What is the history of AFSC?

In April 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War 1, fourteen Friends met in Philadelphia.  They foresaw an approaching crisis for young Quakers who would be subject to the draft, especially in coping with the US’ haphazard system for dealing with religious objectors to war. They founded the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to provide conscientious objectors of all faiths with an alternative to military service during World War One.

Service included driving ambulances in the war zone in France, and collecting food and clothing for those displaced by the war. In 1921, AFSC workers fed over 1 million Austrian and German children a day in the aftermath of the war.

During the Great Depression, AFSC helped form homestead projects, cooperatives and home industry programs in Appalachia.  Abroad, AFSC cared for children on both sides of the Spanish Civil War. in 1938, an AFSC delegation remonstrated with the Gestapo, and arranged emigration for hundreds of Jewish families in Nazi Germany.

In 1947, AFSC received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with its British counterpart, on behalf of Friends worldwide for their consistent pursuit of peace and alleviation of suffering.

In the 1950s and 60s, AFSC supported the civil rights movement by helping place African-American children in previously all-white southern schools. AFSC also arranged  the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s transformative trip to India. In the 1970s, AFSC counseled thousands of draft-age US citizens about conscientious objector status, and provided food and prosthetic limbs to civilian victims of the Vietnam War.

AFSC’s consistent work against nuclear weapons and for workers’ rights everywhere dominated during the 1990s. In 2001, AFSC launched a campaign calling for justice, not retaliation, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In 2005, AFSC provided emergency relief both to victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.  And in 2010, AFSC responded to the disaster in Haiti, and continues to provide support to the Haitian community both in the US and Haiti.  

Today AFSC continues to put its beliefs into action, whether in counseling US immigrants on their rights or mounting exhibits on the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently AFSC operates programs in 35 cities and 19 countries.  

What is the history of the name “American Friends Service Committee”?

“American” recalls that the organization began in the US in 1917 to provide alternative service to military duty –“a service of love in war time” – which grew into a worldwide program supported by Americans of many faiths.

“Friends” recognizes that AFSC is a Quaker organization.

“Service” emphasizes the purpose – to put beliefs into action, whether in material ways, such as feeding refugees, or less tangible ways, as in urging an end to unjust policies that breed violence.

Committee” reminds that  AFSC was founded to do broad tasks needing many people working together, but it tries to honor the wisdom of individuals or local groups and aid their ability to act.

Who are the Quakers?

Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) seek to experience God directly, both individually and in community. These direct experiences with the Divine inform the way Quakers live. Quakers share an understanding that truth is accessible to all and that truth is continuously revealed.

The name “Quaker” was a nickname used by others, as it was said that they trembled or quaked with religious zeal. Friends have since adopted the term, and today the words “Friend” and “Quaker” are used interchangeably. The formal name is the Religious Society of Friends.

For more about Quakers, see the Quaker Information Center.

What do Quakers believe?

For Quakers faith and action are two aspects of a religion expressed in how one lives. Because of this, Quakers do not have a creed, or single statement of doctrine, but they do share some core expressions of their faith.

These expressions are found in Quaker testimonies. Read more about Quaker testimonies at AFSC.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is an inclusive Quaker organization, bringing together people from many traditions to work to bring Quaker values to life in the world. Those values, expressed in the testimonies, are common to many faith traditions that strive for peace, pursue justice, hold strong in their belief that every single person has inherent worth.

The AFSC is a legal corporation whose governing bodies are made up principally of Friends. The Corporation, which includes members appointed by affiliated Friends regional bodies, meets annually to offer counsel on the work of the organization, and to represent Quakers to AFSC and AFSC to the wider Quaker world. The Corporation, whose members all are Friends, appoints a smaller Board of Directors, which is comprised mostly of Friends.