The Old School
The dust settles and the school re-opens with only six students in 1864. The following decades bring robust enrollment and exciting campus transformations including new buildings and a community-facing library. Students participate in the first football game in 1893 and sneak onto campus to pull off a graffiti prank.
April 28, 1945 was “Centennial Saturday,” a very big occasion. School had been cancelled Friday to prepare for it and would be cancelled again Monday to recover. In addition to the sixth-grade play, there were demonstration classes, lectures, music presentations, and, in the gymnasium an exhibit, Ten Decades, organized by history teacher Joseph Price.
Exhibit booths surrounded the gym floor extending even to the running track above: “Playground Activity;” “Homework;” “Sports.” Even more than the play Then and Now, the exhibit focused attention on the contrast between the “old school” of the nineteenth century and the modern school created by Stanley Yarnall.
Here were memories: from the second beginning, the little schoolhouse on Coulter Street. One booth (wrongly dated 1845–1855) portrayed children staring through knot-holes in a fence to watch the excitement in Mullen’s Slaughter Yard next door to the schoolhouse. Other booths displayed antique furniture, and examples of clothing, sports equipment, and other memorabilia from the school’s past.¹
The centennial committee had asked the oldest graduates to write down their memories and several had responded. One had a vivid “recollection” of Teacher Susan [Susannah S. Kite] ringing a hand bell from the window above the stairs to end daily recess. Another recalled the original “gymnasium” (actually a shed) with a tan bark floor and sides open to the weather. A favorite game, “kicky down,” was remembered and described: “A stick was placed against the door of the meeting house. The person who was ‘it’ ran after the stick which was thrown toward Coulter Street. Then the others scattered and hid. After retrieving the stick and leaning it against the door, the boy or girl who was “it” hunted for one of the others to take his place before the stick was kicked away by someone from another quarter.”
The Centennial Exhibition and the “recollections” were nostalgic longings for a time of lost innocence. There is no surprise in this given the occasion and the year. What is a bit surprising is that the centennial was part of a long tradition of romanticizing the “old school.” Over the previous forty years, the school had published quite a number of reminiscences, memoirs, historical sketches, and prose portraits of the pre-Yarnall years. They are in remarkable agreement and describe a little parochial school insulated and isolated from the world — but not completely isolated, as the earliest memoir makes clear.
Sixty Years Since by “G.W.E.” (evidently George W. Emlen ’72) appeared in 1924 and takes us back to the time of Sarah Albertson. “My first connection with the School was during the winter of 1862–1863,” the anonymous author begins. “The country was then in the turmoil of civil war. The martial spirit was very apparent even in our Quaker School. The attendance was not then confined to members of Meeting and the boys who were not Friends wore soldier caps, and military suits with red stripes on their trousers. This was rather hard on the little Friends, who would gladly have served with equal zeal, but being under some restraint in the matters of dress, found relief in building forts, making arms and ammunition, a patriotic display of flags and illuminations.”²
No part of this memory is reflected in the official school records. There the Civil War might never have happened. That is the value of these memoirs. Although usually written many years later, and often reflecting memories grown golden with age, they give us our only glimpses inside the school building and on the playground at recess.
“G.W.E.” described “the ancient Meeting House with its long line of sheds” and the two-story school house with one-story attachment. “There was a pump in front of the school-house door whose iron handle was smooth and shining…But while the buildings were small, the grounds were large and beautiful. The grass was thick and, in early summer, full of wild-flowers — lilacs grew along the fence which separated us from the gory precincts of neighbor Mullin’s slaughterhouse and where the large school-house now stands there was then a stately group of pine trees.” He recalled Sarah Albertson fondly.
Edith Mason Smith ’75 described the school and grounds in the 1860s in similar language. She remembered the building, the pump, and Mullen’s yard, which “went up terrible odors. The children watched the actual killing of the animals through a crack in the fence.” She also remembered the trees “where we played prisoner’s base and slid in winter on long pools of ice.” The boys might have built forts and played at soldiers, but girls, she recalled, played “jack-stones and jack-straws; also marbles.”³
Sarah Albertson greeted only eight children when the school opened in 1858, but that quickly changed. The next year there were thirty-five (twenty- five of them girls); a year later the school was at full capacity with an enrollment of fifty-four.
It was an auspicious time to begin a new enterprise. Philadelphia was a confident city in 1858, in the first bloom of its industrial heyday, and not even the growing storm clouds of Civil War dimmed the city’s booster spirit. Population soared 38% in the 1850s to 565,529 inhabitants. The consolidation of city and country in 1854 brought more efficient government and promised an even brighter future.⁴ Germantown especially was prospering. Public transportation was transforming what Charles Jones had described as a “village” in 1845 into a commuter suburb. The Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad had reached Germantown in 1831. By 1854 the line had been extended to Chestnut Hill. A grand depot was built in 1855 on East Price Street just off Main Street. A second railroad, the Chestnut Hill branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, would soon begin operation. Horse-drawn trolleys operated by the Germantown Passenger Railway Company also connected the suburb to the city. In 1859, the trolleys’ first month of operation, 2,500 passengers made the commute.
