Thank a Haverford Student, No Seriously

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As you may recall from orientation, Swarthmore was founded as a Quaker college. Specifically, Swarthmore was founded as a Hicksite Quaker college. You may be asking yourself, “What is a Hicksite Quaker college?” If you’ve ever been awed by Swarthmore’s prestige, rigor, and campus culture, specifically regarding the other members of the Tri-College Consortium, you likely have Haverford College to thank.

Haverford is older than Swarthmore, having been founded in 1833. Haverford was the first Quaker school in the United States, and it began accepting non-Quaker students in 1849, sixteen years before Swarthmore College came into existence. Haverford was founded by a group of Philadelphia-area Quakers who were concerned about sending their Quaker sons to non-Quaker educational institutions such as Princeton or the University of Pennsylvania. Despite their mascot being the “Fighting Quakers,” the University of Pennsylvania was not founded by Quakers, nor has it ever been associated with Quakerism. The origin of the school’s mascot traces its roots back to Philadelphia’s old nickname of the “Quaker City” and sportswriters looking for a witty way to address UPenn sports teams. 

The two “branches” of Quakerism are Orthodox and Hicksite. Hicksites emerged out of a schism in the Quaker faith. Elias Hicks, the founder of the Hicksite movement, opposed rigid dogma in Quakerism and advocated for the abolition of slavery. Hicks opposed the adoption of a set creed by Quaker meetings and opposed the evangelical impulse in Quakerism, which leaned towards establishing Quakerism as a faith more in line with mainline Protestant denominations. Orthodox Quakers had placed a major emphasis on their educational institutions being “guarded” and “select.” Guarded institutions served to protect their Quaker students from the outside world and non-Quaker influences. This is reflected in Haverford’s rules for students, which set strict standards for dress and prohibited students from leaving the Haverford area. 

The idea of Swarthmore College was formalized in 1861 in address by Quakers from New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. They sought to establish “a boarding school for Friends’ children and for the education of teachers.” Swarthmore was coeducational from its outset, making it one of the earliest coeducational institutions of higher learning in the United States. Haverford College admitted only male students until 1980, and its sister school Bryn Mawr retains a focus on admitting gender minorities. Swarthmore College was the first Hicksite school, and was founded to provide Hicksite Quakers with a school to send their children to that was not run by Orthodox Quakers. Up until Swarthmore’s founding, all other Quaker schools such as Guilford College and Earlham College were Orthodox. It was this monopoly on Quaker education by Orthodox Quakers that inspired Hicksites to found a non-Orthodox college, Swarthmore, meaning that, in a major way, we have Haverford to thank for the existence of Swarthmore. 

Hicksites were early advocates of coeducational institutions due to their belief in gender equality. The Friends Education Society, the group that oversaw the funding to found Swarthmore, decided to have an equal number of men and women on the board. Interestingly enough, Swarthmore was not placed under the oversight of any specific Quaker meeting, but rather organized as a joint-stock effort. People bought shares for 25 dollars in the college. 6,000 shares were authorized by the state of Pennsylvania to “to establish and maintain a school and college for the purpose of importing to persons of both sexes knowledge in the various branches of science, literature, and the arts.” Because it was organized as a joint-stock corporation, Swarthmore broke the law from its very inception. Half of the original board of managers were women, at a time when, under Pennsylvania Law, women could not serve as trustees or directors of a corporation. In 1870, Swarthmore wrote to the state government and asked for the law to be amended. Ultimately, Swarthmore’s charter, granted by the state of Pennsylvania, was amended to explicitly allow for women to serve on the Board, but the change only applied to Swarthmore.

It may seem that Swarthmore has drifted from its Quaker roots in many ways. We have, at least in some part, Andrew Carnegie to blame for that. Carnegie served as a trustee of Cornell University, and he observed that university Professors were not adequately cared for after their retirement. To that end, he established the Carnegie Teachers Pension Fund, which later became The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The fund provided free pensions to college and university professors. To qualify, initially, colleges had to be non-denominational and unsupported by the government, while also reaching a standard of academic quality. For Swarthmore, that meant severing official ties with Quakerism and allowing non-Quakers to serve on the board of managers. It would not be until 1938 that non-Quakers would serve on the board of managers.

Although the Swarthmore of today would be hardly recognizable to the Quakers of yesteryear, I think that Swarthmore derives a lot of value from its roots as a Quaker, and specifically Hicksite, institution. The Hicksite’s focus on natural sciences as a practical way to understand the world around them gave birth to Swarthmore’s flourishing natural sciences and engineering programs. Early Quaker presidents of the college placed great importance on the academic rigor and holistic education of the liberal arts curriculum. Love it or hate it, we have the early founders of Swarthmore to thank for the college we attend today. So remember, the next time you’re drunk and sweating in the basement of a Haverford dorm party, thank a Haverford student, whose college inspired Swarthmore’s founders to start a better college. 

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