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Deeply Rooted

How Swarthmore shaped her family tree—and her whole life

There was never any doubt where Cornelia “Kinnie” Clarke Schmidt ’46 would go to college.

“The story I always heard was that sometime after I was born, Mother and Dad registered me for Swarthmore,” she laughs. “I never applied anywhere else.”

It was simply expected—“and fine with me,” she notes. A birthright Quaker, Kinnie was also a birthright Swarthmorean: Both of her parents attended the College (Classes of 1917 and 1918), as did two aunts and an uncle (1920, ’22, and ’23). A half-dozen cousins followed in their parents’ footsteps, taking the lead from Grandma Ida, the Swarthmorean who started a trend that would trickle down for five generations, spawning 20 Swarthmore descendants and 10 Quaker matchbox marriages ... so far.

With so many Garnet branches on the family tree, it’s easy to lose track of who’s who.

“We’ll tell you when somebody isn’t an alum,” Marshall Schmidt ’47 interjects over lunch overlooking the Springdale golf course in Princeton, N.J., near the Schmidts’ home. The couple have been married 69 years—almost as long as their relationship with the College.

But the family are more than alums: Kinnie’s kin include board members and benefactors, class agents and athletes, even a non-alum College professor—a tree whose Swarthmore roots run far deeper than most.

Like any longtime love story, there have been bumps and bruises, near break-ups and reconciliations. But through Kinnie’s 92 years, Swarthmore—like family and faith—has been front and center: “the foundation of my whole life.”


Ida Palmer, Class of 1898, was young and in love.

The daughter of Quaker parents in Chester County, Pa., she came to Swarthmore from the George School, where she had been handpicked for its inaugural class. A year in at the College, though, she left to marry Charles Stabler, a teacher at the Quaker boarding school 22 years her senior.

But that one year at Swarthmore made an impression on Ida—and a lasting impact on her family.

“They had four children—my mother being the oldest—in about six years,” Kinnie says, “and then, unfortunately, Charles got TB and died. So my grandmother was a widow with four children at the age of 28.”

Ida persuaded her father to buy a home in Swarthmore, “her idea being if they had a house there, all four children could go to the College as day students,” Kinnie says. “And he did. But even so—and Mother talked about this many, many times—they were on scholarship.”

Three of the four children would marry fellow Swarthmoreans, including Kinnie’s mother, Eleanor Stabler Clarke, who would later serve on Swarthmore’s Board of Managers for 36 years, 16 as secretary; she received an honorary degree in 1972 for her dedication to the College.

And even if she didn’t return to Swarthmore herself, Ida Palmer Stabler clearly recognized the importance of education. She furthered her own at Columbia University, finishing her bachelor’s and earning her master’s degree while relatives helped look after her children. That educational ideal—steeped in Quakerism and progressive for the time—was instilled upon future generations.

“There was no question,” Kinnie says. “I remember my parents telling me women must have an education, because someday I might have to support myself.”


Kinnie entered Swarthmore in 1942, months after the U.S. was thrust into World War II. Her parents, Eleanor and William Clarke, had set down roots years earlier across the Crum from the College in Wallingford, building the stately “Crumwald” where Kinnie was reared and relatives gathered for holidays and reunions. Her grandmother’s nearby home was also a hub for the family, who sent seven cousins to Swarthmore in less than a decade.

A couple of miles away lived Marshall Schmidt, a Swarthmore High grad who hoped to attend Amherst but instead stayed close by, in large part because of the war: “There was no gas,” he notes. “You didn’t drive anywhere.”

The pair began dating three weeks after arriving at Swarthmore and had a normal freshman year. “It’s hard to imagine now,” Kinnie says, “but the dining room had tablecloths, we were waited on, and as I recall, if you were late to breakfast, you were fined 25 cents.”

But reality set in as the war intensified and male students—Marshall included—were shipped overseas. The couple said their tearful goodbyes in 1944, as the war pulled Marshall to the Pacific on the USS Wisconsin BB 64.

“The Class of ’46 was a class of girls,” Kinnie says. “We were very fortunate, our age group: Even though our men were in the service, we only had three, four casualties, because we were just a couple years younger than the first ones who had to go.