The little Friends School and Meetinghouse stood right at the center of this growing suburb. On both sides of Germantown Avenue, new streets were being cut through farmers’ fields and woodlots. New — and expensive — homes were being constructed by the affluent middle-class commuters in Italianate, Queen Anne, and “Picturesque Eclectic” styles. One of the first of these was Ivy Lodge at 29 East Penn Street, described by architectural historian Richard Webster as a “classic Italian villa.”⁵ Germantown Friends School would later purchase Ivy Lodge. There were still vast open spaces — fields, meadows, and streams — but even the new residential neighborhoods kept a country feeling. Webster characterizes this new Germantown as a “garden suburb.” It was a most desirable area of the city and attracted people wealthy enough to support a private school.
The school prospered, or at least Sarah Albertson did. She charged tuitions according to pupils’ age from $8 to $20 for a five-month term.⁶ Most of the students were young — it was essentially a primary school — and the upper age limit for boys was twelve years. Girls could stay to age eighteen, and the older girls were employed as tutors for the younger children, an arrangement Albertson called “the Lancastrian system.” Albertson hired and paid her own assistant teachers who came and went with great frequency. It is impossible at this distance to determine exactly how profitable the lease arrangement was for Albertson. But in 1862, when the School Committee proposed changing the arrangement and paying her a salary, she asked for $1,200 per year, a substantial sum. The Committee said no.
The subjects taught were elementary: English composition, arithmetic, spelling, and reading. Older students had lessons in history, geography, grammar, and “elementary” geometry. Albertson selected her own teaching materials (mostly primers and workbooks), and, of course, no fiction was permitted. Every school day began with Bible reading; once a week each pupil memorized and recited a Bible verse. Thursdays the whole school, Friends and non-Friends alike, attended meeting for worship.
It was certainly a religious education, but was it “guarded?” From the outset there seems to have been a slightly strained relationship between Albertson and the Quaker elders about this question. The new Committee clerk Samuel Emlen (Alfred Cope had resigned because his business took him to England; he would return later) always referred to Sarah Albertson as “a fine young Friend,” and their correspondence, recorded in the minute book, is always civil and polite. But the Committee and the Teacher seem to have aimed at different ends.
The School Committee, which had been enlarged in 1859 with the inclusion of women members for the first time, still wanted a select school. It repeated that aim in the annual report to the Meeting in 1859. Albertson wanted — indeed, her livelihood required — a large school. The percentage of non-Friends increased steadily as the school grew. In 1860 there were only twenty-four Quaker children in a school population of fifty-four. In the annual report to the Meeting in 1862 the Committee expressed “regret” at the direction the school was headed.
There were other hints of strain. In 1859 one of the new women members reported back that she thought the scripture recitations “were not taken seriously enough.” Another committee visitor complained that the monthly examinations were not “thoroughly prepared.” George Emlen’s memory of school boys playing at soldiers and building forts might seem harmless sixty years after, but to Friends during the Civil War such scenes would not have been the least amusing.
Perhaps the Committee grew tired of Albertson’s continuing demands. Each year she presented her requests: new desks, new blackboards, fresh paint for the classrooms, and equipment for “calisthenics.” (The Committee turned that request down flat: Students could get enough exercise walking around town with their teacher). The Committee did agree to convert an old shed on the property into a play area, and in 1860 spent $700 to enlarge the school building to reduce crowding.
By 1863 Committee and Teacher were on a collision course. That year Alfred Cope, back from England, cancelled the mortgage. Freed from immediate financial pressure, the Committee took several decisive steps. First, the lease arrangement was cancelled. Henceforth the Committee would collect tuitions and pay Albertson a salary of $470 per year, not the $1,200 she wanted. The boarding house, Amy Albertson’s domain, would be closed. Amy Albertson, if she wanted, would be paid to keep the school and grounds clean.
In the 1864 report to the Meeting, the Committee made its unhappiness clear. There were only seven Friends among the thirty-eight pupils. “This is a small proportion and does not constitute such a school as was originally intended. The income needed for the support of the school has been the principal cause of the admission of so many pupils not professing with us.”⁷
The Committee decided to take radical action. It announced that the school would be “laid down” (closed) at the end of the school year in May, and would reopen in September as a select school.
Sarah Albertson, her mother Amy, and both assistant teachers resigned effective in May.
Sarah Albertson left the school without a trace — but evidently in anger. She left not only the school but Germantown Meeting as well. In the records of Frankford Monthly Meeting for 1865, Sarah and Amy Albertson were “disowned for attending services out of our discipline,” the familiar phrase that usually meant joining the Hicksite Friends.
Sarah Albertson literally disappeared from the school’s history. In 1891, Hannah Jones, whose 1866 watercolor sketch of the old school is the oldest representation of it that survives and who was a student of Sarah Albertson, could not remember her name. The first list of every teacher ever employed by Germantown Friends School, published in 1897, omits her name.
