The Arch Street Meetinghouse is the last active Quaker meetinghouse in the old city and, as the yearly meeting, the most important. Meetinghouses are categorized as weekly, monthly, or yearly, the last drawing from the entire region for the annual business meeting of the Society of Friends. Quaker architect-builder Biddle designed the imposing brick building on the site of the Northeast Burial Ground granted by William Penn in 1701. His perspective drawing survives, showing the full building as constructed although the west wing was constructed seven years after the center and east wing. Architectural detail is restricted to simple porticoes supported by Tuscan columns marking the entrances and a central cross gable fronted by a shallow pediment with a small datestone. This central volume interrupts the main roof and marks the connection of what were essentially separate meeting buildings with a central entrance hall. This plan represented the divisions by sex that characterized the Friends, whose belief in the importance of each individual gave women their own separate and equal meeting space. In a world in which women were typically little more than chattel, this was a remarkable innovation that pointed toward the values of the modern world.
A Quaker Meeting for Worship takes place in an unornamented, light-filled room such as here with plain wood benches facing toward the center rather than toward an individual authority figure in a wine glass pulpit. Because Quakers believe that each individual has an inner light, the meeting consists of individuals making their testimony followed by a pause to “frame ideas by silence,” and then another may feel moved to speak. After an hour or so (eighteenth-century meetings were much longer), the meeting ends with the signal of an elder shaking hands with his neighbor, a gesture that then continues around the meeting.