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Quaker Hill, 1940-41

           Although modeled on the hostel at Scattergood, the Friends-operated refugee center at Quaker Hill differed in key ways from the prototype upon which it was based. Sheltered in a large, white-pillared house donated by a wealthy Quaker manufacturer, the hostel was located in Richmond, Indiana--a Midwest town of 33,000 with a large Quaker heritage and population, as well as home to Earlham, a small Friends college. Much more so than rural Iowa, Richmond suggested the milieu typical of the industrialized, relatively densely populated Lower Midwest stretching from the Mississippi to the headwaters of the Ohio. There, American Friends Service Committee [AFSC] and volunteer staff who organized Quaker Hill hoped to more easily and fully integrate that project into its surrounding community.

           Undertaken at the urgent request of Jewish organizations and others working with refugees, Quaker Hill operated on the assumption that a group of people unknown to each other before might learn to live together and work


cooperatively in peace and harmony. The housekeeping, care of the grounds and buildings are shared by all. In addition, all members of the group contributed three hours of work daily-hard physical work-to the hostel. Thus, a sound balance between mental and physical activity was sought.<1>

             In contrast to the site on the wind-swept Iowa prairies, in the rolling South-Indiana woods AFSC hoped to place more refugees directly into industrial positions. Located almost equidistant between Cincinnati and Indianapolis, Richmond's 55 manufacturing facilities employed some 4,000 people and produced a diverse assortment of lawn mowers, school bus bodies, metal castings, caskets, farm implements, etc. While occupation retraining per se was not offered, the philanthropist who had given the hostel site to AFSC also made provisions for some of the refugees to work at an adjoining four-story oil mill for refugees with business experience


around whom could be developed one or more small business enterprises, which would employ other refugees [or facilitate] some project like putting together pre-fabricated houses...in connection with the city of Richmond and also the U.S. Government.<2>

            Quaker Hill's overseers intended not just the mill to be a vehicle for default occupational therapy, but--like at Scattergood--that the reconstruction of the site<3> itself would offer an


opportunity for the work element found to be desirable in the daily program of [a] Refugee Hostel, as well as the [focus of a] program of the Peace Camp and similar activities for young Friends. A competent foreman [was] secured to direct this work of reconditioning who [could] use tactfully and helpfully the service of these people.<4>

            The work component of Quaker Hill, however, often ran better than the educational one at the hostel. Mary Lane Charles--who had volunteered at Scattergood until she transferred to Quaker Hill--reported the Richmond site had endeavored to "fulfill the refugees' need for English in as large a variety of ways as possible". The backbone of the program had been individual tutoring and classes, but the "chief demand" remained that of instruction in English grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Although the mostly young Quaker volunteers at the hostel frequently offered subjects such as American history, sociology or geography, Charles reported: "our efforts met with little response, except for a class in American literature, given once a week by a teacher from Richmond". During most of the year the staff held two classes daily-one for those with "slight knowledge of English" and one for advanced pupils. Twice a week students from Earlham College's Speech Department visited to give individual phonetics lessons. In addition, refugees were entitled to an hour's tutoring a day if so desired and "most of the residents took advantage of this opportunity". The staff even organized a special table for beginners presided over by one of the Civilian Public Service volunteers at Quaker Hill. Various staff shared the responsibility for being available


for conversation in the parlor in the evenings. During several months short current events talks were given after dinner by residents and occasionally by staff-members. This was finally given up on the request of the residents, as many of them were distressed at having to dwell on war news.<5>

           The hostel did sponsor a series of panel discussions focused on "subjects of current interest", such as "Economic Causes of the Present War" or a review of "American and European Etiquette". Frequent public-speaking appearances and the writing of articles for local newspapers gave refugees practice in using English skills they were developing at Quaker Hill. Staff encouraged residents to attend lectures or other programs both at Earlham College and at Quaker Hill itself. The hostel held over 30 lectures, often "by someone from Richmond" on aspects American life such as the educational system, journalism in the U.S. or "illustrated travel talks on some region of America". At other times visiting Friends talked about Quaker relief or reform work and gave news of conditions in Europe. In a more informal mode, the staff also hosted teas to which Richmondites were invited--


most of which included a talk by an American guest, usually an Earlham professor, on subjects such as Quakerism, American music, etc... Richmond friends cooperated generously in inviting residents to their homes for tea or dinner and introducing them to other Americans of similar interests.<6>

            If it were not perfect, Quaker Hill's program at least earned praise at least from the New York German-language Jewish newspaper, Der Aufbau, which claimed that refugees who had found a haven at Quaker Hill could


plan in peace and safety, under experienced leadership, a new life... Reinforced in soul and body with new confidence in the future, these new Americans have found a new field of working.<7>

The Aufbau's claim was not exaggerated, as examples of refugee placements secured through Quaker Hill abound. To list a few: doctor Alex Szittya became a resident physician at a general hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania. Johann Suskind located a sales job and drove a delivery van in Indianapolis. Friedrich Schweiger was appointed foreman at company in Evansville, Illinois--while Franz Foges also found employment in that Chicago suburb. Walter Ellinger landed a job at a Cincinnati cookie factory and Gus Ferl a job in Indianapolis. In a less laborious vein, Norbert Silbiger had "a very successful year" directing plays at Richmond's Civic Theater and Earlham College.<8>

           Quaker Hill operated from July 1940 till September 1941, at which point it closed "due to immigration restrictions". As its own last report assessed, the hostel had given the 55 refugees--"victims of Europe's terror"--who sojourned there during that time "a chance to find themselves, and to become adjusted and ready for American life and citizenship".<9>


Refugees and Quakers share a meal, left; below that, they meet together in the open air; lower left corner, one of the refugees cultivates Quaker Hill crops; lower right corner, a colleague washes laundry while, above, the community shares a Christmas moment. 


Quaker Refugee Projects: 

Agricultural Projects | Boarding Schools | Rest Homes | Hostels



Undated, unsigned broadsheet, "Quaker Hill as a Hostel for Refugees".


Isaac Woodward, Letter to John Rich, 20.XI.40.


The site consisted of the main house, a shop, a new CPS-built frame dormitory and an assembly building, situation on 25 acres "of beautiful grounds and gardens [which] add to its charm and usefulness" (Isaac Woodward and Millard Markle, Report titled "Quaker Hill: A Friends Service Center", 1.I.42 .


Murry Kenworthy and Frances Doan Streightoff, Report titled "Meeting of the Friends Peace Camp Project, held at Richmond, Ind., March 14, 1940".


Mary Lane Charles, Undated report titled "The Educational Program at Quaker Hill".




"Quaker Hostels", a previously translated article from Der Aufbau, 21.II.41.


Quaker Hill's monthly newsletter, The Quaker Hill Post, August 1942.


Isaac Woodward and Millard Markle, Report titled "Quaker Hill: A Friends Service Center", 1.I.42.

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