William Penn Charter School
3000 West School House Lane
The William Penn Charter School is the fifth oldest school in the country and the oldest Quaker school in the world. It was one of the first institutions to accept students of different religions (1689,) to offer financial aid (1701,) to educate girls (1754,) and to welcome all races (1770.)
The history of the William Penn Charter School begins in 1689 when William Penn established the institution. Penn’s vision was for a school that taught its students leadership skills and high moral character regardless of their desired profession. The school’s doors were not open exclusively to the privileged, but also students of lesser means. Betsy Ross, James Forten, and Roberts Vaux are among the original school’s many distinguished alumni.
In 1874 a group of public schools operating under Penn’s original charter, including the aforementioned school, merged to become a private college preparatory school for boys. In 1920 Penn Charter moved from center city to accommodate the scholastic and athletic needs of a growing student body. The school's current location is in East Falls on an idyllic 44 acre campus. In 1980 the school once again opened its doors to female students.
The school began holding an annual Color Day in 1892. Upon entering the school, students are assigned to the Blue Team or the Yellow Team (representing the school’s colors.) Colors are passed down from relatives and are shared between siblings. The tradition was designed to unite the Penn Charter community, encourage friendly competition through relay races, and forge friendships and lasting memories. The annual Color Day still comes to a close with the senior class rope pull, as it has for more than 100 years.
William Penn saw community service as inherent to his Quaker faith. He and other early Quakers tried to “mend this world” through service to “all those with struggles in life,” be they mental, physical or financial. The early leaders of the school established a history of service by supporting Quaker and secular reform groups such as: the Friends’ Asylum for the Insane, The Philadelphia Association for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, Pennsylvania Hospital, The Friendly Association for Indian Relief and the Philadelphia Association for the Instruction of Poor Children. The school is still actively upholding its reputation as a beacon for service with “community service projects every day of the week.”
The William Penn Charter School uses its rich traditions to foster growth and service throughout the Penn Charter community and the city at large. The school continues to accept students of varied ethnic and economic backgrounds and has students spread across more than one hundred zip codes throughout both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
This piece was written with the assistance of the William Penn Charter School. A special thanks is extended on behalf of the author to Ms. Sharon Sexton for her contributions and support.