Girard College

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Girard College Complex
Girard College.jpg
Girard College
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Area 44 acres (18 ha)
Architect Thomas Ustick Walter; et al.
Architectural style Colonial Revival, Greek Revival
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference #


Founder's Hall, Girard College
Girard College - Project Gutenberg eText 15161.jpg
Girard College in an illustration from an 1871 publication
Coordinates 39°58′26″N 75°10′12″W / 39.9740°N 75.1701°W / 39.9740; -75.1701
NRHP Reference # 69000158[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 4, 1969
Designated NHL August 4, 1969
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 29, 1974
Designated PHMC 1992[2]

Girard College is an independent boarding school on a 43-acre (17 ha) campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States.

Girard is for academically capable students, grades one through 12, and awards a full scholarship with a yearly value of approximately $42,000 to every child admitted to the school. The scholarship covers most of the costs of attending Girard, including tuition, room and board, books, and school uniforms. The scholarship is renewable yearly until high-school graduation. Applicants must be at least six years old, demonstrate good social skills and the potential for scholastic achievement, and come from a single-parent, lower-income family. Girard accepts students on the basis of school records, admissions testing, a visit, and interviews, without preference for race, gender, religion, or national origin.

Girard's mission is to prepare students for advanced education and life as informed, ethical, and productive citizens through a rigorous educational program that promotes intellectual, social, and emotional growth.

Stephen Girard's legacy[edit]

Born in Bordeaux, France, Stephen Girard was the eldest of 9 children.[3] His mother died when he was 11, and he left home at the age of 14 to spend the next 12 years sailing the seas and learning the international mercantile and shipping business.

Girard arrived in Philadelphia in June 1776 and remained there for the rest of his life. During his 55 years there, he became the richest American of his time.

Girard was married to Mary Lum from 1777 until her death in 1815. They had no children.

Girard’s first fortune was in international shipping and merchant activities. He sent his ships, crews, and captains around the world and deposited his growing wealth in the First Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. When the First Bank lost its charter in 1811, he bought the bank's building, left his money there, and reopened as the Bank of Stephen Girard. This made him America’s first private banker. He made his second fortune in banking and helped raise the $16 million required for the U.S. government to fight the War of 1812. Folklore has it incorrectly that he saved the government from bankruptcy. By the time of his death, his fortune totaled approximately $7.5 million.

One of the most interesting chapters of Girard’s life was his role in fighting Philadelphia’s yellow-fever epidemic in the summer of 1793. He was instrumental in running the city’s hospital at William Hamilton's home, “Bush Hill,” using his business skills to better organize the hospital’s health care and record keeping and becoming personally involved in nursing.

With the assistance of attorney William J. Duane in the 1820s, he wrote a long will outlining every detail of how his fortune would be used. He delighted in keeping the document secret, knowing that everyone wondered what would happen to his fortune. Immediately after his death, the provisions of his will were made public. In addition to extensive personal and institutional bequests, he left the bulk of his fortune to the City of Philadelphia to build and operate a residential school for impoverished orphans. This innovative social vision was considered extremely unusual both then and now: to use the Girard fortune not to endow another Ivy League university but to assist children in need. In 1831, the bequest was the largest single act of philanthropy in American history.

Girard’s will eventually became famous for his restriction that students must be “poor, white, male, orphans.” The school remained for needy white boys for over a century. From 1954, with the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, there was increasing interest in integrating Girard College by race. After a long, bitter 14-year civil-rights struggle (including Martin Luther King's speaking at Girard’s front gates in August 1965), the first four black boys entered the school in September 1968 and the first black girls in 1984. Current enrollment is about evenly divided between boys and girls and about 80% African-American.[citation needed]

The Girard Estate remains open in perpetuity and provides much of the operating budget for the school.


Girard College was founded in 1833 and opened on January 1, 1848, under provisions of the will of Stephen Girard.

His vision as a school for poor, white, orphaned boys who had lost their fathers was unique in educating an entirely unserved population. Girard saw a chance to educate boys who might otherwise be lost and to prepare them for useful, productive lives. Girard's vision for the school can best be understood in the context of early 19th-century Philadelphia. The city was at the forefront of creating innovative American institutions designed to solve a specific social challenge, such as the Eastern State Penitentiary (humane incarceration), the Pennsylvania Hospital (mental illness), the Pennsylvania Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (disabilities), and the Franklin Institute (scientific knowledge). Girard chose to dedicate his immense fortune to help educate Americans for the future.

The term "orphan" appears in the will, and Girard specified "poor, white, male" orphans.[4]

However, in 1831, a mother who became a widow had no rights and resources, and guardians were often appointed. In reality, Girard operated as a school for boys who were fatherless as a result of death of the father and were not children with no living parents or guardians, such as may become the wards of orphanages. (The college in the 19th century determined the legal definition of the term orphan was "a fatherless child.") [5] As the 20th century progressed and women achieved full and equal rights and status including the right to vote, "orphans" became erroneous as a term of reference for Girard students, who, up to 1960s social changes, were fatherless by means of death.

