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150 Years Ago: The Dream of a College

By Christopher Densmore
Curator, Friends Historical Library


Parrish Hall

The idea to create what we know today as Swarthmore College was first raised at a meeting in Baltimore in October 1860, and, by spring 1861—coinciding with the beginning of Civil War hostilities at Fort Sumter—committees of Friends from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York had been organized to solicit subscriptions (on forms such as the one shown below) for “the purchase of a farm, erection of suitable buildings, procuring school furniture, philosophical, and chemical apparatus.”


Subscription form used in the forming of Swarthmore College.

The founders thought $150,000 would be sufficient for the land and construction of a main building able to accommodate 100 boys and 100 girls. When sufficient funds had been subscribed, the individual subscribers (who were actually provided with stock) were to select 24 managers for the new school, eight each—four men and four women—from the Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York Yearly meetings. Subscribers were advised that “the money subscribed and paid is to be considered a contribution, inasmuch as no dividend, or return therefrom in any way other than from the general benefits of the institution, is contemplated or to be expected.”

Three years passed before the chartering of the College (1864) and five more before the College opened for instruction (1869), but the movement had begun.

This is the first of an occasional series that will follow the work of Swarthmore’s Quaker founders leading up to the sesquicentennial of the chartering of Swarthmore in 1864.

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