By Anthony Manousos
Growing Up in “Brinton Country”
To tell the story of the Brintons or of the Beans and the Coxes, Anna’s family, is to tell the story of Quakerism as it developed in America. Anna and Howard both took pride in the fact that they could trace their ancestry to the early days of Quakerism. Quakers are not ancestor worshipers, but old Quaker families like the Brintons and the Coxes reverence, and draw inspiration from, their ancestors to a greater degree than do members of most other religious groups. To understand Howard and Anna, and many other Quakers of their generation, one must appreciate the role that ancestry played in their moral and spiritual development.
In 1935, Howard gave a talk about the importance of Quaker “ancestor worship” at a family reunion. As often was the case when discussing a serious topic, Howard began with a joke: “An old saying is that a man who has nothing to boast about but his ancestors is like a potato vine– the only good belonging to him is underground.” Howard went on to argue that giving reverent attention to one’s ancestors is not “to be despised” since ancestors can be extremely important in influencing how we develop as individuals:
“A common modern American way of thinking which holds that every tub stands on its own bottom, that every man is an isolated individual and responsible for his own ability and character is not true biologically, psychologically, nor spiritually. Those who have preceded us are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, and we can no more separate ourselves from them than a plant can separate itself from its roots.”
For Quakers like Howard and Anna, ancestry was significant because it linked them to a “pattern of life,” a religious culture, that could not be reduced to a theological system. This Quaker culture was, paradoxically, conservative and radical at the same time. Quakers were active in the great reform movements while at the same time preserving a way of life rooted in tradition modes of dress, speech, and outlook that could not be taught in school, but which were transmitted through the family. . . .
Howard saw himself as part of a tradition, rooted in an inward spiritual experience, that went back to the beginning of the Quaker movement, and which linked him with other Quaker families. Old Quaker families did not have ancestral busts, like the Romans, or ancestral altars, like the Chinese, but they did have genealogical records that functioned in a similar fashion to link the present and the past. Howard reflected:
“As I take down from my library shelves the Smedley Book, the Sharpless Book, the Brinton Book, the Kirk Book, the Darlington Book, and the Cox Book and look at these solid, serene, strong faces expressing a simple but carefully worked out mode of life, I feel that I can understand them, but my children never will.”
One of the reasons that Howard dictated his Autobiography during the last year of his life was in hopes of conveying something about this Quaker way of life not only to his descendants, but to posterity.
To tell the story of Howard and Anna one must also tell the story of their ancestors, and of Quakers in America – a story that Anna and Howard spent a lifetime exploring, explaining and “reinventing” . . . .
Howard traced his family’s lineage back eight generations to the founders of the American line, William Brinton, Sr. (1635-1699):
“William and Ann Brinton, our first American ancestors, came early into the Society of Friends. They were married in 1659 by Friends’ ceremony seven years after the Quaker movement began. William, in his testimony regarding his deceased wife, says she “received the Truth from the first publishers of it” in 1656 and that her mother was a Friend. We do not know when William joined the Society of Friends, but, as his later life indicated, he was the kind of independent person who would join [an] outlawed radical movement. He did not hesitate to be a non-conformist even towards his fellow Quakers.”
Like most of the Quakers who settled in Pennsylvania, William came to America to escape persecution. According to “records of suffering” that Quakers scrupulously kept, “William was twice fined for attendance at a Quaker meeting and since, like other Quakers, he refused to pay, his goods were sold for five times the value of the fine.” Deprived of his property and hopes of any livelihood, he left England with his wife and son William, Jr, and arrived in America in the spring of 1684.
Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, he found a temporary residence for his wife and son and went into the wilderness to scout out the best land. “Crossing a small creek, after a journey of about 30 miles, he found just what he wanted,” wrote Howard, “fertile soil watered by small streams and abounding in springs of clear, cold water.” William returned to Philadelphia and purchased 1,000 acres of land for 10 cents per acre so that there would be enough land for his extended family.
