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History of AFSC Pacific Southwest Region 1917-1941

Pasadena flour to be shipped to Russia for famine relief in 1922
These bags of flour were donated by Pasadena citizens in 1922 for Russian famine relief through the AFSC. The flour was shipped by way of the Panama Canal to New York, and then on to Russia. Photo: AFSC Archives

Quaker presence in Southern California can be traced back to the founding of the first Monthly Meeting in the region in 1884 by Friends from Iowa—in a community that two years later would become incorporated as the city of Pasadena. In 1887, in what would become the city of Whittier (named after the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier), Friends established a Monthly Meeting that eventually became known as First Friends Church.

Both First Friends Church of Whittier and Pasadena's Orange Grove Meeting—which was started in 1908—remain in existence to this day, and worked together to found the AFSC Southern California Branch in 1942. However, there had already been AFSC activity in the region prior to this date.

The AFSC was founded in Philadelphia to offer "a service of love in wartime."

Early 1920s
Friends in Southern California assisted in relieving the victims of the Russian famine.

AFSC Executive Secretary Wilbur Thomas visited Los Angeles to assess the possibility of establishing a West Coast office in the area. After his visit, a branch was organized, with Whittier College Economics Professor David E. Henley as Chairman. However, after three years of work, the project was laid down in 1930. According to John Dorland, who served as Secretary of the branch, "During this period an attempt was made to get the cooperation of all Friends in Southern California. The idea was good, but its time had not yet arrived."

Work with the AFSC in the region continued when the Whittier Institute of International Relations was established. The Institute apparently grew to an expanded form in 1946 (see next page of timeline).

Twenty-four students—from the US, Scotland, Mexico, and Japan—participated in an AFSC volunteer work camp at Albion Street School in Los Angeles, rebuilding a playground and surveying workers for their views on federal projects. With the cooperation of the Los Angeles Board of Education, the camp was supervised by David E. Henley.

The AFSC Pacific Coast Branch, serving the entire West Coast, was established in Pasadena with G. Raymond Booth as Executive Secretary.

Responding to a tide of Jewish refugees from Europe, the Refugee Section of the Pacific Coast Branch helped the newcomers adjust to American life by organizing visits and picnics. Local Friends gave lessons in driving and English to the refugees, and sent books and money to refugee hostels in the Midwest. Quaker Meadow summer camp, founded in California by the AFSC as the "Refugee Children's Camp," gave a positive outdoor experience to children who had lost homes and/or families during WWII.


History of AFSC in Los Angeles:  1917 to 1941 / 1942 to 1959 / 1960 to present