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What Richard Nixon and James Dean had in common

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  • President Richard Nixon was raised as a Quaker
  • Judi Dench, Bonnie Raitt and James Dean among Quaker entertainers
  • Journalist Edward R. Murrow born to Quaker parents
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By Mangesh Hattikudur
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- Being a product of the Delaware school system, I can't help but love Quakers. My middle and junior high schools were located on a Meeting House Lane. Pacifism, abolitionism and tolerance have always seemed like good ideas to me. And I'm a total sucker for Quaker Oats packaging.

Richard Nixon married Patricia in a 1940 Quaker ceremony at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California.

But the fact is, aside from William Penn and Betsy Ross, I really don't know that many famous Quakers. So I decided to look 'em up. Here's what I found...

1. Richard Nixon

People made such a big deal about Kennedy being a Catholic. So it's interesting to note that old Milhous Nixon was born and raised Quaker. His strict mother instilled conservative Quaker values in him (no swearing, drinking or dancing). When he couldn't afford to go to Harvard (despite earning a scholarship there), he attended Whittier- a local Quaker college where he became class President, started a frat, practiced with the football team, and even spent his Sundays teaching Sunday school to little tykes.

2. Daniel Boone

American settler, hunter, and folk hero Daniel Boone was born and raised Quaker. In fact, his family emigrated to the U.S. from England partially for that reason. What's more interesting, however, is why the Boone family didn't stay within the fold. Apparently, Danny's sister Sarah made waves in the community when she married a non-Quaker. That, in itself, might not have caused a controversy. The fact that she was visibly pregnant at the time did. The family publicly apologized for their daughter's behavior. But after their son Israel also married a non-Quaker, the Boone's became a famiglia non grata and up and moved to Carolina.

3. Joan Baez

If you're wondering how folk singer Joan Baez's religion might have played into her development as a political activist, you might want to take a look at her father's life choices. Albert Baez converted to Quakerism when Joan was a youngster, and despite being a co-inventor of the X-ray microscope and a well-known physicist, he refused to work on the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos, and also turned down lucrative job offers from defense contractors during the Cold War.

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4. John Cadbury

If you love Cadbury's chocolates, you definitely owe a note of thanks to the Society of Friends. As a young man, Cadbury hoped to pursue a career in medicine or law. But because Quakers were discriminated against by all of the major universities at the time, John decided to focus on business. Believing that alcohol only exacerbated society's ills, Cadbury decided to focus on a happy alternative: chocolate and drinking cocoas. In addition to his views on temperance, Cadbury was also a bit of an activist. He led a campaign to stop the use of boys as chimney sweeps, and he founded an organization to prevent animal cruelty.

5. James Dean

Sent off to be raised by his father's sister in Fairmount, Indiana, James Dean was raised Quaker. And though the faith may not have played the biggest role in his life or career (there are tales that it was through befriending a Methodist reverend that he was encouraged to pursue his loves of bullfighting, car racing and theater), today he's buried in a Quaker cemetery.

6. Edward R. Murrow

Born in North Carolina to Quaker parents. Amazingly, for the first 6 years of his life, the famed reporter grew up in a log cabin without plumbing or electricity. His parents, who farmed for a living, made only a few hundred dollars a year, at least until they picked up and moved to Washington state.

7. Piers Anthony

While agnostic today, best-selling science fiction author Piers Anthony grew up in a fairly devout family. During the Spanish Civil War his parents left young Piers and his sister to their grandparents care, and then went to "fight" in Spain. In his own words, "my parents were helping to keep those devastated children alive, by importing food and milk and feeding them on a regular basis. It was worthy work, and I don't fault it, but there was a personal cost."

8. Judi Dench

The award-winning actress converted to Quakerism after attending a Friends school. According to Quakernet, she was first attracted to the faith because she loved the school uniforms.

9. Annie Oakley

The sharp-shooting female who was rumored to split playing cards edge-wise, then shoot through them a few times before they hit the ground, grew up a dirt-poor Quaker. In fact, her early skill with the gun came from having to hunt food for her impoverished family.

10. Bonnie Raitt

In her own words, "I grew up... in a Quaker family, and for me being Quaker was a political calling rather than a religious one."

11. Joseph Lister

The British surgeon who promoted cleanliness and sterility (and for whom Listerine mouthwash is named) grew up in a wealthy Quaker family. Of course, this didn't stop him from being discriminated against. In fact, Lister studied medicine at the University of London precisely because it was one of the only institutions at the time which accepted Quakers.

12. David Byrne

According to, the musician to-be was regularly encouraged by his mother's "tolerant Quaker philosophies." That, along with the constant drone of Scottish and American folk music in the house, supposedly played a large role in his eventual career choice.

13. Cassius Coolidge

I really only included "Cash" Coolidge because I have a fondness for his Dogs Playing Poker prints (one used to hang over my puppy's sleeping cushion in my old house). Still, it's pretty interesting to know that the painter was born to abolitionist Quakers in upstate New York, and that he's oft-credited with creating Comic Foregrounds, or those novelty photo scenes you pay $2 to stick your head into, to make your body look muscle-bound at the beach. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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