During the first winter he lived in a cave and was kept from starving by friendly Indians. The Brintons soon moved from a cave to a log cabin. They cleared the forest, farmed the land, and held meeting for worship in their home until Concord Meetinghouse was built in 1697. Nearby, in 1704, William Brinton, Jr. (1670-1751), who is referred to by the family as “William the Younger” or “William the Builder,” built a two-story brick house in a medieval English style. This home was restored and became a National Historic Landmark in 1968. Today the Brinton family has not only a Book, but also a Website.
The Brinton family flourished in America and so did the Religious Society of Friends until the American Revolution polarized the Colonies and left Quakers marginalized. Because Friends generally did not take sides during the Revolutionary War, they lost a great deal of political and social influence. In the decades after the Revolution, Friends began to drift apart theologically and socially. Those in urban areas became increasingly influenced by evangelical Protestantism while those in the country tended to keep to the traditions and doctrines of what they called “primitive Quakerism.”
In the 1820s, these difference came to a head and American Quakers split into two camps, the Orthodox and the Hicksites. “Orthodox” refers to Quakers who emphasized the outward historical events in Scripture while Hicksites (named after Elias Hicks) referred to those who emphasized inward mystical experience. In the 1840s Orthodox Quakerism also split between those who emphasizing the inward and those emphasizing the outward aspects of religion. The Orthodox- Hicksite separation was the beginning of a series of schisms that eventually divided American Quakerism into four main branches and numerous twigs. As a result of this separation, many Orthodox Friends did not consider Hicksites to be “true Quakers” and vice versa.
Howard was a product of this separation. Born 24 July 1884, Howard grew up in a “peaceful, happy home” in a community consisting of both Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers. His hometown was West Chester, which is located 35 miles west of Philadelphia. The historian Henry Seidel Canby called Chester county “Brinton country” since this area along the Brandywine contains “two Brinton mills, Brinton’s island, Brinton’s dam, Brinton’s bridge, Brinton’s run, Brinton’s road, and Brinton’s quarry.” Howard noted that “others besides Brintons settled here of course, but most of these others sooner or later married Brintons; so we claim them all.”
Howard’s father, Edward G. Brinton, was a prominent Orthodox Friend whose Quaker genealogy was meticulously documented by his son. As Howard explained, “My ancestors for eight or nine generations were nearly all Friends. I know this because I have looked up the names and religion of some 400 of them, all settlers in early Pennsylvania. But I myself was not technically a birthright Friend, for my father was Orthodox and my mother Hicksite.”
Up until this time, being a “birthright” Friend conferred status since it meant that both one’s parents were bona fide Quakers.. . . Nowadays no distinction is usually made between birthright and “convinced” (converted) Friends.
Howard’s mother Ruthanna Brown was a Hicksite Friend whose family suffered a fall in fortune when her father, a prosperous businessman named Jeremiah Brown, made a poor investment and lost all his property. When Edward Brinton met Ruthanna at one of the gatherings of Hicksite and Orthodox Friends that took place at this time, she was an “impecunious teacher at the Hicksite Friends School in West Chester.”
Even though Howard’s mother was Hicksite and his father Orthodox, the tensions that had once characterized these two Quaker factions had largely subsided. As Howard points out, “The Hicksite and Orthodox meetings had little to do with each other religiously, but they were united through the Home Cluster” a kind of club or “social society which met monthly with a literary program.” Howard noted that “some marriages of Hicksite and Orthodox took place as a result of these gatherings, including that of my parents.”
Although Howard’s parents were married in the manner of Friends in the presence of the Mayor of Philadelphia, and their marriage certificate was worded like any other Quaker marriage certificate, some Orthodox Friends considered young Howard to be a Hicksite (and hence not a “true” Quaker). Others argued that the somewhat isolated Hicksite group to which his mother belonged was never actually “disowned” by the Orthodox Yearly Meeting, so that Howard could still be considered a birthright Friend. Eventually both Howard and his mother were received into the Orthodox meeting.
