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Edward Parrish

(1865-1871)

Edward Parrish (1822-1872) traveled for months on horseback to raise money for the school before its opening. Trained as a pharmacist, he saw the value of making higher education available to all people and spoke of "parting with the aristocratic idea of an educated class." In addition to serving as president of the College, Parrish was also a professor of ethics, chemistry, and the physical sciences.

Under Parrish, Swarthmore was immediately distinctive in its coeducation, a wide-ranging liberal curriculum with an emphasis on the sciences, and faithfulness to Quaker simplicity. In 1866, Parrish spoke at the laying of the cornerstone of the College's first building, later named Parrish Hall in his honor. "We claim a higher mission for Swarthmore College than that of fitting men and women for business," he said. "It should fit them for life, with all its possibilities."

Shortly after his resignation, Parrish was commissioned by President Ulysses S. Grant to take part in a Quaker effort to settle by peaceful means the disputes between Plains Indian tribes and the United States. While in what is now Oklahoma, he contracted malaria and died at Fort Sill.

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Edward Hicks Magill

(1871-1889)

As a young man, Edward Hicks Magill (1825-1907) wrote in his journal of assisting "self-emancipated slaves" along the Underground Railroad in Bucks County, Pa. Educated at Yale and Brown universities, he joined Swarthmore's faculty when it opened in 1869 and continued to hold teaching positions while president, including professor of mental and moral philosophy.

Under Magill, Swarthmore moved further into the mainstream of American collegiate education. He upgraded the quality of the academic courses, worked to phase out the College's preparatory school, and began the practice of awarding honorary degrees. A strong advocate of coeduation, he said in 1873, "Nothing short of co-equal, co-educational advantages and the same degrees conferred upon both sexes for equal attainments will meet the demands of the times."

At his inauguration, Magill extolled the virtues of Swarthmore's "optional" system, which provided general academic development with the opportunity to specialize in upper level courses. By the time he stepped down, Swarthmore offered four degree paths: a Bachelor of Arts focusing on the classics; a Bachelor of Letters focusing on modern languages and literature; a Bachelor of Science; and a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. Swarthmore's first observatory was erected during his tenure.

Magill also believed in strict discipline and the Quaker principles of a guarded education. In response to the Board of Managers' desire for a stricter code of conduct to govern students, he issued his so-called "100 Rules" in 1883. Among them:

"Students are permitted to go into the library only when accompanied by a teacher."

"Students of the two sexes, except brothers and sisters, shall not walk together on the grounds of the College, nor in the neighborhood, nor to or from the railroad station or the skating grounds. They shall not coast upon the same sled."

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William Hyde Appleton

(1889-1891)

William Hyde Appleton (1837-1926), a longtime classics professor at Swarthmore, was a former high school student of then-Principal Edward Magill in Providence, R.I. After earning M.A. and Bachelor of Laws degrees from Harvard, he remained there for two years as a Greek instructor. In 1872, he again met Magill, by now president of the College, who was looking for a teacher for the Greek and German departments. Appleton accepted the position, which he would ultimately hold for nearly 40 years.

After Magill's retirement in 1889, Appleton became acting president of the College and reluctantly agreed to formally continue his tenure until a successor was found. His stated priority: to return to his "life work, that of a teacher."

At various times, Appleton taught Greek, German, English, and literature. When asked to serve as acting president again in 1902, he, not surprisingly, turned down the offer.

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Charles De Garmo

(1891-1898)

Under Charles De Garmo (1849-1934), the College established its first two fellowships as well as a loan fund to assist students unable to pay for their education. It also received a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1896, a sign of its increasing educational prowess.

De Garmo extolled the academic and social advantages of a coeducational, close-knit college community in comparison to larger, city-based universities. Understanding the value of professor-student contact, he pushed to eliminate teaching assistants. He also oversaw the construction of a women's gym and the restoration and expansion of Science Hall after a fire caused its partial destruction.

Engineering had been part of the curriculum since the College's founding. After the completion of Science Hall, De Garmo reported to the Board: "The College is now equipped for doing a high grade of work in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering."

