Beginning in 1862, the stockholders of Swarthmore College elected the Board of Managers at their annual meeting each December in Philadelphia. The Board consisted of an equal number of women and men, which was unusual for that time. When it was discovered in 1870 that Pennsylvania law did not allow women to serve on boards, the group successfully petitioned state legislators to change the law so that women could legally continue to serve.
In the College's early years, Managers were also required to be members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), representing Hicksite Quakerism from New York to Virginia. However, this requirement was dropped by an amendment of the Charter in 1908 so that the College would qualify for Carnegie funding for faculty pensions.
The Charter was further amended in 1910 to change the organizational structure of the Corporation and eliminate the stockholders provision, making the Board of Managers a self-renewing body. As a result, the Board took over the fiduciary responsibilities of the College and was authorized to elect its successors, appoint the College president and other officers, and adopt bylaws as may be necessary for the management of the College.
Although non-Quakers have served on the Board since 1938, and although Friends compose a small minority of students, faculty, and staff members, the College still highly values many of that Society's principles. Foremost among them is the individual's responsibility for seeking and applying truth and for testing whatever truth one believes one has found.