These arcane distinctions did not prevent Howard’s father from going into the farm equipment business with a prominent Hicksite named Herbert Worth. “Together they arranged many joint undertakings of the two meetings,” wrote Howard, “including such occasions as picnics on the Brandywine and boat trips on the Delaware.”
Quakers of different theological persuasions were not only able to work together, they were also able to laugh about their differences. As Howard recalled, “On one occasion my father went to a wealthy Hicksite, Philip Sharpless, to beg money for the new Y.M.C.A., which was to be open only to members of evangelical churches. They became so bogged down in a theological argument that the interview ended in a laugh and a contribution.”
Given this “mixed” background, it is not surprising that Howard eventually felt drawn to help heal the divisions that had separated Hicksite and Orthodox Friends since 1827. As he recalled later, “At the turn of this century Friends had neither sufficient religious insight nor enough humility to create a genuine synthesis. The Hicksites claimed that the separation was caused by a difference of opinion on church government. The Orthodox held that the difference was caused by a lack of agreement in theology. We young people in the Orthodox meeting in West Chester in the eighteen nineties had a vague idea that the Orthodox believed in the divinity of Christ while the Hicksite did not, but we were not at all clear what the word ‘divinity’ might mean.” It was not until 1955 that the Hicksites and Orthodox branches of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting united.
The Brintons had four children three boys (Howard, George, Edward) and a girl (Marguerite) who arrived when Howard was twelve (he says that his cousin Nan “served as a sister until then”). The Brinton household was “well supplied with pets, including rabbits and crows as well as cats, dog, and chickens.” Edward Brinton’s business ventures thrived – he started a successful creamery and later opened a farm equipment warehouse and the family was well off enough to have a servant, an attractive Irish girl whom the children called “Aunt Annie.”
A family crisis occurred when Edward Brinton showed symptoms of tuberculosis. Edward’s brother Ralph (Nan’s father) had died of TB, so the matter was considered quite serious. The doctor recommended that Edward go to New Mexico for a cure. It was at this time that Herbert Worth became Edward’s business partner. He took care of the warehouse while Edward took time off to regain his health. Edward left his three sons to the care of his wife and ended up spending a year in New Mexico. There he enjoyed the high desert landscape, rode on horseback and had some interesting adventures that he reported in letters to his family. One of his most memorable experiences was visiting the Indians call Penitentes who tortured themselves and caused one of their members to hang on the cross in the imitation of Christ. By hiding his camera under his coat, Edward photographed this ritual, even though taking pictures was forbidden.
The firm of Brinton and Worth sold carriages and agricultural equipment from a large warehouse. Howard and his brothers often played there, and it made such an impression that at age ten he wrote one of his first poems, called “Pop’s Warehouse.” Howard learned how to ride a horse and also how to harness a horse to a carriage, a “very complicated operation.”
Howard prided himself on the practical skills that he learned from his father. “When I reflected on the whole course of my education from its beginning to my doctoral dissertation,” wrote Howard, “I consider the most important part of it to be the time when I received a complete set of carpenter’s tools from my father. I had a shop in our attic where I spent several hours each day. I made and repaired almost everything that was make-able or repairable.”
Howard’s skills as a handyman and carpenter proved extremely useful when he eventually became the director of Pendle Hill. There he not only taught courses, wrote books, advised students, planned curriculum, and did administrative work, he also did plumbing and repairs. Howard proved similarly adept at constructing lab equipment when he taught physics at Earlham College.
According to Howard, his first religion was “nature worship.” He experienced “a kind of religious ecstasy” in exploring the meandering tributaries and streams of West Chester. “Of all the streams, the Brandywine received the most reverence.” At Haverford College, he wrote a rather flowery essay celebrating the river that had been to him “a friend and companion.” In the spirit of Wordsworth and Coleridge, he bemoaned the “cold hand of science” that caused him to “wander, wonderless, amid the great mysteries of nature.”
Howard is probably referring to his decision to major in mathematics and physics, but he never really lost his love for the natural world. When he eventually married and started a family of his own, they were known for their numerous pet animals, including rabbits that Howard loved to have nearby, especially when writing. One of his Howard’s deeply felt concerns in his final years at Pendle Hill was that Highway 476 (known locally as the “Blue Route”) would pave over nearby Crum Creek.
