Parlor game in which players try to remain silent as long as possible.
“Are you playing Quaker meeting?” — Jim Woodworth in Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 20, “The Birthday Party”)
When Jim Woodworth enters the room during his brother Ben’s birthday party and finds Laura Ingalls and the other guests sitting in stony and uncomfortable silence, his question of, “Are you playing Quaker meeting?” is met with laughter. After that, the classmates are able to talk and be more at ease around each other.
While Jim’s “Quaker meeting” most likely refers to the historical practice of such meetings often being held in complete silence, the traditional parlor game is begun by reciting a rhyme, after which the participants all try to remain silent without smiling or laughing, for as long as possible. Sometimes, a leader would instruct players in turn to do perform a humorous action. One rhyme used was:
Quaker Meeting has begun,
No more laughter, no more fun.
It’s interesting to note that Godey’s Lady’s Book contained rules for playing a noisy parlor game called Quaker Meeting. It appeared in the September 1882 issue, the same year that Ben Woodworth’s party was held in De Smet.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American politician and inventor, wrote the following about attending a Quaker meeting:
… I walked again up the street, which by this time had many clean-dressed people in it, who were all walking the same way. I joined them, and thereby was led into the great meetinghouse of the Quakers near the market. I sat down among them, and, after looking round a while and hearing nothing said, being very drowsy through labor and want of rest the preceding night, I fell fast asleep, and continued so till the meeting broke up, when some one was kind enough to rouse me.
The American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) expressed sentiments quite similar to Laura’s:
…When the subdued rustling noise of the entering congregation had at last wholly ceased, the silence that ensued seemed, at first, a little painful, and you wondered how they could possibly sit there for a whole hour without speaking (as sometimes happens). There was a ludicrous feeling of want of adequate reason for being there. It seemed exquisitely absurd to see those old fellows, with broad-brimmed hats on their heads, sitting there upon one side of the house, and the old women, in their huge drab bonnets, on the other side, and all solemnly engaged in looking at each other. They looked like seated, voiceless statues of Serenity, or like deaf-mutes in an asylum. I thought that they would surely break out into a laugh soon, unless some one rose to speak. But I was never more mistaken; not a facial muscle moved. The majority of the congregation were young people, too, in the conventional dress of society. It was evident that, whatever my feelings might be, they saw nothing in the occasion calculated to excite their visibilities; as so far as they were concerned, my feeling of pity and embarrassment was entirely thrown away. After a while I found myself getting used to the silence, and even hoping that it would last for the entire hour. I began to understand that Quaker meetings have a wholly sufficient raison d’être, i.e. that the people may indulge in delightful dreamy dozes and naps. — W. Sloan Kennedy, John Greenleaf Whittier: His Life, Genius, and Writings (Boston: S.E. Cassino and Company, 1883), 289-290.
“The Religious Society of Friends is an Alternative Christianity which emphasizes the personal experience of God in one’s life. Quakers understand the necessity of first listening to God before working in the world. They affirm the equality of all people before God regardless of race, station in life, or sex and this belief leads them into a range of social concerns.
“Being “Children of Light” they find recourse to violence intolerable. Quaker thought is both mystical (waiting upon God) and prophetic (speaking truth to power). Friends believe that God’s revelation is still continuing, that God is not absent or unknowable but that we can find God ourselves and establish a living relationship thus being able to live in the world free from the burden and guilt of sin. It is the search for a closer relationship with God that is the Way. Religious knowledge, like the appreciation of beauty, is not attained by a logical process of thought but by experience and feeling. Quakers maintain that the teaching of Jesus is a practical method for the guidance of the world today, that religion is concerned with the whole of life, and that, beyond a certain point, definition becomes a limitation.”
— For this and more information about the Religious Society of Friends, see http://www.quaker.org .
Quaker meeting (LTP 20)