By Christopher Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College.
The weather vane atop Parrish Hall is in the shape of a feather.
People with sharp eyes may have noticed that the feather has been
fashioned into a quill pen. This is easier to see in the old Parrish
Hall weathervane mounted on the wall on the center staircase of Parrish Hall between the first and second floor.
This earlier weathervane was replaced by another (maybe the current version) in the 1930s. For an institution of higher learning, a quill pen seems quite appropriate. However, there is a possible additional reference. It may be a reference to William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. If this is the case, it is also a peace symbol, referencing William Penn’s treaties with the Indians.
The following is from a 1798 letter to the Six Nations (the
“To our Indians Brethren of the six Nations Brothers; We rejoice that you are now at peace and we pray to the Good Spirit that he may continue to preserve you from the miseries of war, We have always had your welfare at heart, ever since our Grandfather, Onas came into this country; and the present time appears to us to be a favourable one, again, to manifest our unalterable friendship for you We cannot forget the harmony that subsisted between our forefathers and the Indians during the first settlement of this country.”
The Haudenosaunee referred to William Penn as Onas, their word for feather, and by extension, a feather quill pen.
At least this is more likely than the story appearing in the Phoenix in
1941, claiming that the feather was from the golden phoenix, dropped when that bird took flight from Swarthmore following his/her rebirth in fire.