During the summer of 1864 the School Committee hired Susannah S. Kite to take charge of the Select School. She would remain at Germantown Friends for forty years. In 1904, the year she retired, Susannah Kite wrote an historical sketch of the school as she first knew it. She was hired, she recalled, because the School Committee had “decided to make an entire change in the character of the school under their care, and to drop from the roll the names of all pupils who were not either members or attenders of Friends’ Meetings. As a result of this, when I came here, in the fall of 1864, the school opened with but six scholars.”⁸
The six students, all children of Meeting members, ranged in age from seven to eleven. Kite was the only teacher and was paid $400 per year. The school building, although enlarged in 1860, was still only three rooms: “two of good size, one in the first story and other in the second.” The third room, on the ground floor attached to the rear, was used that first year as a cloak room. It would later be turned into a classroom. “The stairs leading to the upper room were very steep, and the first alteration that I remember was changing the stairway, in order to prevent possible falls downstairs.” Boys and girls were not divided into separate classrooms as they had been under Sarah Albertson. The boarding house was rented for $450, comfortably covering Kite’s salary.
Kite described the pump, the converted shed (“an old frame playhouse, used in rainy weather”), and Mullen’s yard. “This man kept pigeons, too, and they were sometimes disturbed by missiles from our side of the line. As a consequence when the boys accidentally threw their balls over the fence it was not an easy matter to get them again.”
“We had school on Seventh-day mornings [Sundays], in those early days, and once a month on Sixth-days we had an examination over the lessons of the past month, to which parents and committee were invited, and then we had a holiday the next day. Of course we had two sessions a day, from nine to twelve in the morning and from two to four in the afternoon…
“I wonder how we found time for the various things we did after school in the afternoons, but I can recall many pleasant walks in Wister’s Woods, or out Rittenhouse Street to the Wissahickon and in winter, skating on the Water- works dam or on a very shallow pond near where the Queen Lane Station is now. We usually had a picnic every year to some nearby place to which we could all walk. We had a literary society, called ‘the Social Band’ which we enjoyed very much. We had no written examinations in those early times, and there was no such rush and pressure as there is at the present day, else, I am sure I should not be here to tell the tale.”
Alfred Cope had predicted in 1858 that the Meeting’s membership would grow rapidly enough to support a select school, and by 1865 that prediction had become true. In fact within a few years the membership would outgrow the old Meetinghouse.
By October of 1865 there were twenty-three students enrolled, twenty-one of them children of Meeting members and two children of “attenders” of the Meeting. That year the school Committee reported that it had conducted a survey and found more than 100 children of the Meeting approaching school age. A second teacher, Anna K. Lowry, was hired. Enrollment continued to rise, and in 1867 a third teacher, Mary H. Raley, was hired and Susannah Kite was named “Principal” and paid $600. As principal, Kite had not many administrative responsibilities beyond general supervision of the school and regular reports to the Committee. The Committee made all decisions.
“Teacher Susan” or, more commonly, “Teacher Sue,” was very young (twenty-two years old when first appointed), but she was no push-over. “It did not take me long to discover that Teacher Sue was a person not to be trifled with,” remembered one student.⁹ “Fair” and “just” are the terms most students later used to describe her. “I remember well the first time I ever saw her,” Jane Pretlow White wrote. “She wore a grey dress, relieved at neck and wrists with a bit of white, and a narrow band of black velvet confined her well-groomed hair. I believe that band of velvet was the only ornament she ever permitted herself.” Later generations of GFS students know Susannah Kite only as a name memorialized in an Alumni Association scholarship. If they have an image of her, it is formed by the photograph taken of her when she was near retirement that hangs today in the front hall.
It is a forbidding photo. Teacher Sue stares straight ahead through wire- rimmed spectacles with an expression of tired disapproval. But students who know her sketch a picture of a lively, pretty young woman, “our kind and just teacher” in the words of Edith Mason Smith. “She never seemed to teach,” White remembered. “She awoke the interest, aroused the imagination and set it free to go its riotous way. If the way wasn’t riotous, it was no fault of hers. Among other things we studied “Paradise Lost,” not part of it, but the whole thing, from beginning to end. Adam wasn’t just “Adam” to us. When Teacher Sue read, Adam became a living soul! I have said she did not ‘teach.’ Likewise she never preached and seldom moralized.”
Kite became the best remembered teacher of the “old school.” In her eulogy written after Kite’s death, Jane White recalled how she and Teacher Sue became allies “in the bad business of grammar:”
“It was a warm spring day; the windows were open and the air was full of spring sounds and spring smells. For some reason the class was small that day, and it was last period. I was at the board, and I had reached the saturation point! Turning suddenly, I delivered myself of my full feelings with regard to the detestable and uncompromising study of grammar! It was brief but vitriolic. Then I stood and waited for Doom to crack!”
“Teacher Sue rose from her chair, regarded me for a moment, and said, ‘Even so.’”
Kite and the two other teachers organized the school into primary, intermediate, and upper divisions. Kite took the older students, as the age limit of twelve for boys had been dropped in 1865. The subjects were standard: reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, history, geography. In 1868 a part-time French teacher was hired for three afternoons a week. Latin was not offered. The education was “guarded” at last. Edith Mason Smith remembered that “Susannah Kite taught us subjects that were considered suitable for the youth of the Society of Friends — no music or dancing — no indeed! I remember a note in the grammar book explaining the meaning of ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ Teacher Sue told us that we need not learn that note as we would have no use for those titles!” Plain speech and plain dress were required.
