Popular Quakers

Quaker woman, ambrotype 1860s

This is what Quaker women looked like late in the nineteenth century.  Plain Quakers were still part of the American social and cultural landscape, and were high profile as a community. We are all familiar with the image of William Penn on the cereal box. Quakers stood for purity, honesty, and a good product. They held a place in popular imagination much as the Amish do today.

Quaker Coffee illustration

She’s a lovely lass, isn’t she?  Quaker girls were once popular advertising images. They made products look wholesome. They apparently also had some kind of romantic appeal.

From "A Quaker Down in Quaker Town"

 It was a song popular in 1916 – “There’s A Quaker Down in Quaker Town.” The lyrics are the usual uninspired drivel of popular sheet music of that era – “Old William Penn, please pardon me/One of your sons I want to be/You love your Quakers and I love one too/That’s why I’m strong for you.” The backstory is that this Broadway composer/singer/actor has fallen in love with a sweet girl in Philadelphia, and he’ll have to convert in order to woo her. The Quaker in popular imagination exemplified sweet innoncence and natural beauty.  Although those heels are pretty hot stuff. I had a pair of shoes like that about twenty years ago.

We think of the “Quaker” on the oatmeal label as The Quaker of Quaker Oats, which wasn’t started by Quakers. Other Quaker characters were part of the marketing strategy.

"Quaker babies" promotional card 1890s

William Penn doesn’t appear just on the oatmeal drumbox either, and I could be sure that Quakers really didn’t associate the founder of Pennsylvania with this product.

Old Quaker Whiskey bottle

Manufactured by Schenley Distillers, makers of many proprietary brands of rotgut,I doubt if this was marketed to (mostly) teetotalling Quakers. Was the Pennesque character supposed to represent purity?

A hundred plus years later, we see the Amish used in the same marketing strategy. They represent a past age, a time of innocence. We assume that their reputation for honesty and simple living is reflected in products associated with them. We expect to see value for our money from Amish products, which was probably part of the marketing strategy behind the “Quaker” products. Quality, purity, honesty, value.

And quaint sells. Nostalgia sells, as if we could recapture lost innocence and a simple way of life by purchasing a product; as if we can really identify with people who have chosen a way of life based on the Bible merely by picking the right label.


3 thoughts on “Popular Quakers

  1. Broadfall pants would be a danged sight easier to patch than these infernal fly front pants when the fabric is ripped right next to the zipper. With heavy denim or heavy canvas pants, it must the sumo wrestling event of mending. I wonder if I could ever talk hubby into wearing broadfalls.

  2. Magdalena,

    I’ve gota get me some of that Quaker whiskey!!!!! need it after my Trinity essay hand-in and exam on Monday!! 🙂

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