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Westtown's Integration: "A Natural and Fruitful Enlargement of Our Lives" Margaret Morris Haviland* One ofthe central issues in education today is diversity. Faculty, school boards, parents, administrators, and students argue, hold meetings and demonstrations, and conduct studies on what it means to have, develop and nurture a diverse studentbody. Universities arguebefore the Supreme Court that the very nature of their educational charge requires a diverse student body.1 This marks a sea change in the history ofmost schools as recently as fifteen or twenty years ago. In the 1920s, private secondary schools and colleges grappled with issues ofadmitting those who were not members of tightly-defined affinity groups, but were closely related through marriage and other sorts ofalliances. LaterJewish-Americans began to be considered for elite private institutions. Beginning in the middle of the twentieth century many schools withthe best ofintentions opened their doors to select African-Americans and other minorities, expecting to provide these students , identified as underprivileged and somehow deserving, with all the benefits theirinstitutionmightbestow.2Today, these same schools arefaced with how to treat and accept gay and lesbian students. Once admitted, the student-institution relationship was expected to be all one way, with the minorities doing all the receiving, the institutions doing allthe giving. Inthe past decade, these groups have not been content to accept what the institutions offer; insteadtheyhave demandedrecognitionforthegifts andstrengths they bring, requiring and encouraging exciting and at times painful change. While the end of the twentieth century sees schools grappling with multiculturalism, the first decades of the century gave no indication that education would move from exclusiveness and segregation to inclusiveness and integration. Schools operated by the Society of Friends were by and large all-white institutions throughout the first three decades ofthe twentieth century. Earlham College provided one of the few exceptions. It admitted its first black student, Osborn Taylor, in the 1880s. While he attended classes, he and the few students that followed did not graduate and "almost certainly they did not live in the dorms or participate in social activities."3 Earlham's first graduate was Clarence Cunningham in the mid 1920s. Swarthmore admitted its first African-American student in 19434. Media Friends School opened its doors to African-American students in 1937 and nearly folded when a majority ofthe European-American parents * Margaret Morris Haviland teaches history at Westtown School. She also serves as the school's Curriculum Coordinator. She first became interested in this story when she realized the version she was hearing from her in-laws was different from the one recorded in official school history. 20Quaker History withdrew their children.5 Sidwell Friends resisted integration until the 1 960s6. As each school, including Westtown School, grappledwith the issue of integration, both parts of the dueling tendencies within Quakerism — exuberant proselytizing and quietisi conservation interacted with societal and individual attitudes towards race, racial identity, and racial equality. Westtown School's founding in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1799 falls firmly within the conserving tradition. Its creators hoped to establish a separate and secluded place in order to provide Quaker children with a guarded education. Owen Biddle, one of the leaders in the movement to establish Westtown, wrote in his plan for the school that "Our principles lead to a separation from the world, its customs, habits, language, and manners, and the necessity of a separation from the world in the education ofsucceeding generations."7 These men and women hoped to protect their children from the discrimination and animosity stemming from Quaker pacifism during the American Revolution. Furthermore , a minority in the city they had once dominated, they hoped to shield their children from the undue influence ofthe wider non-Quaker world. The best way to preserve the sect and insure its religious purity going forward was to seclude its children from non-Quakers. Westtown was to be a place where Quaker children would grow up to be Quaker adults, imbued with a right sense ofQuaker discipline, Christian faith, the testimonies ofsimplicity , integrity, pacifism, and separation from "too much conversation" with the world. Ideally, they would meet and marry other Quakers, thus insuring new generations of Friends. Following the Hicksite Separation in 1827, Westtown became a school for the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 19-33
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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