[Thanks to Nelson Fuson]
While the Nashville Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends was officially established in January, 1963, its roots go much further back.
Quakers came to Eastern Tennessee beginning in about 1820, coming from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, etc., but there is no record that they came as far west as Nashville.
In 1926, Thomas Elsa Jones and his wife, Esther Jones, came to Nashville, Tom to be President of Fisk University. He brought some other Quakers here during his 20 years at Fisk, including Homer and Edna Morris, Gladys and Irving Parker, Jim and Nancy St. John, Kenneth and Elise Boulding, and John and Rusty Sweitzer. Informal Quaker meetings for worship were held on Fisk campus and in Friends' homes, but not to compete with the Sunday morning Fisk Union Church service which everyone attended at that time.
In 1941, Margaret McCulloch, who taught at Scarritt in the '40's, started a Friends worship group in Nashville. Others besides the Fisk group who participated included students Hibbard Thatcher and Ed Burroughs. Walter Hoose, writing in the late 50's, fills in a vignette of history at that time as follows:
"...Representatives from various Friends groups in the South Central area met in October, 1942, facing the mutual concern of a world at war and seeking a means of continuing friendship which would unite them in the light and love of God. Delegates from Friendsville, TN, Charleston, WV, and from Lexington, Louisville, and Berea, KY, met with members of the Nashville Meeting and others to discuss a means of increasing spiritual unity of Friends in the area and to study the implications of Civilian Public Service and other social action.
At this time the Nashville Meeting assumed the responsibility of editing The Monthly Epistle of South Central Friends. The Epistle furnished a medium of expression for personal and Meeting concerns, and its spiritual ministry was of immeasurable value to those who were isolated or were unable to attend regular Meetings. When the transfer of a number of members of Nashville Meeting made it impossible for the remainder to carry on publication, it was with deep regret that the Epistle was laid down after nearly three years of service."
After Marian and Nelson Fuson arrived in Nashville in 1949, Nelson as a Fisk Faculty member, Quaker Meeting for Worship was held in their home, usually on Saturday evenings, for the next six or seven years. These meetings drew from the Vanderbilt-Scarritt-Peabody area, as well as Fisk, both members and interested attenders.
In 1956, just as the Fusons left for three years in France, Hibbard and Ruby Thatcher, Verne and Shirley Bechill and Allan Goodwin came to the worship group, moving the meeting place to the Vanderbilt-Scarritt side of the city. When the Fusons returned in 1959 they found an active, lively Quaker Worship Group meeting on Sunday mornings in the Wesley Foundation building across 21st avenue from Vanderbilt. Soon this group held a Monthly Meeting for Business, kept minutes, and acted like a Monthly Meeting even though it was only a worship group.
During the next four years Nashville Friends gained unity and strength, particularly as they worked together on social action concerns centering on the non-violent actions to remove racial segregation in downtown businesses. When the "sit-ins", the "stand-ins" and the Freedom Rides of the Student Non-violent Movement to end segregation were taking place, we Nashville Quakers acted as a Meeting by writing letters to the editor of the Tennessean, meeting with the Mayor of Nashville as representatives from the Nashville Friends Meeting, etc. ... upon realizing that as merely an informal group we might get into difficulties if questioned, we wrote the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which was in session in March, 1961, asking if they would back us up if we were challenged. Since many of us were members of different Monthly Meetings in the Philadelphia area, they sent their Yearly Meeting Secretary to look over what we were doing. As a result of his report, they assured us that they would stand behind us if we got into any trouble.
The Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC)'s New Meetings Committee having agreed that we were ready for full Monthly Meeting status, they helped us celebrate our official Monthly Meeting status in January, 1963. The charter membership included 13 of us, made up of transfers from other Monthly Meetings and active Nashville attenders joining for the first time now that it was possible.
Even before we gained official status we started to have fall weekend retreats. We met at Camp Dogwood each year from 1961 to 1980, then at Camp Rauwood from 1981 to 1985, and at Montgomery Bell Park 1986 to date.
By this time we had moved our Sunday morning meetingplace to the Scarritt College social rooms. In 1968, we hosted the fall FWCC national meeting at Scarritt.
In 1970, after negotiating amendments to the Tennessee Marriage Law to include Quaker weddings "without benefit of clergy", we conducted the first Quaker wedding under the care of our Meeting in March, 1970, when Sally Reed and Raymond Morris were married. (Since that time there have been a total of 10 weddings under the care of Nashville Friends Meeting. [through 1991])
In September, 1971 we moved the place of our Meeting from Scarritt to a residence at 1108 18th Avenue, South, renting about half the house from Meeting attenders Andy and Julia Hewitt for $100/month. While experimenting with our uses of space we sponsored and housed a Consumers Cooperative, and the Nashville Draft Counselling Center. Long remembered will be the way Jocelyn King handled the entire Children's Program of the Meeting in the big upstairs front room!
In November, 1974, we moved into our own meetinghouse, a duplex at 2804 Acklen Avenue. The cost was $33,000. (We celebrated paying off the mortgage 15 years later when we met for our fall weekend in 1989 at Montgomery Bell Park!) In order to enable us to host the FGCC fall 1976 meeting we needed meeting space for 75 persons. We did this by renovating the "garden level" of the meetinghouse, replacing the octopus-like coal furnace (with its coal-bin room) with 2 compact gas furnaces and installing a carpet, partitions, and a wall-to-wall carpet for the Meeting room. The meetinghousenow has space for its library, three rooms for children's programs, and a Meeting Room which will accommodate 60 to 70 persons.
By 1980 our membership was 34 (20 local and 14 distant), plus many active attenders and three well-attended First Day School classes.
[In 1981 the program was a little different:]
The Meeting for Worship is held each Sunday at 10:00 am. After a break for introductions and announcements, the second morning hour is more in the nature of a sharing and discussion, led by different meeting members. The Children's program continues concurrently from 10 am til noon, with three or four different age groups led by volunteers from the adult group. The monthly Meeting for business, usually preceded or followed by a pot-luck dinner or supper, is the central decision making body.