150 years ago: A College Founded in Wartime

Cleaning one’s office can be a chore, but it also encourages one to stumble across gems that were set aside in the rush of an academic year.  In my cleaning today, I came across one of Chris Densmore’s sesquicentennial historical pieces from the July 2012 Swarthmore College Bulletin.

150 years ago: A College Founded in Wartime

Christopher Densmore

Curator, Friends Historical Library

By 1862, the Civil War was in its second year. The campaign to raise money for what was to become Swarthmore, which had been temporarily suspended at the beginning of the war, was resumed in earnest. The founders had originally anticipated that the school could be funded by large donations from wealthy individuals, but they now turned their efforts to a grassroots campaign to visit and solicit support from Quaker meetings across the Mid-Atlantic. Later perhaps, the “stewards of a superabundance of this world’s goods” might be persuaded to contribute larger sums.

The war became an impetus for establishing a Quaker school. An editorial in the Friends Intelligencer in September 1862 commented: “The war spirit has penetrated almost every institution in the land; the Public Schools are used as means of promoting the love of military glory, and are increasingly engaged in teaching military drill to their pupils. We should be especially concerned to guard our children against this snare, and to build them up in those principles which will not only preserve them in the practice of peace and good-will towards all men, but will make them fit successors to those who have gone before them as lights in the world, and exemplars of the peaceable spirit of Christianity. To this end Friends should educate all their children under their own care. …”

Today, Swarthmore College seeks diversity among its students, faculty, staff, and administrators and strives to make the campus a safe place for that diversity. Likewise, the College founders sought to create a safe place for diversity, though in the form of a “guarded education” for the children of Friends.

Other sesquicentennial pieces by Chris Densmore include:

150 Years Ago: The Dream of a College (April 2011)

150 Years Ago: “Honest, Useful Men and Women” (July 2011)

150 Years Ago: Friends, We Have a Problem (October 2011)

150 Years Ago: Martha Ellicott Tyson proposes a new school (January 2012)

 150 years ago: Benjamin Hallowell, man of peace (April 2012)

150 Years Ago: The Meaning of Swarthmore (July 2013)

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