By 1868 both the Meeting and its School Committee were feeling confident and prosperous. The Meeting, after considering remodeling the “ancient” Meetinghouse, decided instead to tear it down and construct a much larger one to the west. The new building, completed in 1868, faced Coulter Street. Today the only evidence of the 1812 Meetinghouse is the stone wall that extends along the southern edge of the old cemetery. It originally marked the entrance to both Meetinghouse and school and is the oldest structure on the property.¹⁰
The School Committee, once again prompted by Alfred Cope, decided to construct a new, modern school building to match the splendid new Meetinghouse. The old school would be retained for the primary grades, but intermediate and upper classes would be housed in the new building and would also be entered from Coulter Street (although a side entrance from Germantown Avenue would also be constructed).
Cope had been contributing gifts of stock to the school endowment for some years. He now took the leading role in raising funds for the modern school building. The surviving treasurer’s reports do not contain a breakdown of contributors, but it would appear that Cope pledged half of the expected $12,000 cost of construction in 1868.¹¹
He almost certainly gave more. When it became evident that alterations to the old building, now called the “Primary Building,” would be necessary, Cope offered to pay for them. He also called on family and friends to contribute. One of his solicitation letters survives: “When necessities come upon us we begin to look for our friends — understanding that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Therefore, I, as one of the Germantown School Committee, was set in a rather cogent manner to looking about me for friends and who should I spy looming up conspicuously and pleasantly but thy own open- handed self.” The final bill for all costs totaled $17,940, and the Committee had trouble raising the last needed funds. His letter asks for help in “introducing gas and water, equipping the laboratory, furnishing the lecture room, getting up cases for books &c.” In the end the Committee had to cut costs. Gas, for example, would not be introduced to the building for several years.
Cope proposed one more plan in 1869. He would contribute $500 per year for an unspecified number of years towards the principal’s salary — if that principal were a man. He was not unhappy with Susannah Kite, of course, but the committee shared it and accepted his proposal. Susannah Kite was moved aside.¹²
Davis H. Forsythe, who knew her later, believed that Susannah Kite accepted her demotion happily. She “had found the duties of principal irksome and the details burdensome.”¹³ Perhaps so. But in her own “sketch” of her time at the school she did not say so. In fact she explains the decision in a single, terse sentence: “It was thought best to have a man principal in order to keep the older boys in the school.” Probably this was because Cope had a candidate in mind — Samuel Alsop, Jr., a graduate and long- time teacher at Westtown. Ironically, he was also married to Susannah Kite’s sister. Alsop had left teaching and was employed in business in New York City, but Cope persuaded him to accept the post. He would be paid $1,200 a year. Susannah Kite’s salary in 1869 was $700. Alsop arrived to open the new school building in the fall of 1869.
The new building, much altered and enlarged, is still in use today and is the center section of the Main Building. It is the oldest part of today’s school. In 1869 it was two stories over a basement. On the first floor was a large “collection” room and a laboratory. The collection room, with benches that could seat ninety, was for morning scripture readings, assemblies, and lectures. On the second floor were two classrooms. Alsop and Kite shared the Upper School room, he teaching Latin, math, and grammar; she teaching everything else. The other room, for the Intermediate School, was in the charge of Mary Raley. Both rooms had desks for twenty-five, but the Upper School was much smaller. Despite the presence of a male principal, boys continued to leave school early for work or, if headed to college, to Westtown.
There would never be another year like 1869. There would be greater building projects in the 1920s under Stanley Yarnall, but those would be attended by controversy and discord. In 1869 the Meeting and school gazed confidently into the future, congratulated themselves on their accomplishments, and settled comfortably into the new spaces. The school was exactly what the Meeting wanted: small, select, guarded. They had no ambitions to be like the older, larger, grander Germantown Academy one block away. “Friends Select Germantown” was just right.
Alfred Cope wasn’t done yet. In 1870 he donated a collection of anatomical models for science study that he valued at $3,000. They were placed in cases in the collection room. In 1871 he made a major gift of securities to the endowment fund “sufficient to product $1,500 income per year” to be used to supplement teacher salaries. Perhaps he was bothered by the gap between Alsop’s $1,200, which Cope was still subsidizing, and young Rachel Raley’s $500 salary.
By 1872 Cope’s health, never robust, was failing. But he still had one piece of unfinished business. The Meeting and the school were on a secure footing, but Cope was also a benefactor of the library, which was in danger of spilling over its space in the primary school. He offered to “contribute most of the funds necessary” to build a separate library building and to establish a trust fund for the future purchase of books. As with so many of Alfred Cope’s gestures, this one had strings attached. The library was not to contain fiction.¹⁴
Alfred Cope contributed $13,000 of the $20,000 costs. Other members of the Cope family contributed the rest. An unexpected $10,000 bequest from the estate of Meeting member Jesse George helped with the furnishings and book purchases. The library is Alfred Cope’s monument. He died in 1875 less than a year after its completion. His contributions to the school have been largely forgotten, but in Friends Free Library Alfred Cope is remembered, although, because of his exclusion of fiction, not always favorably. The Alfred Cope Trust is still in force
At Cope’s suggestion, the library building was located on the site of the old boarding or “dwelling” house. That structure was torn down, and the familiar gray stone building still in use was erected facing Germantown Avenue. There would be future additions and enlargements. The building that opened its doors in September 1874 is roughly the front half of today’s Friends Free Library.