Although not a Quaker, De Garmo's ancestors were Friends and his views and philosophy were in keeping with the Society of Friends. He graduated from Illinois State Normal University in 1873 and later received a doctorate from the University of Halle in Germany. After his retirement from the presidency in 1898, De Garmo returned to teaching, joining the education faculty at Cornell University.

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William W. Birdsall

(1898-1902)

At the Board's behest, William W. Birdsall (1854-1909) succeeded in attracting more attention to the College from the Quaker community and increased the enrollment of Quaker students. He also increased the number of students by offering more scholarships. But critics among alumni, faculty, and students thought these changes came at the expense of academic quality and that more attention should be placed there than on the school's denominational affiliation.

Under Birdsall, the College made capital improvements, readjusted the teaching staff, and introduced a pre-medical course in 1900. But after the Board decided the College needed a president with a stronger intellectual focus, Birdsall resigned to become principal of Girls' High School of Philadelphia.

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Joseph Swain

(1902-1921)

Joseph Swain (1857-1927), who earned a B.A. and M.S. from Indiana University, had already turned down the top position at four large western universities when Swarthmore's Board asked him to allow his name to be submitted to its presidential selection committee. Swain was an attractive candidate since, unlike the College's past presidents, he already had nine years of high level administrative experience as president of Indiana University.

His decision to come to Swarthmore was due to the fact that it was the only Hicksite Quaker institution of higher education, and Swain welcomed an opportunity to serve the Society of Friends. However, he only agreed to accept the presidency if certain conditions were met: that the College increase its endowment fund before he would take office and that he as president would have increased power and responsibility, particularly in the hiring of faculty. His already-established stature in the academic world gave him increased leverage in the negotiations. His terms, which the Board accepted, solidified the strength of the president's position and secured the College's ability to improve and grow.

Swain's almost 20-year tenure as president transformed the College. He reorganized the curriculum and degree requirements, added courses and departments, recruited top faculty members, improved and expanded the College's facilities, and shifted power from the Board to the administration. His efforts set the stage for Swarthmore to emerge as an intellectually rigorous college.

The son of Quaker farmers, Swain spoke out against World War I in a number of forums, including a House of Representatives committee hearing. He was also named a trustee of the World Peace Foundation. However, after the U.S. joined the war, he advocated that the College accept a Student Army Training Corps, to the dismay of many affiliated Friends. Military training itself did not happen on campus but instead took place at Pennsylvania Military College in nearby Chester, Pa.

Swain also faced controversy concerning intercollegiate athletics. After Swarthmore football player Robert "Tiny" Maxwell's bloodied visage appeared in national newspapers, U.S. President Roosevelt threatened to ban the sport unless abuses were curtailed. Swarthmore suspended football, but Swain reinstated the sport after one year. Swain also rejected the bequeathed estate of a wealthy Quaker (rumored to be valued at one million dollars) because it came with the condition that Swarthmore drop all intercollegiate athletics. Institutional autonomy could not be compromised, Swain said.

As Swarthmore's reputation grew, so did Swain's. He became active in national educational and reform efforts, most notably as president of the National Education Association. In 1918, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society. When he retired three years later, Swarthmore had a solid endowment of $3 million and was known as one of the top schools in the country.

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Frank Aydelotte

(1921-1940)

Frank Aydelotte's nearly 20-year tenure as president is best remembered for the Honors Program he introduced in 1922. At its inception, it provided an experience that was otherwise unknown in American undergraduate education: a rigorous intellectual experience in which qualified upperclassmen studied subjects in small groups, without grades, for two years until evaluated by outside scholars in a series of written and oral examinations.

Aydelotte (1880-1956) had benefited from similar training as one of the first Rhodes Scholars. Believing that the Oxford University honors system could be applied to a small college in the U.S., he saw Swarthmore as the perfect place to do so. The program's success was due in large part to his emphasis on raising the intellectual level of the College as a whole - hiring faculty who were experts in their field, reducing the student/faculty ratio, and making admission to the College more competitive. His cooperative administrative style and the mutual respect he shared with the faculty were also critical to his success in implementing such sweeping curricular changes.

