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She was born Margaret Askew in Lancashire, England. In 1632, she married Thomas Fell, a barrister, and became the lady of Swarthmoor Hall. (Thomas Fell became a judge and a member of English Parliament, but disapproved of Oliver Cromwell's assumption of authority, and so later ceased to actively participate in government.)
In 1652, Margaret first heard the ministry of George Fox and became convinced of its truth. Over the next six years, Swarthmoor Hall became a center of Quaker activity, and she wrote many epistles as part of this activity. After the death of her husband in 1658, she inherited Swarthmoor Hall, and it continued in this role of meeting place and haven from persecution.
Because she was one of the few founding members of the Religious Society of Friends who was an established member of the gentry class, she was frequently called upon to intercede on their behalf in case of persecution or arrest of leaders such as Fox. After the Stuart Restoration, she travelled from Lancashire to London to petition King Charles II and his parliament in 1660 and 1662 for freedom of conscience in religious matters. A submission signed by George Fox and other prominent (male) Quakers was only submitted subsequently in November of 1660. Although the structure and phraseology of these submissions were quite different, the import was similar, arguing that, although Friends wished to see the world changed, they would use persuasion rather than violence towards what they regarded as a "heavenly" (i.e. spiritual) end.
In 1664 Margaret Fell was arrested for failing to take an oath, and for allowing Quaker Meetings to be held in her home, Swarthmoor Hall. She defended herself by saying that "as long as the Lord blessed her with a home, she would worship him in it". She spent six months in Lancaster Gaol, whereafter she was sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of her property. She remained in prison until 1668, during which time she wrote religious pamphlets and epistles. Perhaps her most famous work is the one known as "Women's Speaking" or "Women's Speaking Justified", a scripture-based argument for women's ministry.
She was released by order of the King and council, and in 1669, she married George Fox. On returning to Lancashire after her marriage, she was again imprisoned for about a year in Lancaster for breaking the Conventicle Act. Shortly after her release, George Fox departed on a religious mission to America, and he too was imprisoned again on his return in 1673. Margaret again travelled to London to intercede on his behalf, and he was eventually freed in 1675. After this, they spent about a year together at Swarthmoor, collaborating on the organizational structure of Friends Meetings.
George Fox spent most of the rest of his life thereafter abroad or in London until his death in 1691, while Margaret Fell spent most of the rest of her life at Swarthmoor. Surviving both husbands by a number of years, she continued to take an active part in the affairs of the Society including the changes in the 1690s following partial legal tolerance of Quakers, when she was well into her eighties.
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