Howard compares this early stage of his life to that of the romantic child described in Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (which Howard had memorized along with numerous other poems). Howard wrote: “I was Nature’s priest’ and attended by the vision splendid,’ but it was many years before it faded into the light of common day.’ I remembered clearly the vivid colors in nature pervaded by a kind of supernatural glow.”
Howard apparently inherited his love of poetry from his grandmother, Deborah Garrett Brinton. She was a “very strict Quaker, who wore a plain bonnet and shawl” and sometimes took Howard to Meeting in West Chester. She also read him verses out of a book called Original Poems. As a child, Howard once asked: “Why does Grandmother read such sad poetry?” Later, however, Howard himself would write “sad poetry” as an outlet for feelings that he could not otherwise express.
Howard’s father was an outgoing and friendly man who loved to arrange picnics and other social events for both Hicksite and Orthodox Friends. One of these monthly events, called the Home Cluster, included a literary program with something called “spice,” which entailed making fun of various members. “Father was a very successful ‘spice’ writer,” recalled Howard, who carried on this tradition with Log Nights at Pendle Hill.
Howard also showed an early interest in science. When he visited his Grandmother, he “spent most of the time reading and illustrating a book about astronomy.” Howard also recalled that Charles Chester, “a weighty [i.e. influential and well- respected] Quaker farmer who was clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting,” would discuss scientific topics with the boys “the constellations in the sky and the minerals in the earth” and once he showed them “an Indian arrowhead he found in his field.”
Another important aspect of Howard’s development was his religious upbringing. He declares the Quaker faith “the most mature in existence” and it clearly made a profound impression on his mind, but many of his childhood memories of Quaker meeting for worship are tinged with humor. He describes several melodious Quaker preachers on the facing bench who would chant in the old Quaker style, a “medley of Scripture texts set to the Gregorian chant.” (As liberalism took hold in the first decades of the 20th century, this style of singsong preaching would largely disappear among Friends.)
Howard also recalled those who gave rather odd, quaint messages, such as that of a farmer who stood up and intoned: “Dear Friends, I would advise you to keep sheep. Their wool is wearable, the flesh is eatable, and even their horns are good for making buttons.’ This was sung in the usual chant.”
Another memorable visiting Friend turned to a member of meeting and said, “Thou art a speckled bird” (an allusion to Jeremiah 12: 9).
“As he went on, his sermon became more peculiar and a Friend stood up beside him and asked him to discontinue his remarks immediately,” recalled Howard. “The speaker left the room, went downstairs, and preached up through the hot air register so he could still be heard.”
Howard observed that most meetings were “without any unusual happenings.” He attended meeting for worship twice a week (once on First Day and once in midweek at school) and found them generally “inspiring.”
“It might seem that the silent worship is too mature for a young boy,” observed Howard, “but I did not find it to be the case. The sermons were very simple. There was no theology or social problems; only a simple appeal to follow the inward light wherever it might lead. It was accordingly an appeal to feeling and not to the intellect.”
Another important influence on Howard’s upbringing was the West Chester Friends School, which, he later recalled, “influenced [him] more than any other school of the many that [he] attended.”
All his life Howard was able to quote from memory a poem about the school written when he was a little boy a poem he was exceedingly proud of when he first wrote it:
In West Chester down on Church Street Is the school to
which I go.
It isn’t much for beauty And it isn’t much for show.
But I tell you it’s a dandy. It’s the place to learn the rule.
And generally people call it Church Street Friends
In a letter he wrote at Mills College in 1932, Howard reminisced about the importance of this school and expressed the wish that his own children could have the benefit of such an education:
“My most important habits, both good and bad, were formed within its walls. There are four young and tender Brintons in this house, all eager to learn, and their education in this un-Quakerly land presents a real problem. I would, if I could, conjure up out of the past that red brick building, even though it is not an architectural marvel, and those boys and girls of all kinds who were in it, and more important than anything else I would have Teacher Abbie, Teacher Julia, and Teacher Elizabeth teach it, and then I would send my children to this school rather than to any other that I know.”