The Honors Program brought increased expenses for the College, but the national attention it received was more than sufficient to bring in grants and donations. The General Education Board (GEB) was a particularly strong supporter, seeing Swarthmore as a "sponsored laboratory." According to the GEB, "The Swarthmore experiment has already had a perceptible influence in raising the standard and ideals of undergraduate work in the country at large."

In its first year, 22 juniors enrolled in the new program in either English literature or the social sciences. Participation eventually grew to about 40 percent and, except for the years during World War II, remained there until the early 1970s. After a dip in participation in the 1980s, levels again rose. Since 2001, honors graduates have represented more than a third of each year's senior class. The details of the program have been revised many times, including the addition of courses of study and adjustments in seminar requirements. However, the core features of the program have remained unchanged since President Aydelotte first introduced it, including the focus on independent learning, absence of grades, and external examinations.

In addition to the curriculum, Aydelotte also brought significant changes to the more social aspects of campus life. He gradually de-emphasized the role of football on campus, shifted responsibility of the College's athletics program from the alumni to the administration, and added the coaching staff to the faculty. Aydelotte also banned fraternity hazing and reduced the number of fraternity dances. To the dismay of many alumnae at the time, Aydelotte also supported the women students' decision to disband all sororities.

In 1939, Aydelotte left Swarthmore to become the second director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which he helped to found. He maintained his commitment to the Rhodes Scholar Program, which he administered from 1917 to 1953. Aydelotte also joined the Board of Managers in 1945 and became a member of the Joint Anglo-American Commission on Palestine. The year after his retirement, the College's faculty anonymously published the tribute An Adventure in Education: Swarthmore College Under Frank Aydelotte, which described the successful "experiment" that was the Honors Program.

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John W. Nason

(1940-1953)

A Rhodes Scholar from Minnesota, John W. Nason (1905-2001) taught philosophy at Swarthmore during the 1930s before being appointed president at age 35. In addition to guiding Swarthmore during the difficult years of World War II and the rapid expansion of higher education in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he served on the committee that managed the program for conscientious objectors to the war.

Under his administration, the College cooperated with civil defense, Red Cross and first-aid training, and other nonmilitary support services in the war's early years. It also moved to a year-round class schedule, which lasted for three years, to accelerate graduation for those who might be drafted. The College experienced further strain by the departure of a quarter of the faculty for war work.

Like Swain, Nason eventually accepted military troops on campus, including a Navy V-12 unit, which was interested in Swarthmore's outstanding Engineering Department. In addition, 49 Chinese naval officers also came to campus for training and English language classes. Despite the Navy's focus on the sciences, Swarthmore continued to push for a complete liberal arts education, recognizing the importance of well-educated people for a postwar society.

Nason's contributions to higher education extended far beyond campus. As president of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, Nason helped liberate nearly 4,000 interned students from the War Relocation Authority's camps and found places for them in 600 colleges and universities, including Swarthmore. He later referred to his efforts on behalf of Japanese-American students as the most important and satisfying of his life's work. Swarthmore continued to show a commitment to intellectual freedom when Nason and the faculty formally expressed their support for "members of the University of California faculty who refused to sign the University's loyalty oath," calling it a "dangerous restraint on academic freedom."

After the war, enrollment reached an all-time high of more than 1,000 students and an additional dorm was purchased to respond to the overflow. Calls came from the student body to accept more students of color and more Jewish students. Ultimately, the Navy brought about the integration of the College's student body with the enrollment of three black sailors. The size of the student body began to settle at about 1,000 while the number and quality of the applicants kept increasing, further establishing Swarthmore's reputation for excellence.

