Eliza Ambler Foulke
20th Century Historian of Gwynedd Friends Meeting
Originally published in the Foulke Family Herald, May 1999
Although many people refer to Eliza as the Historian of the Gwynedd Meeting, to many of us she is much more. To Anne Foulke and her sons and grandchildren, she was a dedicated and loving mother and grandmother and a continuing source of inspiration. To many of us in the family, though, we know of Eliza through the written word, both her own and the many documents and articles to which she contributed in the North Penn area. Eliza and her husband, Thomas, were long time members of Gwynedd Meeting. It was in fact, Thomas Foulke who wrote the legal documents for Charles Beaumont transferring the land on which Foulkeways was built to the Gwynedd Meeting. Our family is much indebted to Eliza for her keen observations and meticulous recording of family history. She donated many documents that she researched to Swarthmore Library, Gwynedd Friends and to Foulkeways. These documents serve as a reminder of the proud history of our family and the people who made the history. As Eliza played such an important part in preserving our family history in the last one hundred years, a look at her world seems in order. Following are excerpts from her personal family history prepared prior to 1970. [Ed. note -- Eliza passed away at Foulkeways in 1987.]
Eliza Moore Ambler was born April 6, 1893 on the Davis-Jones farm near Conshohocken to Edwin Moore Ambler and Annie Foulke Webster. This farm belonged to Eliza's great-grandfather and two of Eliza's great aunts lived in one side of the farm house while the Ambler family lived in the other. When Eliza was about three years old, the family moved to a farm at Center Point "intending to own the farm and make it their home." Unfortunately, Edwin was killed a few weeks after the move when a big barn door fell on him as he was bringing a load of hay from the old farm. The family continued to live on the farm for a year and then moved to a house on Germantown Pike in Plymouth Meeting, near the Friends Meeting and School. The family took in boarders for the next 25 years, both at this house and at a larger boarding house on Butler-Conshohocken Pike. It is clear that Eliza loved and respected her mother as she says that "Mother (lovingly) created a home for her children, where Christian principles as interpreted by Quakers were practiced, under every condition by work and deed."
Eliza attended Plymouth Friends School until 1909 when she (and Thomas Foulke) enrolled at the George School, from which they both graduated in 1912. Eliza was a member of the Girls Debating Club and Editor of the school paper her senior year. Although she was sick for a year after she graduated, she became a teacher at Gwynedd Friends School in 1913 and taught there for five years. Eliza spent three hours of daily traveling on eight trolleys while she lived at her mother's house in Plymouth Meeting and taught school.
After teaching for five years, Eliza reluctantly left the school and accepted the position of Executive Secretary of the newly formed organization of the Young Friends Movement. This was a movement of young Quakers who were "fired with a deep sense of building a better world." This group did much to develop dedicated leadership among the Quakers (Thomas Foulke being one of the leaders). The group had much fun, with Pilgrimages, Study Groups, Socials and Camps, "but ... were ever seeking God's will for the Society of Friends and our part in its growth." Eliza's years as the Executive Secretary of the Young Friends Movement left her with a feeling of lifelong "concern and faith in the message of the Society of Friends for the world."
Eliza spend many summers on her grandparents' farm in Ambler and visited her Great Aunt Hannah Ambler who lived next door to Thomas Foulke's family. Although she and Thomas had known each other all their lives, there was no romantic interest pbetween the two for many years. It was during work on the Young Friends Movement that Eliza and Tom became romantically interested in each other. Although they were engaged during Tom's lawtraining at Temple University, the engagement was kept a secret until he passed the Bar exams in 1921 and began to build a law practice in Ambler. Eliza and Tom were married in the Plymouth Meeting House, under the care of Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, on June 1, 1923.