Much of Howard’s childhood was spent not in the school or meetinghouse, but in the outdoors. He reminisces at length about the times that he and his “gang” of friends spent trekking about the “Barren Woods” and following various streams. They made tree-houses, built dams, cooked dinners outdoors, caught frogs and fish and butterflies. Howard confesses that he later went out to shoot rabbits and concludes, “I always have been very glad that I did not hit any.”
One of his most memorable activities was helping to form a society of boys called the Boys’ Sporting League.
“We made for it a very elaborate constitution which was never followed,” he recalled. The League required an oath of membership, which all the boys were eager to take except for one who presumably adhered to the Quaker testimony against oath taking. The League meant so much to Howard that he kept the minutes of this quaint, quasi-Quaker society. “The society met at the home of Joseph Cope. There being no business on hand, the society adjourned to play with the turtles and give them a bath. Signed: George Comfort, Secretary.”
Howard includes several more pages of minutes, which seem like a Lilliputian version of those kept by adult Quaker Meetings. . . .
Camping and hiking on the banks of the Brandywine was “one of the most important undertakings” of Howard’s childhood. Howard and a group of friends once went on a weeklong walking tour about 100 miles to the Susquehanna River and back. Another time Howard and his friends walked from Harper’s Ferry down the Shenandoah Valley to the Luray Caverns a trip of around 100 miles. These excursions meant so much to Howard and company that they took detailed notes, which Howard preserved and included in his Autobiography.
Reading Howard’s recollections of his childhood, it is easy to see why he placed so much emphasis on “organic community” in his later life. Howard grew up in a close-knit Quaker community with ties of friendship and family that were interwoven with a love of nature and a sense of God’s presence in everyday affairs. From this community he learned to be both practical and mystical. He acquired a love of science as well as of poetry. He also learned to appreciate those of different religious background – an important trait since he ended up working for nearly every branch of Quakerism, including the Orthodox, Hicksite, Gurneyite, Wilburite/Conservative, “pastoral” (i.e. meetings led by paid pastors, as in conventional Christian churches) and “unprogrammed” (worship without prearranged liturgy, as were the early Friends’ meetings).
Dreamy, introspective, and highly intelligent, Howard was still quite immature when he left “Brinton Country” at age sixteen and entered the turbulent world of Haverford College. Here his faith would be deepened by new discoveries in science and philosophy, and he would find a mentor in one of modern Quakerism’s greatest thinkers and writers, Rufus Jones.
Meanwhile, three thousand miles away, Anna Shipley Cox, the grand daughter of one of Quakerism’s most controversial figures, was growing up in a very different Quaker environment the world of independent Western Friends.
Growing Up a Western Quaker: Anna Shipley Cox
Like Howard, Anna’s life was profoundly influenced by her forebears, particularly her grandparents, Joel Bean (1825-1914) and his wife Hannah Elliot Shipley Bean (1830-1909). When Anna and Howard retired to Matsudo (their cottage at Pendle Hill, whose name means “Pine Door” in Japanese), Anna placed a painting of Grandmother Bean, in her Quaker cap and kerchief, in a prominent place.
Howard deeply admired the Beans. In recounting the life of this important Quaker couple, he noted that both were equally “gifted and consecrated” ministers:
“[Joel Bean] was born of Quaker parents in 1825 in New Hampshire and died in Hawaii in 1914. In 1859 he married, in Philadelphia, Hannah E. Shipley, sister of Samuel R. Shipley, who founded the Provident Life and Trust Company, and daughter of Thomas Shipley, a well known abolitionist. She was as gifted and consecrated as he and, like him, a highly acceptable minister. Under a sense of Divine Guidance they went to Hawaii in 1861, where they traveled for nine months in the ministry. Ten years later, they traveled extensively with a similar concern in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and in 1882 Joel Bean accompanied Isaac Sharp in his visits to American meetings.”
