Growing up in Clark County, Ohio, Allen was brought up in an orthodox Quaker family. In his youth, he was an active participant with the Underground Railroad. He first came to Richmond as a teenager and spent a year at the Quaker boarding school, which would become Earlham College. He attended college for one year at Antioch. After leaving college, he farmed and became a Friends minister.
After the Civil War, Allen went to work for the Baltimore Society in North Carolina. The war had taken its toll on the nation; Jay was tasked with helping the Quakers in North Carolina and Tennessee recover. He and his family moved to High Point, North Carolina, in Guilford County. During the eight years that he was there, he helped establish 44 schools and 58 meeting houses. It was here that Jay’s reputation as the ”Great Orator” started to grow.
Allen Jay began his stint at Earlham College in 1881 as superintendent and treasurer. He and his wife, who filled the matron position at the college, lived directly across the street from the school at the corner of 8th and National Road. Earlham consisted of a singular building when he began his new job but had grown to 6 buildings by 1887 when he resigned as superintendent to take the position of chief solicitor and trustee for the college.
As chief solicitor, it is said that Allen Jay alone was the most successful fund raiser in all of Earlham’s history. He traveled the world speaking on behalf of the college. In addition he raised money for practically every Quaker institution in the world including Whittier, Penn, Guilford, Pacific, and Nebraska colleges. He served as the preacher at the East Main Quaker Church during this same time period.
It was on a business trip to Chicago that Allen Jay suffered “severe indigestion.” While passing through Kokomo on his return trip, he became seriously ill. Jay was taken to his home in Richmond in critical condition where he remained conscience until his death. Despite occasional complaints of “intense suffering,” he considered his ailment to be of little consequence.
Born with a cleft lip and unrepairable cleft palate and self-conscious of his speech throughout his life, the “Great Orator” had in ironic fashion become the “most widely known Friend in the world” at the time of his passing.
— Eric Burkhardt