Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

US Universities With Quaker Origins

There are fifteen colleges/universities in the States with Quaker origins. They have evolved into a diverse set of institutions, but some Quaker influence can still be seen.

In the nineteenth century, two divergent strands of Quaker thought profoundly influenced the nature of the emerging colleges/universities. The ‘Gurneyites’, the largest group, were strongly influenced by the evangelical movement. They eventually adopted a system of pastors and Bible- centred religious teaching. The  ‘Hicksites’, the other main group, valued the Bible too, but also believed that new insights could emerge from contemporary thought. Academics were beginning to apply new textual analysis techniques to the Bible and this added to the controversies and debates in and between the Quaker institutions. All funding came from religious groups and individual donations, so the beliefs of the founders had a profound influence on the early days of every institution.

The first three colleges - Haverford (Pennsylvania), Guilford (North Carolina,) Earlham (Indiana) - were all Gurneyite, and were founded before the Civil War (1860-65). They began as secondary boarding schools, and became colleges later. All were ‘guarded’ (Quaker students were protected from non-Quaker influences) and ‘select’ (both students and teachers were Quakers). Swarthmore, in Pennsylvania, founded at the end of the Civil War, was the first Hicksite college.

After the Civil War, the educational priorities of prospective students and their parents changed. The focus was increasingly on the quality of the education offered, as it was a gateway to the professions and other secular occupations. The children of Quaker families were no longer to become farmers like their parents – they wanted new skills, and the best available. The older institutions evolved to accommodate this, and newer ones focused on it from the start. William Penn (Iowa), George Fox (Oregon), Whittier (California) originated in the context of the great movement westward after the Civil War, and met new needs, first as schools, and then as colleges. Back in the East, Wilmington (Delaware), and Bryn Mawr (Pennsylvania) were founded as colleges with this new approach. Towards the end of the century, Friends University (Kansas) joined them.

The other five Quaker founded institutions, although also founded in the late nineteenth century, fall into two contrasting groups. Three - Barclay (Kansas), Asuzu Pacific (California) and Malone (Ohio) - were and are essentially Bible colleges, focussed on training pastors, missionaries and other ’Christian workers’ such as nurses and teachers.

The other two – Johns Hopkins (Maryland) and Cornell (Ithaca, New York) were founded by Quakers but were always completely non-sectarian. Both are seen as among the first universities in the modern sense. Cornell’s founding documents refer to ‘truth for its own sake’, to breadth of study across arts and sciences, and to linking the practical with the underpinning theory. Johns Hopkins’ teaching hospital and university was much influenced by Cornell’s approach, and particularly stressed the value of integrating research and teaching. The founders could see this happening in European universities, notably in Germany, where some young Americans had enrolled in order to participate in this kind of education. Cornell and Johns Hopkins helped establish this approach in the US.

As with many other US universities, the original religious affiliations are often obscure. The demands of students and societal pressures over the years have made Quaker-founded institutions more akin to other universities. Sport, dancing, and fraternities /sororities, all ruled out at first, have become standard. Nevertheless most of them belong to the Friends Association for Higher Education, thereby recognising their shared heritage.

Some of them have a Quaker element in their governance. Quaker principles of gender equality and co-education have always characterised them all (apart from Haverford (men) and Bryn Mawr (women), who complemented each other): racial equality took longer, (with the exception of Cornell, whose founding principle was ‘regardless of sex or color’), but all became active in the 1950s/60s civil rights movement. The American Friends Service Council (founded 1917) grew out of work at Haverford by Rufus Jones. Peace studies, global studies, and Quaker theology departments reflect founding values. Cornell saved many Japanese -American students from internment during WWII by persuading the authorities to allow them to enrol, and conscientious objectors in both world wars, and later in Vietnam, found support on their campuses.

Print this article

Further Reading and Credits

Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holder Ann Floyd