Actually, Eliza and Thomas were second cousins once removed. They were both descended from Thomas, son of Edward and Eleanor through Edward, Hugh and Joseph, who married Elizabeth Shoemaker. Joseph and Elizabeth's daughter, Phebe Foulke Moore, was Eliza's great grandmother and their son, Daniel Foulke, was Thomas' grandfather. It is also interesting to note that Eliza's Ambler ancestors can be traced back to Edward Foulke (grandson of Edward and Eleanor) through his first wife Gainor. Their daughter, Ann, married John Ambler. Eliza can thus trace her ancestry through both of Edward's wives!
The Foulkes spent the first seven years of their married life living in an apartment in the Ambler-Foulke House on the corner of Forrest and Ridge Avenues in Ambler, next to Tom's mother. A son, Joseph Thomas, was born in 1924, although he died at birth. Their daughter, Anne (whom many of us know), was born in the Ambler house also. When Anne was about four, the family moved to Upper Dublin Township. Eliza and Tom spent 22 happy years in "the little house in the point" planting gardens, entertaining and playing tennis.
During these years, Eliza spent her time raising her daughter, altering the house, serving as President of the Colony Club, working for the Public Library and the Community Center. She and Tom were both very involved in many Friends endeavors. Eliza, in particular, served as the organizer and first Chairman of the Field Committee of the Representative Committee. This gave her the opportunity to revisit all the Meetings of the Yearly Meeting. There were many joyous reunions during these visits as Eliza had visited them first as Executive Secretary of the Young Friends.
During 1945-1950, Eliza and Tom represented the American Friends Service Committee in Japan. While they were there, they grew to love the Japanese people and to establish friendships that lingered through many years. They struggled, with no knowledge of the language and little of the customs, to establish a Neighborhood Center for Japan where the first Friends Meeting was organized. Tom and Eliza also worked on the first International Students Seminar for Japan. Eliza spent much of her time working to establish nursery schools for children of working mothers. Much of the work they did was on their own and their endeavors grew and flourished.
When Eliza and Tom returned home, many Japanese students studying in this area spend holidays in "Linden Lodge," the new home they built "adjoining the little house in the point." This house was named for Joseph Foulke's boarding school on Bethlehem Pike. Although they lived here only a few years, due to Tom's illness, Eliza and Tom entertained many students and friends. After the house was sold in 1959, Eliza moved back to the Ambler-Foulke House in Ambler, where she and Tom had first set up housekeeping. For eight months, she "undertook the position of Housemother at International House, Philadelphia." International House was a haven and point of orientation for foreign students attending the University of Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1910 and was supported, in large part, by "old-line Philadelphia Establishment figures, members of wealthy families mainly associated with the Society of Friends and the Christian Association" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 8-10-85, C1). "Many countries were represented among the students and I enjoyed listening to their stories of their homes, as well as their high hopes of what they would learn in America. Their problems were many and my contribution to them was to be a good listener."
Tom passed away at Friends Hospital October 31, 1962.
In May 1963, Eliza was appointed by the Japan Committee of Philadelphia to serve as the Acting Director of the Friends Center in Tokyo, a meeting that she and Tom had helped establish in 1950. Although illness prevented her from traveling much in the country, she returned home with a renewed appreciation of the Japanese people. In 1966, Eliza became the first person to sign up for admittance to Foulkeways and moved in November 17, 1967.
Although she closes her account in 1970 because she did "not desire to write more of (her) life," Eliza was far from silent. Many are the publications of the North Penn Area that benefited from her knowledge. She was instrumental in providing information for "Fair Land, Gwynedd" by Phil Johnson Ruth (which the Association made available in the early 1990's) and also the "North Penn Pictorial," the video many of you viewed during the bus tours last year. Gwynedd Meeting and the Swarthmore Library have been recipients of her vast knowledge as have our family.
As we continue to explore our family, may we always be able to say with Eliza: "I have lived with our early ancestors and rejoiced in their brave attempts to follow God's leadings, I have considered the lives of many members of the family and found new ways to respect and admire them ... I thank God for the lives of Edward and Eleanor Foulke, Joseph and Sarah Ambler and the many others who reach out to us today to guide and to bless us."
Section last updated February 01, 2001