue Quaker Meeting House (Haverford College)

2. Dynamited civil rights leader to speak

On Tuesday, February 26th, 1957, the meeting house hosted the Ralph D. Abernathy from Montgomery, Alabama. At the epicenter of the civil rights movement, he served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery and was targeted in a bomb attack in January of that year.

The Washington Post published a short piece about Abernathy speaking at the meeting house.

The Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Montgomerty, Ala., whose home was damaged by dynamite last month, will speak at the Friends Meeting House, 2111 Florida ave. nw., 8 p. m. Tuesday.

Mr. Abernathy is vice president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and an associate of its president, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in the months-long bus strike in Montgomery.

“Non-Violence and the Struggle for Equality and Justice” will be the subject of his talk, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the Joint Committees on Peace and Social Order of the Washington Friends.

Ralph was a contemporary and good friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., enduring numerous injustices at the hands of southern police officials, including 44 arrests and numerous property confiscations. Abernathy was at the March on Washington with King and shared Room 306 with him at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was assassinated.

Florida Avenue Quaker Meeting House (Haverford College)
Florida Avenue Quaker Meeting House (Haverford College)

3. Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee, sued for assault

Yes, very bizarre. The headline “$500,000 Suit Filed Against Post Editor” was certainly intriguing, especially in the context of a pacifist Quaker post. This was published on November 14th, 1979.

A $500,000 suit has been filed in D.C. Superior Court accusing Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, of assault, battery and defamation.

The suit was brought by Henry Rosin of the District of Columbia in connection with an incident that allegedly occurred Aug. 14 at the Friends Meeting House, 2111 Florida Ave. NW, following funeral services for Laurence M. Stern, assistant managing editor for national news of The Post.

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Bradlee declined yesterday to comment on the suit. He referred questions to his attorney, Edward B. Williams.

Sadly, we couldn’t dig up much else on this lawsuit, but we were able to find out that Rosin had written some letters to the editor denouncing the Post’s coverage of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. He claimed that the Post characterized much of what was said about Khmer Rouge as being “cold war propaganda.” Given this disdain for the publication, we’re guessing there was a less-than friendly exchange of words between the two men.

Friends Meeting House of Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)
Friends Meeting House of Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)

By the way, Haverford College has a great collection of images for the meeting house that you can check out.

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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.