After 13 years as Swarthmore's president, Nason resigned to become president of the Foreign Policy Association. Under his leadership, the association served as a forum for public debate about foreign policy issues and resisted the attacks of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, who suspected any internationalist body of being sympathetic to Communism. In addition, World Affairs Councils were established in many major American cities and the public was encouraged to debate international issues under the association's "Great Decisions" discussion programs. Nason later returned to Carleton College, his alma mater, and served as its fifth president for eight years beginning in 1962.

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Courtney C. Smith

(1953-1969)

Outspoken against McCarthyism, Courtney C. Smith (1916-1969) led other colleges in attacking the loyalty "disclaimer oath" in the National Defense Education Act. Passed by Congress in 1958, the Act required not only a loyalty oath but what came to be known as "the disclaimer affidavit of belief," which required students who received federal loans to file an affidavit stating "that he does not believe in, and is not a member of and does not support any organization that believes in or teaches, the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods."

A few months later, Smith denounced the requirement and announced the College's decision not to participate in the loan program. His statement in part read: "Swarthmore College is opposed to the requiring of any commitment from students as to belief or disbelief as a condition to their receiving loans made in aid of their education. The freedom, privacy, and integrity of individual beliefs is a crucial aspect of America's constitutional tradition, and these aspects of belief were precisely what the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights intended to protect." Smith also recruited other leaders of higher education to the cause and ultimately testified before Congress for the elimination of the oath.

Smith's principled stands on this and other issues drew the attention of Time magazine, which wrote in 1964: "When his students invited Communist Gus Hall to speak on campus, President Smith ignored public outcries. Hall spoke. As Smith tells old grads: 'Your college has guts. There are a lot of colleges that don't. Be proud of it.'"

Under Smith's presidency, Swarthmore solidified its reputation as one of the finest small liberal arts colleges in the country. He set in motion a thorough re-evaluation of the College and increased the financial stability of the school. He appealed to the Ford Foundation and alumni to raise faculty salaries and initiated a Faculty Research Fund, which provided support for professors to pursue independent research. He also reduced the number of honors seminars and better incorporated the library into the College's academic program. Furthermore, Smith oversaw extensive change in the physical campus with the additions of McCabe Library, Sharples Dining Hall, DuPont Science Building, and Worth Health Center.

A Rhodes Scholar like his two predecessors, Smith taught English at Princeton and was serving as head of the American Rhodes Scholarship Committee (directly succeeding former Swarthmore president Frank Aydelotte in the position) when he was selected as the College's ninth president. Like Nason, Smith also supported the intellectual freedom of the faculty from the start, as expressed in his inaugural address:

"We must see that the headlines do not impugn the loyalty of millions of teachers....Let's not assume because government bodies have a clear legal right to investigate 'Communism' in the colleges that they are wise to exercise that right....Let's limit the investigations to areas where there is a reasonable presumption, as defined by American law, that a law of the land is being violated. Let's ask ourselves where investigations are to end....

"But the student can inquire freely only of freely inquiring teachers. As Quakers affirm the validity of the experimental approach to the truth and the right, so the teacher and scholar would say that his approach is experimental.

"We must resist, then, every effort to suppress free thought or free speech, just as the Society of Friends, known first as the 'Friends of Truth,' have from their very beginnings three hundred years ago resisted every form of suppression and insisted on the importance of questioning the accepted and of trying out new ways of doing things."


In June 1968, Smith announced he would resign by fall of the next year. At the time, the campus was tense with the social concerns and anti-war sentiments that typified the 1960s. One major concern was negotiations with the Swarthmore African-American Student Society (SASS) to increase the presence of black students on campus.

In January 1969, members of SASS occupied the Admissions Office and demanded that the College take a more active role in the admission and recruitment of African American students, establish a Black Studies curriculum and Black Cultural Center, and increase the number of black faculty and administrators. On January 16, President Smith died of a heart attack in his office, putting the College in a state of shock and prompting SASS to withdraw immediately. At the time, some blamed SASS' actions for precipitating the President's death, while others, including much of the student body, saw it as a sad coincidence. Smith is the only Swarthmore president to die in office.

