Haverford College's Henry Joel Cadbury: Stand Up, Thrown Out

After the professor publicly decried the local anti-German hysteria surrounding World War I, Haverford College turned its back.

Henry Joel Cadbury at Haverford College.The memory of public ridicule sticks with a person. It surely stuck with Henry Joel Cadbury, a professor of religion at Haverford College who lost his job in 1918 for criticizing the hysteria of World War I. In Cadbury’s case, however, the memory seems to have done lasting good.

Remembered for his gentle wit and self-effacing modesty, Cadbury went on to be a leader in civil rights and liberties, peace, and justice issues. He was a founder (in 1917) of the American Friends Service Committee, which he led through numerous triumphs and crises.

Still, the Haverford episode was pivotal. “Never again did he risk the accusation of speaking for the group unless he knew that the group was indeed with him,” wrote biographer Margaret Hope Bacon.

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Born in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden section, Cadbury was part of the American branch of the same Quaker family famous in the United Kingdom for chocolate and social reform. Cadbury’s father, Joel, was an affluent dealer of plumbing supplies who also served on the boards of various Quaker institutions, including Friends Asylum (now Friends Hospital) and the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University).

The youngest of six children, Cadbury divided his time growing up among the family home, Friends Charter School (then at 12th and Market streets), the Twelfth Street Meeting (where the family worshipped on Sundays) and Moorestown, N.J., where the family rented a house each summer.

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Cadbury was the rebellious child, resisting nightly “together” time with his parents in the living room. According to Bacon, he was an expert at inventing reasons to be elsewhere. His siblings called him “Upstart Kid,” or USK. “Henry evidently had a strong inner sense of his own needs and purposes,” wrote Bacon. “The urge to retreat and to guard his own privacy remained with him throughout his life.”

During adolescence, Cadbury began to doubt his family’s evangelical concept of salvation through faith. He adopted a belief that obedience to the teachings and example of Christ was the most important religious duty. In retrospect, he attributed
this to his own growing skepticism, a perception that traditional religion was “morbid” and the growing influence of Biblical criticism, a form of scholarship pioneered particularly in Germany that treats the Bible as a human, rather than divine, creation.

Cadbury graduated from Haverford College in 1903. He was class treasurer and class poet, majored in Greek and philosophy, and had decided to be a teacher. “The only thing I knew was going to a school and a college, and studying books,” he later confessed. “So, when I went to college and got through, I decided I would be a teacher.” He earned a master’s degree after just one year at Harvard, taught briefly in Chicago, then for several years at the Quaker Westtown School.

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At Westtown, Cadbury found his life’s work. Teachers at the school had an hour off on Sunday afternoons, and decided as a group to use this hour for Bible study. All took turns preparing a lesson. Cadbury found this process so interesting that, in 1908, he returned to Harvard for a Ph.D. in Biblical literature. His thesis was “The Style and Literary Method of Luke.”

Among Cadbury’s insights was that Luke—long referred to as “the beloved physician” for his use of medical language—actually used such terms no more than others. “Years later,” wrote Bacon, “it was said at the Harvard Divinity School that he won his doctor’s degree by taking Luke’s away from him.”

Bible study was a trend among liberal Protestants. There was, wrote Bacon, “a growing belief that the tools of higher criticism would lead to a fresh understanding of Jesus.”

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Liberals expected that those understandings would support the Social Gospel movement, which sought to apply Christian ideas to issues of compassion and peace. Conservatives vehemently disagreed, but Quakers had never been Biblical literalists. So, when Cadbury emerged with his new doctorate, Quaker Haverford hired him back to share his scholarly approach to Bible study.

In 1915, with Europe at war, Cadbury joined a national Quaker peace movement whose goal was to rouse 100,000 Friends to urge President Woodrow Wilson to help break the diplomatic impasse among the warring powers. He traveled, attended a lot of conferences, spoke and wrote.

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Two years later, with war fever building in the United States, Cadbury offered two articles to Biblical World, a leading publication, which refuted leading theologians’ arguments that war could be justified. Christ, he wrote, made no categorical statements about war, though the Old Testament said plenty.

The prophet Amos, said Cadbury, acknowledged the flaws of Israel’s neighbors, but equated international and domestic aggression. Israel’s one percent, said Amos, “trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:7). For arguing that Israel would suffer for these sins, the prophet was banished. A few years later, the Assyrians swept in.

