John Graham Papers

Scope and Content

Papers of the Quaker writer and activist, John William Graham (1859-1932). Graham was a significant figure in Quaker intellectual life from the 1880s until his death in 1932. This is reflected in the content of his papers, which include correspondence, manuscript writings, scrapbooks and notebooks, and published offprints relating to his religious, political and academic activities. There is also a good deal of personal material, including juvenilia.

The collection includes extensive correspondence, covering significant events and periods in Graham's life; for example his student days at Cambridge, 1880-1884, and visits to the U.S.A. in 1896, 1904, and 1912, which includes his views on Quakerism in North America. There is also commentary on domestic religious and political issues, particularly relating to the First World War, where topics include pacifist politics (particularly in the Manchester area), conscientious objection and the operation of war tribunals, and the Union for Democratic Control.

Graham's papers include extensive notes and manuscripts (some published, others not) on a diverse range of topics including anti-vivisection, foreign policy, social issues, conscription, and numerous writings on theology and ethics. Papers present include “New facts on our survival of death”, “The Messiahship as changed by Jesus”, “Some thoughts on the divine nature”, “A Quaker thought of God”, “The mind of the Son of Man”, “Christian priesthood in the 3rd century”, “Quakers and modern thought”, “Jewish Apocalypses”, “The Book of Revelation”, “Messianic prophecy”, “Christ and the word and vision of God”, “Education grants”, “Mohammedanism”, “Buddhism”, “Nonconformists and conscription”, “Apparitions, premonitions and immortality”, “Hypnotism, healing and prayer”. There is also a file relating to his professorship at Swarthmore 1925-6.

Graham assiduously collected cuttings of his journalism and reviews of his books, so the transmission of his ideas and reception of his published work are well-covered. His numerous journalistic pieces for the Friends' Intelligencer and The British Friend are present in the collection. There are reviews of Faith of a Quaker, Evolution and Empire, The Quaker Ministry, Harvest of Ruskin, William Penn, Divinity of Man, War from a Quaker point of view, and Conscription and Conscience.

The papers include Graham's diaries for 1904, 1910, 1912 -1923 and 1930-1932, and notebooks covering his early life. A number of sketchbooks compiled by Graham as a youth are also present. There is a small quantity of personal material and juvenilia, including some of Graham's school documents, a phrenological examination (1865) and an astrological analysis of Graham (n.d), together with a copy of his death certificate and will, and miscellaneous obituaries and letters of condolence. There is also material on the Graham family genealogy. The papers include a file entitled 'Notes for biographers', which was apparently compiled by Graham's son, Michael, which provides useful biographical information.

Also present in the collection is a letter from John Dalton to Elihu Robinson, 23 Aug 1788 concerning meteorology and thermometers; an offprint by Hannah Wigham, “Bag of old letters”, reprinted from Friends’ Quarterly Intelligencer [1891?], describing letters from Dalton to Robinson; and a letter from Hannah Wigham 25 Aug 1899, offering the letter to Dalton Hall. It assumed that this material was acquired by Graham when he was Principal of Dalton Hall.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Graham (1859-1932) was born at Preston in 1859 into a Quaker family. He was educated at Friends’ schools at Ackworth and Kendal, the Founder’s Institute, Leeds, (1874-6), followed by University College, London (1880-1) and King’s College, Cambridge (1881-4). He worked as a schoolmaster at various times (Bootham School, York, 1876-9, Kendal School, 1879-80, Scarborough, 1885-6) before becoming a tutor in maths at Dalton Hall, Manchester (Dalton Hall had close associations with the Society of Friends). In 1897 he became Principal of Dalton Hall, where he exercised great influence for the next two decades.

Although his academic role was as a mathematician, Graham was best known as a Quaker writer and thinker. He had an active interest in a range of ethical and political subjects, and served on a number of national Quaker groups, including the Friends’ Peace Committee and Friends’ Literature Committee. Graham was involved in pressure groups including the Manchester Society for Protection of Animals from Vivisection and the Smoke Abatement League of Great Britain ( of which he was chairman from 1909-1925). Graham was a prominent pacifist and worked with conscientious objectors as a Quaker chaplain during the First World War. He was also editor of the journal Conscription and Conscience. Graham later wrote a history of wartime pacifism, Conscription and conscience: a history, 1916-1919 (1922).

He retired from Dalton Hall in 1924, and became a fellow and lecturer at Woodbrooke College, Birmingham (a Quaker study centre founded in 1903). Graham was also professor of the principles and history of Quakerism at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. In the last years of his life, he lived in Cambridge, and at the time of his death he was prospective Liberal candidate for the Cambridge borough constituency.

Graham was a prolific journalist and the author of many books and pamphlets, including Evolution and empire(1912); William Penn (1916), War from a Quaker point of view (1916), The faith of a Quaker (1920), The harvest of Ruskin (1920), Quaker ministry (1925), and The divinity in man (1927); of these, Faith of a Quaker was probably his best known book. In it, he reinterpreted George Fox’s religious views, emphasising a religious sense based directly on personal experience. Graham described the relation between God and humanity as a mystical communion of the indwelling God with each human being. Graham also had a long-standing interest in psychical research, and donated his impressive library on the subject to Swarthmore College. He married Margaret Brockbank in 1891; they had two sons and three daughters. Graham died of heart failure in Cambridge in 1932.


The collection does not currently have a final archival arrangement, and reference numbers do not exist for individual items. Use Box number references to order e.g. Box 1/3 (etc.)

As the collection has not yet been fully catalogued, dating of documents in this list is approximate.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 2018(DPA), the Library holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act , and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

It is believed the collection was donated to the Library by the Graham family in the 1960s.

Related Material

The Library has custody of the Dalton Hall archive (HDH). Graham was Principal of the Hall, and the archive will include information on his period of office.


There is no modern biography of Graham. Thomas Kennedy, British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community (2001), provides background on Quakerism in this period. G.A.,Sutherland, Dalton Hall: A Quaker Venture, (London, 1963) has information on Graham's period as Principal of the Hall.

Geographical Names