The second co-ed college in the nation after Oberlin, Swarthmore College was founded in 1864 by Quakers, including reformer and abolitionist Lucretia Mott. The first class to graduate in 1873, consisted of five women and one man. By the early 1900s, the college had enough students to put together a football team, although even then it was controversial: a picture of a battered player staggering off a U Penn field shocked President Teddy Roosevelt, leading him to threaten to ban the sport altogether.
In the early 1920s, Swarthmore instituted its rigorous Honors Program, based on the curriculum the president had encountered at Oxford. In 1938, five years after the intellectuals on campus decided to do away with all sororities, they were rewarded with a Commencement speech by Albert Einstein. In the 1940s, African-Americans were allowed to enroll, helping the undergraduate population to exceed 1,000 for the first time. By this point, the school was officially non-sectarian, but the influence of Friends on campus remained, and it can still be seen in the decision-making processes of the administration and the focus on science, social sciences, and the humanities, as opposed to the fine arts.
Every guide about Swarthmore will tell you that its 350-acre campus is an arboretum. Functionally, that means that if you like nature to any degree you will be satisfied: there are different varieties of trees, plants, and flowers everywhere with helpful little identifying plaques, all well-maintained. A rose garden supplies a bud for every graduate, and both the graduation and first-year orientation ceremonies take place outdoors in the Roman-style amphitheater. If you prefer your surroundings to be a bit wilder, the rambling Crum woods offer a creek for swimming, a meadow for performance art, and an ancient-seeming stone circle for bonfires.
Many of the classy stone buildings on Swarthmore’s campus were put up in the 1920s, but even new buildings tend to conform to the standard so that the school has a unified look. Dorms are only a few stories tall, since even the largest ones only sleep a couple hundred students. The most recognizable building, Parrish, which combines administration with housing, is also the tallest at five stories high, and it sits picturesquely at the top of a hill.
Swarthmore, PA is only 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia, to which it is connected by regional rail and weekend shuttles. It is a suburb of quiet streets, large lovely houses, and almost no social life. The town center—called “the Ville”—is dry, which means no bars or clubs; the best it offers Swarthmore students is a couple places to get cheap food or a haircut. For anything more elaborate, students must branch out either on foot to Baltimore Pike, a typical suburban drag, by car to nearby diners, or by train to Philly.
Sager, the week-long series of events on sex and sexuality, culminating in an appropriately all-out dance party, to which boys customarily go in drag
Screw (Your Roommate), a dance in two parts: first, Friday evening in the Sharples dining hall, students must find their blind dates by performing tasks assigned to them by their roommates; then, Saturday evening, they accompany their blind dates to the official party
The ML Halloween Party, an annual bash located at the Mary Lyons dorm
Chalking for Coming Out Week: the cartoons and slogans with which students cover the sidewalks are guaranteed to offend freshmen, who complain in the next issue of the newspaper, the Phoenix
The Worthstock music festival occurs every Spring in the flowering area next to the Worth dorms. In 2008, Yo La Tengo played, as well as several smaller bands.
Dip of the Month gives exhibitionists a chance to bare all while swimming in the Crum creek at midnight.
Michael Dukakis (1955) is a former governor of Massachusetts who ran for president in 1988 on the Democratic ticket.
Jonathan Franzen (1981) is the author of "The Corrections."
Eugene Lang (1938) founded the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Carl Levin (1956) is the senior senator from Michigan.
James Michener (1921) is the author of “Tales of the South Pacific” and “The Source.”
Alice Paul (1905) was a suffragist leader and founded the National Women’s Party.
Sally Ride (attended) was the first American woman in space.
Robert Zoellick (1975) is the current president of the World Bank.
Swarthmore is Division III and offer twenty varsity teams, including badminton, baseball, basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball, plus about 15 intramurals and clubs, including men’s and women’s rugby, volleyball, and ultimate Frisbee. Until recently, the campus lacked a concrete mascot. Even as Swarthmore decided to vote one in, it considered only mythical creatures and finally settled on the Phoenix.
Swarthmore is often mistaken for a women’s college in New York, presumably Skidmore, though that school is also now co-ed and Swarthmore has always has been.
Mama Cass of the Mamas and the Papas got into Swarthmore but decided to attend to her music career instead. The decision is memorialized in the 1967 song “Creeque Alley.”
Until students voted in a replacement in 2007, the school mascot was the “Garnet Tide.”
PARRISH: the main administrative building on campus has dorms—mostly singles and doubles—on its upper floors. It is single-sex: the East wing is all-female, while the West wing is all-male.
MERTZ and ALICE PAUL: relatively new, well-maintained, spacious mid-campus dorms for under- and upper-classmen
WILLETS: the least well-maintained and rowdiest of the dorms, home to freshmen and sophomores
DANAWELL: a two-building complex of doubles by the woods, shaped like accordions in order to be riot-proof. One of the buildings, Dana, is smoke-free; the third floor is all-female.
PPR (Palmer, Pittinger, Roberts): a three-building complex slightly farther from campus with spacious singles, doubles, and suites for upper-classmen
MARY LYONS (ML): a sizable off-campus dorm serving freshmen and the Psi Phi community, which used to be called the Swarthmore Wardens of Imaginative Literature. A kitchen on the premises serves breakfast.