In 1875 the Preparative Meeting concluded that the operation of a school and a library was too much for one committee and so established a separate Library Committee. Hereafter the school and Friends Free Library would be separate institutions with different managers, funding, and, most important of all, different purposes. The separate institutions would still cooperate closely. Students would still use the library as “theirs,” and the school would contribute funds for the purchase of books. But the two institutions headed in different directions.
The school illustrates the insular, tribal, frightened, and maybe even arrogant side of the nineteenth-century Society of Friends. Alfred Cope, Samuel Morris, Samuel Emlen, and their generation of Quakers, shaken by the Hicksite separation, discomforted by the tide of immigrants — many Catholic and Jewish — pouring into the United States and Philadelphia, had made a school to protect their children from perceived corruption. The select school was guarded against the contaminating influences of secular ideas, new faiths, alien customs, and diverse people.
The library, on the other hand, represented the opposite, even contradictory, side of Quakerism. The same impulse that led Quakers to attack slavery, construct schools for African Americans, and defend the rights of American Indians opened the doors of Friends Free Library to all people in Germantown. In 1875 Friends Free Library was the only library in Germantown. The first branch of the public library, in Vernon Park, did not open until 1895.¹⁵ Germantown was a growing, bustling, and diverse community in the late nineteenth century, and William Kite and his successors threw open the library’s doors to all the merchants, shopkeepers, clerks, artisans, and mechanics of the community who wanted to improve themselves, sharpen their minds, or read serious literature.
In time the school would decide that the library’s chosen direction was the right one. But not yet.
In 1870, Samuel Alsop’s second year as principal, the old school’s most famous and notorious student enrolled. He liked nothing about it — not “Master Samuel,” not the school, the teachers — nothing, or so he said.
Joseph Pennell was the son of good Quakers who lived on Fisher’s Lane in East Germantown. He became an artist of some renown (although he preferred the label “illustrator”) and wrote an autobiography.¹⁶ His description of the old school is at odds with the rosy memories of Edith Mason Smith, Jane White, and others.
Let a school-mate introduce him: “I remember a large crowd of boys assembled about a tall gangling youth and his bicycle. He was about eighteen years old, his face was yellow, his nose a great beak and his ears as wide as the wings of a bat. He talked importantly and proudly about this high-wheeled bicycle. It glittered in every spoke and handlebar most wonderfully. Of course I was awestruck…I was deeply impressed with the lordliness of the gangling youth and his talk.”¹⁷
Pennell never saw himself this way. “I, the unpopular, the outsider” is the way he described himself. He spent six years (“six awful years, the worst of my life”) at the school and graduated in 1876.
In his autobiography, Pennell reveals himself as a curmudgeon, a grump. Nothing ever measured up to his standard. The world was filled with fools. But his comments on the school he attended from 1870 to 1876 ring true.
He found it snobbish: “There is a caste and precedence and all other things of that sort among Friends as well as among the world’s people. Because my family had not made money, and so made good as other Friends with less to start with, both socially and financially, we were scarce in it or of it.”
He disliked morning collection: “Every morning each of us had to recite verses of the Bible as school opened, and every Second Day morning the whole chapter we had learned the week before, and we were kept in, if we made a mistake, until we got it perfect…We did not always understand what we learned.”
He found the required Thursday meeting for worship a trial: “To the Fifth Day Meeting, William Kite and Samuel Emlen and Samuel Morris and other men ministers and elders came, leaving their business; and the women ministers came too… And we children, for that hour and a half, tried to be good, the boys sitting on the side with the men Friends, the girls with the women. But it was long, though peaceful, that hour and a half.”
Pennell wrote his autobiography long after “progressive” ideas had taken hold in American education. Lectures, memorization, and oral recitations made up most of his GFS education, and much of that had changed by the time he wrote. But he was still resentful: “I do not remember that I learned anything in Germantown School that I have not forgotten or had not to unlearn, save the Bible, drawing and history — and the names of the State Capitals that haunt me…”
He especially hated Latin, Samuel Alsop’s course: “I might have learned the Classics if the teacher had had any notions of anything but Latin and Greek grammar. Their beauty was hidden from him. I don’t believe he knew anything but what he got out of books.” He disliked the principal (“the awful headmaster”) on other grounds: “The headmaster never reasoned with me, never advised me privately. I never saw him out of school…” He had few kind words for the faculty (“How the teachers made us hate them for their stupidity, for we small boys were far more intelligent than they…”), except for Teacher Sue (“We had terrific tussles, [but] I think she liked me”).
Yet it was a Friends school teacher who changed his life. In September 1870 Alsop received Committee permission to hire a part-time drawing teacher, the first venture into the arts in school history. The Committee was not actually interested in promoting art or training artists, but they wanted students to get more use out of Alfred Cope’s anatomical models. Alsop hired James R. Lamdin, an artist of some note, who opened a new world for the rebellious Pennell.
Samuel Alsop, Jr. resigned his post in 1872 to accept an appointment as professor of physics and astronomy at Haverford College. As a parting suggestion, he proposed the school give “certificates” to its graduates, the first diplomas in school history, and three were awarded, all to girls.¹⁸
Joseph Pennell claimed to be the first boy to graduate from the school. He was at least the first to receive a certificate, and it is a miracle he did. One afternoon he and a friend, John Cope, climbed to the roof of the Meetinghouse porch and painted a caricature of a weighty Friend on the wall (“a symphony in brown… an Overseer of the Meeting and School Committee member we hated”). They were caught. The stunt became part of school lore, and echoes of the story can be heard fifty years later.
