James Casey '08 is a philosophy major with a minor in peace and conflict studies from Wilkes Barre, Pa. A member of Sixteen Feet, the College's oldest a cappella group, he has also been active in the Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
his past year I had a great opportunity to study abroad at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. While concentrating my studies on the troubles in Northern Ireland, I was able to travel, absorb much of the British culture, and learn about the history of Swarthmore and the Quaker movement.
I have always had a close relationship with England. My mother was born and grew up in Leicester, which is 100 miles north of London in the industrial midlands. Much of her family lives there and since I had only visited once before when I was younger, I was excited about the trip.
As I was getting ready to leave, my grandmother told me about a small village that she had visited once called Swarthmoor. She stumbled upon it on a hiking tour of the Lake District, which is in the northwest corner of the country. Remembering that I went to Swarthmore College, she thought it was interesting that this little town had a very similar name and thought that there might be some connection. Lancaster University is also on the northwestern coast of England just south of the Lake District, so when I arrived I decided to satisfy my own curiosity, as well as that of my grandmother, and pay a visit.
England's Swarthmoor Hall, the College's namesake, served as the center of the early Quaker religion.
Swarthmoor came into view after a 45-minute drive through the incredible scenery of high craggy peaks, lush forests, beautiful pastures, and rippling lakes that seem to stretch for miles. At first it didn't appear that there was anything to be seen. A road sign had clearly stated that the village of Swarthmoor was just ahead, but all I could see was more golden farmland and hedgerows. Desperate for some type of information or directions, I turned off the road and found a building called Swarthmoor Hall. The centuries-old building stood in the middle of acres of fields, orchards, and perfectly manicured gardens.
Built in 1586, the house is now a historic site with tours, an education center, and antiques. As I was admiring the building and wondering what connection it had to the College, I began talking to the groundskeeper. He told me that the house was originally built as the home of Judge Thomas Fell, the chancellor to the Duchy of Lancaster, and his wife Margaret. In 1652, George Fox, the person seen as the principle founder of the Quaker Movement, came to stay with the Fells. Margaret was deeply moved by his message and tried to help him in any way she could. He stayed with them for many years and from then on Swarthmoor became a central meeting place and a cradle of the early Quaker Movement.
The College presented this table to the Religious Society of Friends on their purchase of Swarthmoor Hall in 1954.
As we talked, the groundskeeper pointed out that a table, which was prominently displayed in the center of the Great Hall, was given to Swarthmoor Hall by Swarthmore College in 1954. This was the year that the Religious Society of Friends purchased the house in order to preserve the tradition and historic value that this place has. The table is an authentic 17th-century piece and is held in high regard by everyone involved with the site. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Swarthmore College is known among the community and how fondly they view the connection that exists between these two places.
When I finished my tour, I walked around the gardens and nearby orchards. Off to the right of the property was a simple but very modern building. This is the current meeting house for Friends. After the Religious Society of Friends bought the house in 1954, they wanted to preserve the existing structures but still needed a place in which they could worship. They converted the old barn, which had been falling down, into a state-of-the-art meeting house, which is in use today as a place for reverence as well as serving as a community and civic center. It was strange to see a building and a place that were so different from the surroundings that I was used to, yet have so much in common.
When the College's Quaker founders, including abolitionist Lucretia Mott, named their new school for Swarthmoor Hall, they changed the name slightly to bring it more in line with American spelling.
There is a strong connection between Swarthmoor and Swarthmore College which I feel more people should be aware of. Even though there are 3,000 miles in between them, separated in time by hundreds of years and though seemingly worlds apart, they are closely related and engaged in one another because of the beliefs and history that are shared.
As I was leaving, I remember thinking that this great historical treasure, whose name has been shared across the ocean, is a relatively unknown jewel. This bond that we at Swarthmore have to the beginnings of the Quaker movement should be celebrated and remembered.
The Swarthmore men's soccer team visited Swarthmoor Hall during its England Tour 2005. An account of that visit appears here.