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1860 Founders and the Quaker Tradition

Swarthmore College was created out of a concern of the liberal Hicksite branch of the Society of Friends (Quakers) to establish a place "under the care of Friends, at which an education may be obtained equal to that of the best institutions of learning in our country."  The yearly meetings of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York aided in establishing the College on 300 acres of wooded land six miles west of Philadelphia where students would have the advantages of "healthful country living as well as intellectual and moral training."

Interested Friends in these meetings summarized the needs they saw for a Hicksite college. Three were essential: coeducation, in keeping with Quaker teaching about equality of the sexes; emphasis on natural sciences, which were seen as a source of much practical knowledge; and a place where Quaker children could receive a "guarded" education.

Among the leading proponents of the new school were:

  • Benjamin Hallowell (1799-1877)

    Benjamin HallowellAn educator and Quaker minister who wrote the first pamphlet advocating the creation of Swarthmore College. A conscientious objector during the War of 1812, Hallowell once counted future-general Robert E. Lee among his students at a school he founded in Virginia. In 1859, he was named the first president of what became the University of Maryland and accepted the position on condition that the school's farm not use slave labor and that he serve without salary.
  • Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880)

    Lucretia Coffin MottA Quaker minister and major figure in the reform movements of the 19th century who devoted her life to the abolition of slavery, women's rights, school and prison reforms, temperance, peace, and religious tolerance. Her home in Philadelphia was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and her support of women's education also led to the founding of what became the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Moore College of Art.
  • Martha Ellicott Tyson (1795-1873)

    Martha Ellicott TysonAn anti-slavery advocate, supporter of women's rights, and elder of the Hicksite Quaker Meeting of Baltimore. She is also the author of the first biography of inventor and scientist Benjamin Banneker. In 1860, the meeting she held at her home led to the campaign for the college.
  • Samuel Willets (1795-1883)

    Samuel WilletsA successful Quaker businessman who supported the anti-slavery movement and women's education.  His substantial financial support helped establish the school and rebuild Parrish Hall after the fire of 1881. In his will, he bequeathed $100,000 to the college for the education of "poor and deserving children."

Although non-Quakers have served on the Board since 1938, and although Friends now compose a small minority of students, faculty, and staff members, the College still values highly 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.