To replace Alsop, the School Committee named Henry Newell Hoxie, a thirty-four-year-old Friend from a prominent New England Quaker family.¹⁹ Hoxie was paid $2,500 a year, far more than Alsop, and would serve as principal until 1886.
Hoxie may have been paid much more, but he was given no more responsibility. Principals in the old school deferred to the School Committee on even minute details: the purchase of a desk or a piece of science apparatus, or the need for fresh paint in the classroom. All decisions were kept firmly in the Committee’s hands. Although Hoxie tried his best to prod them into action, the Committee liked the school the way it was and resisted change. He was able to get calisthenics added finally in 1875, the first physical education, and the Committee grudgingly approved the purchase of Indian clubs and dumbbells. A request for a gymnasium was turned down flat.
Enrollment continued to rise slowly. By 1881 there were eighty students — fifty were girls — and Hoxie was complaining that the new school building was crowded, as the Primary school had expanded into the space vacated by the library. A small two-story addition was added to the rear of the school building to provide two more classrooms, and a second male teacher, Davis H. Forsythe, was hired. Forsythe was twenty-two years old, a brand-new graduate of Haverford, and it was his first job. He would stay for thirty-three years.²⁰
To students, it must have seemed that nothing ever changed. The rhythm of the days was unaltered year after year. The school bell rang at 9:00 a.m. for morning collection. Master Henry would read from scripture with the other six teachers seated behind him on the little platform. Classes in the morning, a walk home for lunch, classes in the afternoon. The curriculum varied only a little. Teacher Sue now taught United States history, not the United States constitution. Conic sections was replaced by trigonometry. There were no sports, no teams, no music, no dances, no drama; classes six days a week and on both Thanksgiving and Christmas (but no classes on the days of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting). There were always monthly examinations to be endured and School Committee visitors to be pleased.
A student from the 1860s could have returned after twenty years and found everything just about the same. The buildings, even with the 1881 addition, looked the same. The playing shed now had a sand floor, not tan bark. Younger faculty, most young, single women, came and went with regularity, but Teacher Sue and a male principal were constants. But a very significant change was about to happen.
In September 1880 a non-Friend had applied for the admission of his daughter to the select school. He was turned down, but the application seems to have stirred some Committee members to questions the Friends-only policy. By 1883 the policy was clearly being discussed in the Committee. Unfortunately, the clerk (Philip C. Garrett since 1877) was especially reticent in his reports, and it is impossible to say now who was behind the rethinking or why. Numbers were certainly one consideration. Enrollment dropped in 1882 and 1883, but a census of Meeting children found over 100 of school age, and the Committee took no action on the policy.
In 1884 the school had a deficit of only about $250 in a budget of over $8,000, but the Committee was upset enough that it reduced Hoxie’s salary by $200, dismissed a part-time science teacher, and reduced two full-time teachers to half time.
Whether or not some Committee members were challenging the philosophy of exclusion inherent in select education is not known. All that can be said with certainty is that by September of 1884 the committee was seriously weighing “the question of altering our rules of admission so as to receive into the School some who are now excluded.”
In October the Committee sent a message to the Meeting: “After careful consideration, it was decided to suggest to the Preparative Meeting that a limited number of the children of those not members of the Society of Friends be permitted to share the benefit of the school.” Both the men’s and women’s business meetings (for business, not worship; Friends still met separately) cautiously agreed in December, and the Select School ended. It was still to be a guarded education, however. The Meeting demanded and the Committee agreed that any non-Friends admitted should be in sympathy with Quaker principles and follow Quaker rules. The door had been opened, but just a crack. In September 1885 the first non-Friend since 1863 entered the school.
Susannah Kite remembered Katherine Thorne as the first, but, in fact, five non-Friends were admitted and enrolled.
Henry Hoxie resigned the following January “as of the earliest day possible,” possibly because of anger with the new policy, but more likely for a better job. He became head of the lower department at Haverford School. In March the Committee named Davis Hoopes Forsythe principal.
The new policy and Forsythe’s appointment breathed new energy into the old school. Changes accumulated rapidly —”more changes than since its founding,” Kite thought. The Committee, instead of dragging its heels as it had done with Alsop and Hoxie, now, more often than not, approved Master Davis’s suggestions.
The Committee was certainly encouraged by the rapid increase in enrollment. Many non-Friends sought the advantages of Quaker education, and their numbers in the school rose quickly: fifteen (of eighty-one) in 1886; forty-nine (of 101) in 1889. In 1891 non-Friends outnumbered Friends sixty- three to fifty.
Unlike the 1850s, when the Committee became alarmed by this same trend, it now congratulated itself on the wisdom of the decision. The conviction was expressed repeatedly in the 1890s (and it may have influenced the Committee earlier) that the school was part of Friends’ religious outreach. Forsythe stressed this in his reports. The school’s greatest attraction to non- Friends, he wrote, is the appeal of its religious principles.