Amos’ lesson for 1917, Cadbury concluded, was that the United States was in no position to point fingers. “In the same category with exploitation of foreign peoples is the exploitation of the lower classes at home,” he wrote. “Industrial slavery is on the same level as political slavery, and the ruthlessness of the forum and the marketplace is as unpardonable as that on the battlefield.”

Biblical World rejected both articles. A pro-war editor explained: “Face to face with the alternative of national and idealistic loss and war, it seems to me that the only thing to do is to choose war.”

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When the war came, Henry Cadbury refocused on alternative forms of service for conscientious objectors. The Friends National Peace Committee that Cadbury chaired became the American Friends Service Committee, which launched plans for a reconstruction unit to be sent to France. There was no legal provision for this—or any non-military service—so Cadbury also found himself advising draft-age Quakers on dealing with the government.

In September 1917, the Philadelphia Press obtained and published an AFSC letter with Cadbury’s signature asking young Quaker men to keep the group updated on their situations. The headline: “Quakers prepare for acts which may violate the law.” Cadbury was becoming notorious as a pacifist spokesman.

After the world wars, the AFSC would feed millions of children and refugees in Europe and Asia. In 1947, the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize, which Cadbury accepted wearing a borrowed tuxedo. But in the AFSC’s early years, Cadbury endured frustration, public criticism and time away from his family.

Meanwhile, many young Quakers looking  to join the AFSC found themselves in the hands of Army sergeants who’d never heard of conscientious objection. They were determined to break their resistance with methods that bordered on torture.

As the war ground on, the public was gripped by a propaganda- and media-fueled passion against all things German. Readers were horrified by (false) stories that Germany processed the bodies of its dead to make chemicals for explosives and pig food. European villages and towns were battered by both sides, but the newspapers blamed only the Germans.

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In Germantown, anti-German sentiment was so intense that a protective box was placed over the neighborhood’s monument to its German settlers. Liberty Loan ads targeted Kaiser Wilhelm personally: “Your Liberty Bonds are pledged to a holy cause in purging the earth of this unspeakable Hun!” At the Society of Biblical Literature, a scholar suggested that Americans break their dependence on the German scholarship Cadbury revered.

To Cadbury, it all seemed a bit much—particularly when early German peace overtures only seemed to inflame the blood lust. So, in October 1918, he wrote the Ledger a letter to the editor he soon regretted. “Never in the period of his greatest arrogances and successes did the German Kaiser and Junkers utter more heathen and bloodthirsty sentiments than appear throughout our newspapers today,” went one passage.

Press and public, wrote Cadbury, were indulging in an “orgy of hate” that could produce only a temporary peace.

Reaction was immediate. Germany could never be punished enough, clamored Ledger readers, who insisted Cadbury didn’t care about the victims. “Hate of the Hun is a Christian virtue,” said a Philadelphia writer. Another remarked on the “appropriateness” of Cadbury’s remarks emanating from Haverford College. The Philadelphia Bulletin reported darkly that Cadbury had failed to subscribe to Liberty Bonds.

No one at Quaker Haverford stood up for Cadbury. A meeting with the college president went poorly. The alumni association demanded his removal.

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Cadbury was called to the U.S. District Attorney’s office to respond to charges of treason. (None were brought.) Stunned by the response, he submitted his resignation, which was not immediately accepted.

Instead, Cadbury was granted a paid leave for the rest of the academic year. He went off to toil for the AFSC. By the time his resignation came up for consideration in March 1919, Cadbury had been offered a new position at Andover Theological
Seminary, a branch of Harvard University. He remained there until his retirement in 1954.

“The letter would have been generally recognized as elementary common sense 10 years—or even one year—later,” wrote a former Cadbury student, William Chamberlin, in 1940. “But the mood in America at the time was suggestive of a Soviet purge. And Haverford, to its shame, bowed to the mob sentiment and let him go.”

Throughout his life, Cadbury described the incident as a turning point.

“The experience of bearing the brunt of so much public anger, and trying not to be angry himself, deepened his sense of conviction,” wrote Bacon. “He had helped young men who had an incoherent feeling that they could not kill find service with the AFSC, and through that service articulate an increasingly clear sense of what religious pacifism might mean. He would see himself thereafter as a traveler on that same road.”

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