1943 Integration of Student Body

In 1943, with black students already attending the College as members of the U.S. Navy's V-12 unit stationed on campus, the Board of Managers decided to formally admit black applicants. It had been a long time coming.

Around the turn of the century, the College had withdrawn the acceptance of a successful applicant after learning he was not white. In 1932, the application of another qualified black student was referred to the Board of Managers.  According to then-Dean Everett Hunt:

"After a long discussion, it decided by a large majority that Negro students could not yet be admitted to a coeducational college like Swarthmore. Their admission would raise too many problems and create too many difficulties. There was general satisfaction at the happy solution presented by Dean Speight, just arrived from Dartmouth, when he got the boy accepted there with a large scholarship. A men's college seemed just the place for him..."

Many students, however, did not agree with the Board's position and petitioned President John Nason on the subject upon his taking office in 1940. The next April, a Phoenix editorial stated:

"We are guilty of the frequent and deliberate error of not fitting what we do into the pattern of what we pretend to believe, of isolating hard actuality from charming theory. Most of us [see] a meaningful relationship between the general ideal of racial equality in the United States and the situation here at Swarthmore..." 

Similar editorials followed throughout the early 1940s, as did coverage of lectures, art exhibits, and other student-sponsored events that advocated integration.

President Nason was sympathetic to the students' concerns, but as a new, young president, he felt he could not take up the issue until he had served more time in his position. When he did go to the Board, Nason argued that America could not fight a war against facism in Europe while tolerating racism at home, and that the College would eventually be forced by law to cease racial discrimination.

Although Nason was ultimately successful in convincing the Board to change the College's policy, the College did not actively recruit students of color for several more years. The issue reached a critical level in 1969, when members of the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society occupied the Admissions Office to demand increases in black student enrollment.