Robert D. Cross

(1969-1971*)

Admired by students for his integrity and open style, Robert D. Cross (1924-2003) guided Swarthmore through the challenges brought by the Vietnam War, civil rights, and changing social mores. He also modernized the College's management structure, creating the positions of provost and vice president for development. However, a number of contentious issues clouded his brief tenure.

A two-day sit-in in his office during his first year preceded the establishment of the Black Cultural Center. Protests about war in Cambodia and Vietnam occurred on campus. Students also pushed for coed housing, which the Board eventually approved during Cross' tenure.

Cross also dealt with revelations about FBI surveillance of students and the College. Documents allegedly stolen from a local FBI office revealed that some College staff members were indiscriminately cooperating with the agency when approached for information. Cross prescribed that future responses to outside requests were to be handled with "intelligent restraint."

Completing a B.A. and a Ph.D. in American civilization at Harvard, Cross interrupted his college career from 1943 to 1946 to serve in World War II as a B-17 pilot. A specialist in American religious and social history, Cross joined the Swarthmore faculty in 1952 and taught for seven years, during which time he also served for a year as the College's first director of admissions and wrote his most important book, The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America (1958).

Prior to Swarthmore, Cross taught at Columbia University from 1959-1967 and served briefly as president of Hunter College. After he resigned from Swarthmore, Cross became dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, where he taught history until his retirement in 1994.

* From 1972-1973, Edward K. Cratsley served as acting president.
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Theodore W. Friend

(1973-1982)

Theodore W. Friend (b. 1931) tried to reestablish the unity and community of the College that had been shaken by the late 1960s and early 1970s. During his tenure, the faculty gained a greater voice in setting policy and students, too, gained positions on important committees. He established the long-sought Black Studies program in 1974 and oversaw Swarthmore's first capital campaign, "The Program for Swarthmore." He also established an Advisory Council on Resource Use and led the faculty in a careful evaluation of the Honors Program.

Friend spoke of educating "moral persons," moving beyond simply "well-rounded" or "intellectual" persons:

"I suspect that [Swarthmore] has learned, with others, that the 'well-rounded person' as an educational ideal may be an empty one. Ball bearings are well-rounded, well-tooled, and useful, but they supply neither motive power nor direction. I suspect that the 'intellectual person' is not a satisfactory ideal either, because it stresses only a part of being human. In any summary phrase there is the danger of saying both too little and too much. I knowingly risk that danger in saying that we will do well to think of educating moral persons. To me this means whole persons, aspiring to excellence in chosen fields and pursuits and putting thought, word, and act to the tests of integrity."


Friend began his academic career as a historian at the State University of New York, winning the Bancroft Prize in American History, Foreign Policy, and Diplomacy for his first book, Between Two Empires: The Ordeal of the Philippines, 1929-1946 (1965). After Swarthmore, he served as president of Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships from 1984 to 1996. Friend is currently a senior fellow in the Asia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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David W. Fraser

(1982-1991)

"We must be willing to enter the fray when the issue is important." Less than a month after taking office in late 1982, David W. Fraser (b. 1944) asked the Board of Managers to respond to an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act, which required schools to withhold federal financial aid from students who failed to register for a draft. Fraser considered the law unconstitutional and, fearing it would allow governmental pressures to restrict college enrollments, testified on the matter before a House subcommittee on education.

At Fraser's instigation, the College became the third in the country to join a Minnesota lawsuit against the amendment, where similar briefs were filed by two schools in the state. Students also urged the College to support the financial needs of nonregistrants. At its next meeting, the Board unanimously voted to replace any funds lost by students who declined to register.

Fraser's administration also realized the divestment of College stock in companies that conducted business in South Africa.

Fraser oversaw a number of curricular changes. His recommendation that more of an emphasis be placed on writing led to the establishment of the Writing Associates program, under which upperclassmen serve as peer tutors for freshmen and sophomores. New concentrations in Women's (now Gender and Sexuality) Studies, Computer Science, and German Studies were added as well as majors in Theatre and Asian Studies. A Dance Program was added to the Music Department in 1990.