Joel and Hannah were what Quakers called “weighty” or “public” Friends, highly respected both in the United States and in England. During their stay in England they became friends with the leading lights of British Quakerism, such as Bevan Braithwaite, Isaac Sharp, and others, who visited them in Iowa and kept up a lifelong correspondence. Though the Beans were conservative in their outward behavior and lived like the “Quaker of the Olden Time,” according to Augustus Murray, they were open to the intellectual currents of their era – evolution, “Higher Criticism” of the Bible, and the latest scientific discoveries.
Like the Brintons, the Beans were a two-career couple. Hannah was a school teacher. Joel taught school and later became vice president of a bank. Both served as clerks of Iowa Yearly Meeting.
Their lives changed dramatically when they returned from England in 1877. The revival movement which was spreading like wildfire throughout the West reached Iowa and radically transformed Iowa Yearly Meeting. “The Revival spread,” wrote Bean. “As it gained power it became intolerant of dissent. Opposition was suppressed and resistance silenced. It was thus that unity was claimed. West Branch was the main point of attack and Revival aggression.They regarded themselves advanced to an experience and knowledge of truth to which no others had attained. Elders of sound judgment and discernment, were powerless to stem the stem the tide. Few could know what we passed through in that, and a few subsequent years, of desertion of friends, of charges of unsoundness, and of heresy.”
The Beans did their best to reconcile the differences among Friends, but their efforts were in vain. Iowa Yearly Meeting split into evangelical and Conservative branches.
“The strain wore me down,” wrote Joel, “and preyed upon my health.” The Beans decided to “remove in 1883 to California and to retire if possible from the conflict.” In San Jose, the Beans formed a worship group which met without a pastor. Because California Yearly Meeting hadn’t yet been formed, the Beans asked for recognition as a monthly meeting from Honey Creek Quarterly Meeting in Iowa, but were refused, even though the Friends Church in San Jose was faltering and the Beans’ meeting was flourishing with an attendance of over forty, including many well-known and respected Friends.
In 1885 the Beans built a meetinghouse and in 1889 formed a non-profit organization called the College Park Association of Friends, independent of any quarterly or yearly meeting. Finally, in 1893, Iowa Yearly Meeting withdrew its recognition of Joel as a recorded minister after he failed to answer doctrinal questions “soundly.” In 1898, the entire Bean family (including Anna), along with other San Jose Friends, was removed from membership by New Providence Monthly Meeting in Iowa. This removal stirred international controversy among Friends.
In 1884, a year after the Beans moved to San Jose, Charles Cox, a mathematics instructor who graduated from Haverford College, moved to California to marry their daughter Lydia. He had met her while he was principal of the Friends Academy at Le Grande, Iowa. (Lydia taught there after graduating from Penn College.) Charles was a professor of mathematics at the College of the Pacific from 1886-1891, and then was a member of the mathematics department at Stanford University from 1891-1900. Charles then left academia and turned to selling insurance through the Provident Life and Trust Company of Philadelphia. He was a deeply committed Quaker. For fourteen years he served as president of the College Park Association, which was founded by his father-in-law.
Anna was born in 1887 in San Jose, California, to the Beans’ daughter Lydia and her husband Charles Cox. Anna grew up next door to her famous grandparents and visited them often. Traveling Friends frequently came to her grandparent’s home and shared stories of their travels to exotic places. An English Friend named Isaac Sharp was one of Anna’s favorites: he told her about going to Japan to a house where the walls were paper-thin and noticing little holes in the wall where “black eyes” peered through to see what the Englishman had underneath his clothes when he went to bed. He also told Anna about a Norwegian Friend who trained his parrot to say: “Dear Isaac Sharp’s again in Norway.”
