Swarthmore College officially opened in an Inauguration held November 10, 1869.  Originally scheduled to open for classes on Thursday, October 21, 1869, construction problems delayed the opening of the college for two weeks.

On the opening day, a tree-planting ceremony was held to honor Lucretia and James Mott, members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, who had been involved in the creation of Swarthmore College and were well known for their activities in the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements:

"An elevated spot east of the building had been selected for the planting of trees, designed to commemorate the event. Here the company assembled, and our aged friend Lucretia Mott, assisted by her son, Thomas Mott, placed in the ground two oaks, which had been raised from acorns by the late James Mott, and were contributed for the purpose, and to serve as fitting memorials of his interest in the cause of education and in the erection of this College.

The happy effect of perpetuating the memories of early life by the planting of trees, which, as they grow, beautifully typify the progress of our lives, while they serve to recall, as in this case, events calculated to give direction to and to make their impress upon our characters, was happily referred to."

Inauguration proceedings were held on the lawn in front of the College Building (later named Parrish Hall).  Samuel Willets, of New York presided, and the proceedings were "remarkably orderly and dignified."

Swarthmore's first president, Edward Parrish spoke on the equal education of men and women:  "A peculiarity of this organization, as contrasted with most others for like purposes, is the association of women equally with men in its origin and management.”

At the call of the presiding officer, Hugh McIlvain, Chairman of the Building Committee, now stepped forward and laid the key of the front door of the College, and a large file of receipted bills upon the desk, stating that "the building, though not in all particulars completed, is now fit for occupancy.   The sum expended upon it has been $205,480, receipts for which were now handed for examination by the Board of Managers."

After discussion and praise for individual committees, Willets then transferred the key to the President "selected to have charge of the building and its inmates, and with much feeling exhorted him and all those associated with him to a faithful discharge of the responsible trust reposed in them by the Board of Managers."

"Besides the general matter of education, according to the most approved methods of the times, we have superadded a system for the joint education of the sexes, carrying out the principle we have long recognized in our Society [the Society of Friends] of equal rights, not for all men, but for all men and women. We not only propose to give them equal opportunities for culture, but equal rewards and honors as a measure for their attainments.  In this joint education we will but imitate the natural order of our lives. Observation abundantly teaches us that the greatest happiness, the highest moral and social attainments, are produced by the joint influence of the two sexes.  Acting and reacting on each other, a healthful stimulus will be felt that will not only facilitate study and aid in government, but tend to reserve the home influence.  We hope in so doing to prepare the mind of the students of Swarthmore with a more correct idea of social life, so that when they leave the college and go out into the world they will do it under circumstances more favorable for their best interests than could have been had their education been separate.  We undertake this peculiarity of our scheme of instruction with confident expectations of the best results."

(John D. Hicks of New York, “speaking in behalf of the managers and contributors of New York)

Text prepared by Beth Bartle
Last update: 6/4/02