An alumnus of the George School, Haverford College, and Harvard Medical School, Fraser led the federal government's successful search for the cause of Legionnaire's Disease and won national recognition for his work on toxic shock syndrome. In 1991, he left Swarthmore to head the Social Welfare Department at the Aga Khan Secretariat, where he directed health, education, and housing activities in Asia and Africa. He is currently serving as an independent consultant on epidemiology, international health, education, and material culture and as a research associate at the Textile Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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Alfred H. Bloom

(1991-2009)

In his inaugural address, Alfred H. Bloom (b.1946) challenged Swarthmore to better prepare students to "address the needs of a society and a world in need." Students, he said, must be more than well trained and broadly educated; they must also possess "ethical intelligence." Since that phrase first entered the College's lexicon, it has come to be regarded as an essential element of a Swarthmore education.

During Bloom's tenure, the College expanded its longstanding commitment to financial aid to cover all foreign study and to eliminate loans from students' financial aid packages. It also strengthened its commitment to diversity and to the academic program, revitalizing its signature Honors Program and enriching its educational offerings with new and expanded offerings in a host of disciplines across the curriculum. In addition, he oversaw a restructuring of the athletic program that resulted in the controversial elimination of football and wrestling, and made improvements to the physical plant through campus renovations, sustainability initiatives, and noted examples of green architecture, including the LEED-certified Science Center and two new residence halls.

Bloom, whose research brings together psychology and linguistics, received a Ph.D. from Harvard University and a B.A. from Princeton University. A member of Swarthmore's faculty in psychology and linguistics from 1974 to 1986, he also served as associate provost, director of the Linguistics Program, coordinator of a comprehensive review and restructuring of the educational program, and coordinator of Asian Studies. His return to Swarthmore followed five years of service at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, as dean of faculty, vice president for academic affairs, and executive vice president. Bloom is currently vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi.

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Rebecca S. Chopp

(2009-2014)

Rebecca Chopp (b. 1952) served as the 14th president of Swarthmore College and as a professor in the Religion Department. As president, she focused on, and worked ceaselessly to promote, the "signatures" of the College—academic rigor and creativity and intentional, residential community—in order to affirm and amplify the College's tradition as a progressive leader in liberal arts education in the nation and the world. She also passionately upheld the College's longstanding commitment to admitting the most highly qualified students without regard for their financial circumstances.

In addition to weathering the global recession of 2009 without reducing faculty, staff, or financial aid, Chopp also oversaw and served as the primary author of Strategic Directions, which establishes academic vigor, the creation of an intentional campus culture, access and opportunity, and alumni engagement as the four cornerstones of Swarthmore's future. She was instrumental in establishing the Frank Aydelotte Foundation for the Advancement of the Liberal Arts to support innovation among the faculty and to promote Swarthmore nationally and internationally. Chopp also oversaw the development of Swarthmore’s first campus master plan and the transformation of practices in several administrative areas. She worked tirelessly to connect with alumni across the nation and world.

Chopp is a well-known scholar of progressive religious movements in American culture and has also focused her research on changing structures and cultures of higher education and the role of liberal arts in a democratic society. She is the author or editor of six books, including Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts (2013). Chopp received a B.A. from Kansas Wesleyan University, an M.Div. from St. Paul School of Theology, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining Swarthmore, she served as president at Colgate University and provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Emory University. She is currently chancellor of the University of Denver.

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About this Site

Swarthmore's presidential history site was produced by the Communications Office, with thanks to the staff and resources of Friends Historical Library.

All photos appear courtesy of Friends Historical Library. Sources include:

  • The Distinctive College: Antioch, Reed & Swarthmore (1970), by B.R. Clark.

  • The Distinctive College Revisited: A History of Swarthmore and Reed Colleges 1968-1991 (1994), by D.C. Martin.

  • Swarthmore College: An Informal History (1986), by R.J. Walton.

  • A Singular Time, a Singular Place: Swarthmore College and World War II 1941-1949 (1994). Edited by J.J. Carrell '45 & D.A. Carrell '47.