Margaret Fell (1614-1702): A Brief Biography Of The Mother Of Quakerism -- By: Sally Bruyneel

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 09:3 (Summer 1995)
Article: Margaret Fell (1614-1702): A Brief Biography Of The Mother Of Quakerism
Author: Sally Bruyneel


Margaret Fell (1614-1702):
A Brief Biography Of The Mother Of Quakerism

Sally Bruyneel

A doctoral student in Theology, Sally Bruyneel serves as Program Coordinator for the Orange County (CA) Chapter of CBE. Her work on Margaret Fell has included presentations to the American Academy of Religion (Western Region), and to the Friends Center at Azusa Pacific University.

Margaret Fell, known to many as the “Mother of Quakerism,” is arguably one of the most fascinating figures in Western religious history. Though frequently overlooked by historians, Margaret Fell played a germinal role in the development of the Friends (Quaker) movement, and her life presents a compelling picture of the power of faith and the cost of discipleship. From her position as an educated woman of power and social standing in Cromwell’s England, Fell was able to defend and nurture Quaker founder George Fox and his followers, many of whom endured persecution or death as the movement grew. In addition to bringing organization and stability to the early Friends movement, she was also an able biblical exegete who authored sixteen books on Quaker distinctives such as pacifism, the role of women in the Church, and eschatology. Fearless in defense of her beloved fellow Quakers, Margaret Fell endured dungeons, met with Kings, and ultimately sacrificed all that she owned for her faith.

Margaret was born in 1614 into the landed Askew family in Lancashire, England. Educated in keeping with her privileged social status, Margaret inherited both money and property at her father’s death. In 1632 she married barrister Thomas Fell, a puritan destined for a judgeship and service in Parliament under Cromwell. The couple soon took up residence in the Fell family estate at Swarthmoor Hall; Margaret gave birth to nine children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. It was also there that in 1652 Margaret Fell met George Fox, a powerful preacher with a remarkable command of Scripture. Under his teaching, Margaret experienced a strong spiritual conviction regarding the polite, ineffectual Christianity that she saw about her. Describing this experience, Fell wrote that the words of George Fox

opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly that we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves.’

This dramatic encounter filled Margaret Fell with a passionate faith and a new spiritual direction. She took the message first to her own family, where George Fox’s call to spiritual renewal soon touched the entire Fell househol...

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