During the summer the Beans went on vacation to their cottage in Pacific Grove, not far from Monterey. There the Chautauqua Assembly pitched its tents and speakers held forth on a variety of inspiring and stimulating topics. (Chautaquas were an educational movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, with speakers, preachers, teachers, musicians and various forms of entertainment for the whole family.) Children played in the grove and on the seashore. The Beans held meetings for worship at the beach, in which little Anna no doubt took part. One participant recalled what it was like: “Imagine the outward setting of the meeting, the semicircular beach, the protecting blue cliffs, the glorious blue sky, the softly breaking waves, the peaceful silence. Presently the sweet voice of Hannah Bean broke the silence with the words of prayer: ‘Beside thy sea, O God, we turn to the light of Thy presence like that of the Master on the shores of Galilee.’”
The Beans’ cottage at Pacific Grove became a place for family holidays where “grand children learned the possibilities of sand and rocks and sea.” Birthdays, honeymoons and other celebrations took place there. (Howard and Anna spent time in Pacific Grove on their honeymoon.) There were family picnics in the grove and poetry readings at “Organ Rock.” This scenic place was where little Anna spent many of the happiest times in her childhood.
She also enjoyed attending meeting for worship at San Jose Meeting, which she later called her favorite meeting, no doubt because it was thriving and lively. As a British Friend observed, “The Friends’ Meeting in San Jose, attended by Joel Bean, contains many Friends known even in this country – the family of Samuel Brun and Anna Valley, from Nimes; Augustine Taber and his family (he is a brother to Susan T. Thomas recently in England; Elizabeth Shelley, and some of the Professors of the neighbouring Stanford University. They have an ordinary attendance of about forty, and are growing.”
The Beans were conservative in their dress and behavior, but open to new ideas. They didn’t drink, smoke, dance or go to plays, but Joel published dozens of poems in Quaker publications and was very fond of the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Hannah did not wear any jewelry, not even a wedding ring, but she wore a lovely white silk bonnet when she was being courted by Joel. (Anna wore a wedding ring, but Howard never would – it seemed un-Quakerly to him.) Despite the Quaker testimony against play acting, Joel took Anna to see her first play, Antigone, in the original Greek, when she was only ten years old.
“The main figure was a revered minister in the Society of Friends,” recalled Anna, “so grandfather thought he’d take a chance on it, and he got me interested in Greek for the rest of my life. I’d never seen a play before, and it was a great experience.”
Anna also learned about “traveling in the ministry” through her grandparents. Having met Hawaiian kings as well as the British Quaker aristocracy, the Beans had many tales to tell of their far-flung and sometimes perilous travels. “Grandfather went out to the Hawaiian islands because he wanted to see what the New England missionary enterprise there meant for Friends,” recalled Anna.
“After staying there a year he decided that it wasn’t our way and he came back. The king tried to persuade him to stay and offered him a school, and [even] offered him a strip of land from the mountain top to the sea. It came right down through what is now the business district of Honolulu. If Grandfather stayed, we might have been in the fix of those missionary children it tells about in [James Michener’s novel] Hawaii – where you see how the big plantations and the monetary interests are in the same names as grandfather’s friends, the first generation of missionaries. . .”
Voyaging across the Pacific could be very risky in those days, particularly for parents with infants. Recalled Anna: “When Grandfather and Grandmother went to Hawaii in 1862, they took my mother who was a little baby. Someone had the idea of giving Grandmother a tin box it was the size of a breadbox, and we used it as a cake box. The label said it could be used for a bathtub for the baby on the boat, and if she died at sea to bury her. That was a relic of my grandmother’s early explorations.”
Like Howard, Anna spent her early years in a secure, close-knit, semi-rural Quaker community that adhered to traditional ways: “[Anna’s parents] Charles and Lydia Bean Cox lived in College Park, a suburb of San Jose, California, and here their two daughters grew up in a redwood shingled house on a large corner lot. The streets, unpaved and without sidewalks, were lined with beautiful poplar trees. Yellow leaves raked into heaps in the autumn made lovely bonfires. There were few homes near them. But the little Friends’ meeting house was less than two blocks down the street. Here Anna and her younger sister, Catharine, learned to sit quietly, which they felt deeply and pondered.”
