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FHL at 150

The Friends Historical Library is 150 years young this year! The 2021-2022 academic year marks our sesquicentennial. The Anson Lapham Repository (as it was then known, named for its initial donor) opened its doors in 1871. Activist tendencies within the Religious Society of Friends make FHL an extraordinary resource not just for the study of Quakerism but also for abolitionism, women's rights, Native American history, and more. With more than 50,000 books and approximately 10,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives, FHL functions not solely as an important educational resource for the Swarthmore College community, but also as an international research facility.

Friends' Intelligencer article about the origination of the Friends Historical Library, 4mo 29, 1871 (v. 28)


The Friends Historical Library in February 1968, shortly after McCabe opened (Cornell Wing)

The founding of the Anson Lapham Repository


On the 5th day of the fourth month of 1870, the Swarthmore College Board of Managers accepted a donation of $1000 by New York Friend Anson Lapham to establish a Library of Friends books. Eight months later, Lapham wrote to George Truman, Philadelphia Quaker and one of the College’s founders, about his donation and how it was to be spent.

Five bookcases (walnut) with plate glass - $330

One Table - $100

Six arm chairs - $90​​​​​​

Thus the ‘Anson Lapham Repository for Friends, Books, Writings, Relics and all matter interesting to the Society of Friends’ was founded. In that same letter to Truman, Lapham wrote that he had a ‘feeling that in a Frends [sic] College it would at least be pleasant and I trust beneficial to have a small portion of the edifice set apart exclusively for matters pertaining to Friends - their publications, Ancient and modern - manuscripts mementos etc’. 


Becoming the Friends Historical Library

On the 15th day of the sixth month of 1874, the Board of Managers changed the name from the Anson Lapham Repository to the Friends Historical Library [FHL]. FHL remained in Parrish Hall until 1928, its collections surviving an 1881 fire that destroyed much of the original building, thanks to being stored in a fireproof safe.

Moving to Old Tarble

In 1928, FHL moved to Old Tarble, where it sat next to the Carnegie Library in the fireproof Biddle Wing, until the construction of McCabe Library in 1968.

At home in McCabe Library

In 1968, FHL then moved into the wing of McCabe Library named for Esther Haviland Cornell and Edward Cornell.

As the Friends Historical Library reaches its 150th year, our one table is now five, six chairs is thirty and five bookcases are now hundreds. Swarthmore College is no longer affiliated with the Society of Friends but it is a goal of the FHL to support the College’s commitment to peace, equity, and social responsibility, rooted in its founding as a co-educational Quaker institution, as stated in its mission.