Davis Forsythe, like Susannah Kite, is today remembered only as a name on an alumni scholarship and by a photograph in the front hall. But he was an important figure not only in the school’s history, but in wider Quaker circles over his long life. In education he was progressive before it was fashionable. As a Quaker leader, he was known as a mediator and conciliator. It would later be said of him, when he became clerk of the Yearly Meeting, that he knew every Friend in the Philadelphia area. These qualities served him well in his relationship to the School Committee.
Forsythe’s first important changes were to the curriculum, which had been frozen in amber for too long. He disliked the emphasis on monthly oral examinations, recitations, and memorization. He wanted students to do more research and writing. He urged the Committee to add German as a second modern language in addition to French and to drop Latin as a graduation requirement. The Committee approved German, but kept the Latin requirement. He persuaded the Committee to offer more advanced work in history and science in an effort to stem the drain of older students to Westtown for college preparation. He reported with pride in 1895 that five boys had entered that year, two girls had entered Bryn Mawr, and a total of nineteen graduates were then in college.
Forsythe also gained approval for changes in the primary and intermediate grades. He asked for a regular exercise period for all students, five times a week; a full-time reading teacher; and a class in woodworking (for years called “Sloyd,” because it was based on a Swedish model by that name). He wanted more playing space, but here he was frustrated. Students played in the open area between the school and the Meetinghouse, and in bad weather in the play shed or the horse sheds to the rear of the Meetinghouse. All that Forsythe could wheedle out of the Committee was a new and larger shed (sometimes called “the gymnasium,” but still in essence a shed). At least the new “gym” had a wood floor.
Quakers still frowned on competitive sports, but athletic teams played at least occasional games. The first football match was in 1893, although no regular team or schedule developed.²¹ A boys’ cricket team, coached by German teacher Arthur Charles, played two matches at the Germantown Cricket Club in 1897.²² The next year, The Pastorian declared that “People in athletic circles are beginning to know there is such a place as Friends Select School, Germantown” [sic]. The declaration was premature. That year the cricket team lost all three matches.
Davis Forsythe’s major achievement was the adoption of what he called “The Individual System.” He had heard about an experimental program developed in the Pueblo, Colorado public schools that sought to break the usual lock-step method of education then in use. The School Committee agreed to finance his visit there in 1895, and he returned fired with enthusiasm. “The Individual System” was adopted with Committee approval in 1896. A school circular described it: “It is not the policy of the school that all pupils of one class should be doing the same work in any subject at the same time. Each one is carefully examined by his teacher daily, and his advancement is made to depend on himself and is not influenced by the standing or progress of any other pupils in the school.”²³
The plan developed by Forsythe and his staff cut the number of subjects studied daily. There would be four fifty-minute periods each day, and time was scheduled for homework during the school day; “home study” in the evening was reduced to one-and-a-half to two hours each night. Examinations would be more frequent, but “individualized.” The dreaded monthly oral recitation in front of visitors was abolished. More frequent essays were required.
Students liked the new plan. It gave them “more time to play,” one wrote, and, in an afterthought, more time for serious concentration and work. It obviously meant a great deal more work for the faculty.
It would be easy to exaggerate both the liberalism and the impact of Forsythe’s individual system. In his 1905 survey of the school, to be discussed in Chapter 3, Stanley Yarnall made it clear that while the changes were welcome, they were not far-reaching. Still, the energy and excitement brought to GFS by Davis Forsythe deserve recognition.
Enrollment grew rapidly. In March 1893 there were 115 students (fifty- four boys, sixty-one girls); in October the numbers reached 127 (seventy-six children of Meeting members or attenders), and the school was full. The faculty expanded, too. There were still only six full-time teachers, all of whom taught several subjects at different grade levels. There were, in addition, part-time teachers for girls’ gymnastics, drawing, Sloyd, and “vocal culture” (elocution). A Kindergarten had been tried as an experiment by women members of the Meeting in 1889 and taken over by the school in 1890. The two school buildings were bursting at the seams.
Each year the faculty and School Committee worked out new arrangements to try to fit everybody in. Bathrooms were moved to the basement (where they remain) to make classroom space. A wall of the collection room was removed and replaced by a movable partition. With the partition closed, two classrooms were created. Attic space in the 1869 structure was opened, two skylights cut in the ceiling, and the result called the drawing room. The laboratory doubled as a classroom. The time of the school’s “quiet history” (Forsythe’s phrase) when an old scholar could revisit school and recognize everything as familiar was fast drawing to a close.
In 1895 the School Committee looked at an enrollment of 143 and finally agreed with Forsythe that major expansion was required. Work began in the summer of 1896, and the Main Building was substantially enlarged when students came back to school in September.²⁴ The rear of the building (the 1881 addition) was completely transformed, its space more than doubled. The walls were moved out on the west side toward the Meetinghouse and in the back in the direction of the primary school. The front of the Main Building was given a facelift, too. Since 1869 the school had faced two directions. Now the door toward Germantown Avenue was taken out and a grand, pillared half-round portico facing Coulter Street was constructed in place of the very simple 1869 porch. “A grand, new building,” one Pastorian editor proclaimed it.²⁵
In 1897 a second stage in the expansion was completed. The “Primary Building,” which in 1888 had been moved from its original location, was torn down and in its place a new, two-story building was erected and joined to the Main Building by an arcade.²⁶
The “gymnasium” was enlarged and also connected to the new building by a covered passage. “It is rumored,” the student magazine editorialized, “that sometime we are to have a new gymnasium with all the most improved equipment. This is simply visionary….”
