Do Quakers Drink Alcohol?

Historically, Quakers are known for abstaining from drinking alcohol. What was the reason behind Quaker teetotalism? Was that always the case?

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

12 thoughts on “Do Quakers Drink Alcohol?

  1. Max was my Dorm head when I attended Earlham in the early 70s. It is a thrill to see him talk on these posts, as I always liked Max, and it’s such a pleasure to hear him talk. He was so tolerant of the things we did. Times were changing, and we were one of the first coed dorms on campus. We raised hell, but never suffered too many consequences from Max. He could have made my life miserable if he wanted, however he put up with me and my friends and we had a wonderful time at Earldom. Thank you Max! We all love you for that. I hope we didn’t put too much of a hamper on your family life. God bless you!

  2. The question for me is, can we tolerate diversity in our Meetings when it comes to questions like these? Why do we ask if Quakers drink instead of, “do I choose to drink or do you choose to drink?”

  3. A very nice thing about finding Friends is that my social circle is now full of people who don’t even blink (let alone mock) my non-drinking ways.

  4. A thoughtful and well-presented video, as far as it goes. However, it leaves Friends a century or two ago. This is a pity, because an underlying theme is that Friends have changed with the times, yet it fails to show how Friends’ views on drinking have continued to evolve. At a time when it’s not uncommon for non-Friends to think that Quakers are all dead, this sort of presentation does not serve us well.

  5. The English word “temperance” as in “moderation or self-restraint, especially in eating and drinking” was seized upon by the Temperance Movement to mean “abstinence” which is actually a different concept. Abstain from eating and drinking, and you die pretty quickly. The NPYM query at the start of the video only asks if our use of alcohol is “addictive” whereas I’d say Quakerism is more about “temperance” in its purer sense: moderation in all things. This dharma applies to many more possible “addictions” besides alcohol. Addictions lead to “silliness” of the kind George Fox sought to avoid (alluding to the video) i.e. avoidance and escapism. Quakerism is not escapism; it encourages serious-mindedness. That’s my reading of our current advice on this topic.

  6. A temperance bar has opened in Urmston, Manchester, UK, sparking interest in the ‘history of not drinking alcohol’. I am not a Quaker, I’m interested in history. I was under the impression that Quakers refuted alcohol originally because men were once deliberately intoxicated to get them to sign up for the (English) army in the 1600s. As Quakers are peaceful folk, alcohol was therefore to be avoided. Is this your understanding, too?

    1. I am trying to find information on Quakers and drinking to find out what a maltster would have done in the 1660’s-1700’s. As I was working on my genealogy I found my 6th great grandfather Robert Pyle as having the occupation of Maltster. I was looking for information on what he would have done as far as work when listed as a this. He was also listed as Yeoman, and I am wondering if this would have been part of his position as a Maltster? Can anyone help? Thanks

  7. ‘Early 1800s’ is not really correct. At that time the three largest breweries in London (and hence the world) were Quaker owned, along with many other famous breweries and wine-importers. They didn’t suddenly shut down. The abstinence movement did not hit Friends until Victorian times, and in Britain it was never a requirement for Friends to abstain. I have found reference to only three 18th century Friends who abstained. Can anyone find more than that?
    I don’t understand the argument that alcoholic drink was used just because all water was polluted. If the water contained pathogens, boiling would fix that; if it contained toxins, then using it for beer wouldn’t help – you’d still get poisoned.

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