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Swarthmore Seeks a Charter

By Christopher Densmore, curator, Friends Historical Library

By January 1864, the founders of our College had raised money, settled on a name for the new school (Swarthmore College), found a location (Westdale), and appointed a committee to secure a charter from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

They were certain the college would be coeducational. There was never any doubt that men and women would share the governance of the school. They knew they liked trees and were already eyeing the site to see where they could plant more. Everything else about the new institution was unsettled. Part of the issue was money. The founders knew that what had already been collected was sufficient to buy the land and erect a building, but how big a building would depend upon the willingness of those who had already purchased stock in the new institution to dig a little deeper into their pockets.

They had no model for the college. They weren’t trying to build a Harvard or a University of Virginia or even a Hicksite version of Haverford. Perhaps they already knew that Swarthmore would become one of America’s “distinctive colleges.” As befits a college that is constantly reviewing its values and purposes, the original Board of Managers could be considered the first committee charged with considering “the meaning of Swarthmore.”

In April 1864, Swarthmore College was formally chartered by the commonwealth. The corporation was authorized “to establish and maintain a school and college for the purpose of imparting to persons of both sexes knowledge in the various branches of science, literature and the arts. …”  Now the real work of building and moulding a college could begin.

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