The Friends Free Library added to the noise and confusion of construction in 1897. Thanks to a grant from the Mary B. Hacker Fund, a major addition was added to the rear of Alfred Cope’s 1874 building. William Kite retired as librarian the next year, and Hannah Jones took over. She would remain librarian for thirty-three years.²⁷
When school opened in 1898 all traces of the buildings that had stood on the property forty years before had been erased. Only memories remained, and that year a new teacher was hired who would erase even the memories.
His name was Stanley Rhoads Yarnall.
1 “Days of Dedication: Leaves from a Centennial Notebook,” published by GFS as a record of the centennial observance, p. 17
2 “Sixty Years Since” appeared in the Alumni Bulletin May 1924.
3 “Notes from Memory” Alumni Record February 1, 1936.
4 Russell F. Weigley, ed., Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (W.W. Norton, 1982) pp. 363–366.
5 Richard Webster, Philadelphia Preserved (Temple University Press, 1976), pp. 252–253.
6 From a circular reproduced in The Beehive, a Germantown newspaper, in GFS Archives. The original circular is also in the archives.
7 Germantown Preparative Meeting Minute Book N5.7
8 Susannah Kite, “Sketches of the School.” The Pastorian, 1904, pp. 36–51.
9 Jane Pretlow White, “Recollections of Susannah S. Kite,” The Pastorian, November 1932, pp. 20–21.
10 The Meeting has used two different dates in various publications and pamphlets for the construction — 1867 and 1868. Total cost of the new building was $20,466.62. Germantown Preparative Meeting minute book N5.7
11 In the letter quoted in the text below, Cope said he had already “fished up from my own purse” $6,000 and expected to dig deeper. Letter dated 9th month, 21st day, 1869 in Alfred Cope file in Evans Family Papers, MS 1170, Haverford Quaker Collection.
12 Cope also thought a male principal would be more prestigious and give the school more prominence. See Garrett’s profile in Quaker Biographies, series 2.
13 Letter from Davis H. Forsythe to Stanley R. Yarnall, December 1, 1933, in GFS Archives, folder 51. In this letter Forsythe also credits Alfred Cope with choosing Samuel Alsop, Jr. and “influenced him” to accept the principal’s position.
14 Elizabeth Gray Vining, “The Germantown Library,” The Friend, 12th month 15, 1938, pp 211- 214.
15 Hocker, p.275
16 Joseph Pennell, The Adventures of an Illustrator, (Little, Brown, 1925.) Chapter 3 covers his life in Germantown and at GFS. GFS Archives, Folder 52.
17 Robert Lucas Pittfield, “Recollections of the Friends School in the ‘70’s,” Alumni Record, October 1, 1936, GFS Archives
18 There is some confusion here. The Alumni Association would later recognize four additional members of the class of ’72 as “graduates,” including two boys. But only three names are stated (and stated twice in separate entries) in the School Committee minutes. It appears from the language of Alsop’s suggestion that the “certificates” were meant to mark high achievement and were not diplomas signifying completion of the course of study. The three who received certificates were Sarah Bacon, Edith Comfort, and Elizabeth Wistar. Alumni Record, February, 1939, and School Committee Minute book, Volume 2.
19 For Hoxie see Quaker Biographies, a clipping file in the Quaker Collection at Haverford College.
20 Biographical Catalogue of Matriculants of Haverford College. Forsythe was paid $1,800 in 1881. That year Susannah S. Kite’s salary was $1,000.
21 A photograph of “the first football team” is in the GFS archives dated 1895. However The Pastorian for October 1912 gives the first game as 1893 and refers to a photograph of the 1893 team donated to the school.
22 The Pastorian, 1897
23 Quoted in an article on the individual system by S. Percy Jones, The Pastorian, first issue 1897.
24 The nature of the 1896 expansion has been frustratingly difficult to work out. No plans survive. The official minutes state “the extent of the additions and alteration to the School House are so apparent and well understood by all members of the Committee that we do not feel it is necessary to go into these in detail.” (January 3, 1896). No one interviewed for this history had any memory of this construction. The account given here is based on close study of photographs of the buildings before and after 1896. The photographs are in the GFS Archives.
25 Editorial in The Pastorian, 1897. Not everyone was pleased with the new façade facing Coulter Street. Francis R. Cope wrote: “They had made quite a respectable looking building of it, somewhat marred by the addition of a prominent and incongruous porch — and now one of the committee wants to have one of the fine trees cut down, to display I suppose the porch.” The Evans Papers, Quaker Collection, file on Francis Cope, Haverford College.
26 The Pastorian, 1898. The new Primary Building stands today much altered and expanded. The “arcade” has been rebuilt, but is visible as the origin of the present archway connecting Main and the Primary Building. The connecting passage to the play shed has been filled in, but the outlines are still visible. The old Primary Building had been moved in an attempt to improve its heating. A cellar was dug behind it for a furnace and the whole structure moved back twenty feet from Germantown Avenue.
27 Vining, The Germantown Library, op.cit.