James Dean and 12 Other Celebrity Quakers

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though you probably remember learning all about Quakers and their doctrine of the "Inner Light" in middle school, your teacher probably didn't tell you that James Dean was one. To celebrate what would have been the Rebel Without a Cause's 87th birthday, here are 13 famous Quakers.

1. JAMES DEAN

Sent off to be raised by his father's sister in Fairmont, 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.

2. RICHARD NIXON

US president Richard Nixon (L) toasts with Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En Lai (R) in February 1972 in Beijing during his official visit in China
AFP/Getty Images

While the nation made a big deal about John F. Kennedy being Catholic, it's interesting to note that old Richard Milhous Nixon was born and raised Quaker. He was raised with strict conservative Quaker values, which included no swearing, no drinking, and no dancing. When he couldn't afford to go to Harvard, despite earning a scholarship, he attended California's Whittier College, a local Quaker college, where he became class president, started a fraternity, practiced with the football team, and even spent his Sundays teaching Sunday school to kids.

3. ANNIE OAKLEY

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.

4. 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. Daniel's sister Sarah made waves in the community when she married a non-Quaker. What's more: she was visibly pregnant at the time she did, which led to her being disowned by the Society. The family publicly apologized for their daughter's behavior, but after their son Israel also married a non-Quaker, the Boones became a famiglia non grata and up and moved to Carolina.

5. EDWARD R. MURROW

Famed news anchor Edward R. Murrow was born on April 25, 1908 in Polecat Creek, North Carolina to Quaker abolitionist parents. For the first six years of his life, he grew up in a log cabin with no 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.

6. JOAN BAEZ

Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform during a civil rights rally on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C
Rowland Scherman, National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

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 just a kid, 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. He also turned down lucrative job offers from defense contractors during the Cold War.

7. JOHN CADBURY

If you love Cadbury chocolate, you definitely owe a note of thanks to the Society of Friends. As a young man, John 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, Cadbury decided to focus on business. Believing that alcohol only exacerbated society's ills, he 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.

8. DAVID BYRNE

 David Byrne poses in the 'Listening Lounge' during the Meltdown Festival launch at Southbank Centre on August 17, 2015 in London, England
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

According to a 1992 issue of Goldmine, music and "the tolerant philosophies of Emma Byrne's Quaker faith" were among the most frequently heard sounds Talking Heads frontman David Byrne heard growing up. "David's parents encouraged his own interest in painting and music (which intensified after the Byrnes visited a cultural exposition in Montreal during his fifteenth year), and he took up the guitar, violin, and the accordion."

9. JUDI DENCH

Though her parents were Methodists, Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench converted to Quakerism after attending The Mount, a Quaker school in York, England. What initially attracted her to the faith? "I liked the uniform," she admitted. "I used to see these girls with their white white collars and blue uniforms, and I thought, 'That’s where I want to go.' Luckily, I got in." In 2013, she told YorkMix that while “I haven’t been to a Meeting, shamefully, for such a long time ... I think it informs everything I do. I couldn’t be without it."

10. BONNIE RAITT

As musician Bonnie Raitt told Oprah: "I think people must wonder how a white girl like me became a blues guitarist. The truth is, I never intended to do this for a living. I grew up in Los Angeles in a Quaker family, and for me being Quaker was a political calling rather than a religious one."

11. JOSEPH LISTER

1855: British surgeon and founder of antiseptic surgery, Joseph Lister (1827 - 1912), as a young man
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The British surgeon who promoted cleanliness and sterility (and the man 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 that accepted Quakers.

12. PIERS ANTHONY

While agnostic today, best-selling science fiction author Piers Anthony grew up in a fairly devout Quaker family. During the Spanish Civil War, Anthony's 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."

13. CASSIUS COOLIDGE

Cassius Coolidge—the painter behind Dogs Playing Poker—was born to abolitionist Quakers in upstate New York. Side note: He's often credited with creating Comic Foregrounds, those novelty photo scenes you pay $2 to stick your head into, to make your body look muscle-bound at the beach.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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