Anna described her birthplace as a “transplanted village of mostly New Englanders who lived like [their] forebears in a Quaker community where everybody did everything together, and looked out for each other.” Since both their parents were school teachers, the Cox girls received their elementary education at home. They attended a local intermediate school. In her declining years Anna observed that her early training helped her in her work at Pendle Hill.
“I had a good experience in my childhood,” she recalled. “[I was] initiated into things I was going to have to do afterwards in my life, and one was begging money from people. I learned to write not by the copy book but by writing letters to the older Friends to help in the autumn with the California Indians, and in the spring in helping on the Friends School in Ramallah in Palestine.”
An eager and able student, Anna was sent to Westtown, a co-ed prep school located in West Chester, Howard’s hometown. To enter Westtown at that time, students were required to be members of an officially recognized meeting. Since the San Jose meeting her grandfather started was unaffiliated and therefore unrecognized, Anna applied at age twelve for membership in Twelfth Street meeting in Philadelphia. (She remained a member of that meeting for the rest of her life.) At Westtown she encountered excellent teachers and memorized her Latin grammar, thanks to Hannah Pennell, a woman whose toughness Anna remembered with fondness: “She was the best drill master I ever had.”
Discipline and hard work were key to Anna’s academic success as well as a mark of her character. And her diligence paid off. In 1906, she was admitted to Stanford University. During the spring of her freshman year the great San Francisco earthquake shook San Jose and Northern California. According to her sister, Anna was unfazed: “It was characteristic that Anna went off on her bicycle about two hours after the quake to catch her usual train to Palo Alto. Riding with her friends to the University, she and they were shocked by the devastation: deep cracks in the stone walls, and many of the recently constructed buildings reduced to rock heaps. The front walls of the church and the tall entrance tower lay shattered on the ground.”
Classes at Stanford were cancelled for the rest of that semester, but resumed in the fall.
Anna majored in Classics and had the opportunity to study with the famous Quaker Classicist Augustus Taber Murray who would in 1928 take a leave of absence to become the religious advisor of America’s first Quaker president, Herbert Hoover.
Anna completed her four years at Stanford with honors and went on to complete her doctorate in Classics in 1917 at age thirty – no mean achievement, especially for a woman. (Howard did not complete his doctorate until he was over forty.)
Anna’s grandmother did not live to see her beloved granddaughter graduate. Hannah Bean died in San Jose on January 31, 1909, at age 78, after a “slight indisposition” and “without a moment’s suffering.” According to her daughter Catharine, “the sad news went like a flame over San Jose and every one had a word of love; the wires carried it east and west and kindred and friends arose to call her blessed.’”
Not long after Hannah’s death, Joel moved to Hawaii to be with Catharine and her family. There he spent his final years enjoying a much deserved rest. In 1914 he passed away peacefully at age 89 in a tropical paradise that most New Englanders only dream about.
Like her grandparents, Anna loved traveling to exotic places.
“It runs in families, this taste for travel,” Anna once observed. “Friends have a great propensity for going about doing good, especially when doing good involves going about.”
During her summer vacations, Anna often traveled abroad with her legendary Aunt Catharine Shipley, also known as Aunt Kate. The colorful and eccentric Quaker matriarch came from a wealthy Philadelphia family and did pretty much as she pleased.
“It was Aunt Kate who got me over being excessively timid,” Anna confided to Eleanor Price Mather, who could not imagine Anna ever being fearful. “At Westtown, I was so timid I could hardly brace up to anything,” Anna insisted. “It was Aunt Kate and her trips that cured me. I carried luggage and bought tickets, and waited on Aunt Kate and Cousin Sue Shipley. Once in Switzerland a hotel manager said to them, ‘These are your rooms. The maid can go downstairs.’ ‘There is no maid,’ said Aunt Kate frostily.”
Copyright © by Anthony Manousos.
Reprinted by permission.
*An Excerpt from Howard and Anna Brinton: Re-inventors of Quakerism In the Twentieth Century, An Interpretive Biography, forthcoming from FGC Quakerbridge, by Anthony Manousos