“But we all had a good time at college,” she notes—hanging out of Parrish’s west-wing windows to watch the Navy V-12 march to meals, penning letters to loved ones with pics from back home, and simply being young and naïve.

Marshall returned in 1946, finished college in 1947—“and we were married five days after I graduated,” he says.

“Well there again, it was because of the war,” Kinnie adds. “Everybody wanted to get on with their life.”

The pair settled in Swarthmore borough, had three children, and maintained a warm relationship with the College—Kinnie as a long-term class agent, Marshall as Alumni Fund chairman, as a board member, and in multiple other roles. They also provided the funding for a scholarship, with preference for Quakers, in the name of William and Eleanor Clarke. In 1971, after William died and as children and grandchildren began to move on, Kinnie’s mother gave the family home, Crumwald, to the College.


Though Kinnie and Marshall never pressured their kids to carry on the family tradition, two of them did, including daughter Eleanor “Peggy” Schmidt Clark ’71, who transferred in after two years at Mount Holyoke. “She didn’t want to go to Swarthmore right away because she was a townie,” Marshall says, “but she came for her junior and senior year and married the football team co-captain, Robert Clark ’71.”

And Peggy and Bob’s kids came, too: Courtney ’98—the fifth generation of her family’s women to attend—and her brother, Kenneth ’03—like his father, a sports standout.

“Kenneth was the star of the football team that President Bloom canceled,” Marshall laments, noting that his grandson still holds the Centennial record for most carries in one game—52, in 2000. “Sixteen-year record. In all these schools, no running back has ever carried that often.”

The elimination of the football program brought Kenneth’s athletic career to a temporary halt and left him scrambling to find a new school and team. Kenneth would find a place at Williams and Pomona for the two remaining fall semesters, then return to the College to graduate with his class.

The loss of the program created nearly irreparable cracks in the family tree’s Swarthmorean branches, which, fortunately, time has healed. For now, though, it’s unclear if a love for Swarthmore will bloom among future generations.

An era ended last spring as one final grandchild, Abigail Schmidt ’16, crossed the same stage in Scott Amphitheater that her father, her grandparents, and dozens of other relatives crossed. Kinnie and Marshall’s great-grandchildren, not yet in grade school, may choose a path far beyond the arboretum campus—but that’s OK, Kinnie says, because of the roots that ground and unite them all.

“One of my dad’s professors once said, ‘The trouble with you Swarthmore graduates is you don’t move far enough away,’” she laughs. “And that was true—so many of us in the war years stayed in Swarthmore; so many of our family and friends are right there. Now, they’re all spreading around, flying away. But Swarthmore will always be there.”

Garnet Generations


“As a collective force intent on realizing a long-time dream, this year’s football team achieved landmark victories and established itself as a respectable and talented group of scholar-athletes. … The Tide closed the tradition of Swarthmore football with undeniable pride, determination and heart.” —2001 Halcyon



“Rain threatened, but that did not discourage approximately 150 people from walking through Smedley Park … to follow the path of the Blue Route, officially called Interstate 476, the Mid-County Expressway, and to see for themselves the place where the approved 6-lane highway will be constructed.” —Teresa Nicholas ’76, 1975 Halcyon



“On the first day of July, 1943, about three hundred men in all varieties of civilian dress arrived on Wharton’s hallowed quad. … The men in the Naval Unit faced not only problems of officer-training, but also problems of becoming acclimated to Swarthmore. … We hope only that those who came from elsewhere will remember Swarthmore as a good friend.” — 1945 Halcyon



The Phoenix had three main objects in view during the past year. These were to keep in close touch with Swarthmore’s sons in the Service, to knit the Alumni closer than ever to their Alma Mater, and in constant unrest of the post-war period, to aid in directing college sentiment and student opinion towards the ultimate right.” —Drew Pearson, Class of 1919, 1920 Halcyon



“At the close of this the most successful year of the College thus far, the Managers used the following language in their annual report: … ‘Although the outward and material establishment of Swarthmore is well-nigh finished  … others must continually take up and carry on the work in the same broad spirit of liberality in which it was conceived.’” —Edward Magill, 1898 Halcyon