"When you walk into the meetinghouse," says Ruthie Tippin, pastor of the West Branch Friends Church, "and you see the divided wall, and you understand that the women sat on one side and the men sat on the other, you wonder: is this some kind of discriminatory practice among Friends? Actually, it was a very freeing thing."
George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends in 17th century England, was quite forward thinking about the role of women in the Quaker faith. Pastor Tippin reveals that in 1671, Fox requested that women have their own place to do business at their "monthly meetings." It was during those meetings that the sliding wooden partitions dividing the room were pulled down. According to Pastor Tippin:
"The idea was to give women opportunities to learn how to lead, to learn how to clerk or chair a meeting, to take roles in leadership within their community. And oftentimes he had seen that men would take over those roles in mixed company, and it was better, he felt, for women to exercise those kinds of qualities on their own. And from that came this divided business meeting concept, and it flourished, and it strengthened women's' voices; it strengthened women's place in leadership, not only in the Friends church, but in all of life."
Herbert Hoover's mother Hulda was one who did not hesitate to take on a leadership role within the meeting. She helped conduct revivals, founded and led a young people's prayer meeting, and took an active role in prohibition campaigns. After her husband's death, the thirty-two year old widow became even more focused on the two things that brought her joy: her children and her faith. Imagine the power of one voice echoing off the walls while everyone else sits in silence. Hulda spoke often in meeting, and over time, her testimonies and insights were not only welcomed and encouraged, but also formally acknowledged by the congregation's elders.