Not part of the School District of Philadelphia, the school was segregated well after Brown v. Board of Education until it was ordered to desegregate by the Supreme Court. Perhaps the key to the ruling was that Girard, following its founder's will, was administered by the Board of City Trusts, and that public institution could not maintain that historical entrance requirement. The first African-American male student was admitted in 1968.[6]

The first female student was admitted as a first grader in 1984, following more adjustments to the admission criteria, so that the death of a father was no longer required. Girls were gradually integrated into the school over a 12-year period with subsequent new female students only permitted to enroll in the same graduating class as the first female student or a younger class. The first females graduated in 1993. Girard's first female valedictorian is Kimberly Green. The graduating class of 1996 was the first class to graduate with more females than males, although it remains more or less balanced.

The College made history in May 2009 when it named Autumn Adkins as its 16th president in its 160-year existence. Ms. Adkins, who succeeded Dominic Cermele, became both the first woman and first African-American to head the school. She resigned in 2012.[7]


Girard College Logo

All students live in single-sex dormitories arranged by grade level. Residential advisers occupy apartments in the dorm buildings. Girard requires that all students participate in the five-day program for the full benefit of its academic and residential curricula. Many students whose families live nearby choose to go home on weekends. There are occasions when children stay on campus on weekends. Girard offers supervised weekend activities, such as sports, social events, trips, community service, study time, and tutoring. Girard is open to students of all religious backgrounds. Twice a month at the beginning of the school day, all students attend nondenominational services in the school’s chapel, offering a forum for spiritual and moral development.

Entering 2010, student enrollment at Girard is 549; of these, 183 are Lower School students (grades 1-6) and 366 attend the Upper School (grades 9-12). Girard employs 127 faculty members; 71 are academic teachers and 56 are residential advisers. Class sizes range between 12 and 20 students in the elementary school and 16-22 students in the middle school. In the high school, advance-placement classes average 9 students, honors classes 15 students, and regular classes 20 to 25 students.

Girard’s performance-based curriculum is in accordance with national standards. All grade levels and subject areas have specific benchmarks and content standards that measure successful student outcomes and achievements. Girard is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. It also holds membership in the National Association of Independent Schools, the Association of Boarding Schools, and the Coalition for Residential Education

Virtually all Girard graduates are accepted into colleges and universities with approximately 95% continuing to higher-education institutions.

Founder's Hall[edit]

Founders Hall (1897)

Founder’s Hall at Girard College (1833–1847[8]) is considered one of the finest examples of American Greek-Revival architecture.[9] School founder Girard specified in his will the dimensions and plan of the building. Nicholas Biddle (1786–1844) was chairman of the school’s building committee and president of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.

Girard’s will demanded an architectural competition for the school's design. Endowed with his $2-million contribution, the 1832 competition was the first American architectural competition to have truly national participation. The winning architect was Thomas Ustick Walter (1804–1887). After the Girard commission, Walter went on to design the dome of the United State Capitol in Washington, D.C. He later returned to Philadelphia and became an assistant architect on the City Hall and, in 1857, a founding member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Founder’s Hall was the school’s original classroom building. It has three main floors, each measuring 14,000 square feet (1,300 m2). The plan for each floor, according to Stephen Girard's specifications, consists of a 100-by-20-foot (30.5 m × 6.1 m) front hall, four 50 ft. square rooms with 25 ft. ceilings arranged two-by-two, and a back hall that is the same size as the front hall. The scale of the spaces was impressively large when the building first opened.

Resulting from his association with architect Walter, Nicholas Biddle hired him in 1834 to convert the Biddle country seat, Andalusia, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, from a large Pennsylvania farmhouse into an exemplary domestic Greek-Revival structure.

Notable alumni[edit]

Graduates (or, in some cases, former students) of Girard College include:

Notable faculty[edit]


  1. ^ a b "NPS Focus". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Girard College Civil Rights Landmark - PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013. 
  3. ^ Stephen Girard, Accessed January 27, 2012.
  4. ^ DiFilippo, Thomas J. "The Will, No Longer Sacred". Stephen Girard, The Man, His College and Estate. Joe Ross. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  5. ^ [1] Romano, Louis A., "Manual and industrial education at Girard College, 1831-1965," Arno Press, 1980, pp. 138-139. ISBN 0-405-13450-9. Accessed January 27, 2012
  6. ^ "School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories: Girard College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania". NARA. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  7. ^ "Graves to step down as Girard College president". Retrieved 2012-04-17. 
  8. ^ "Girard College". Philadelphia on Stone. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  9. ^ [2] Miller, Arthur P, Jr., and Miller, Marjorie L., "Guide to the homes of famous Pennsylvanians: Houses, museums, and landmarks," Stackpole Books, 2003, page 59. ISBN 0-8117-2628-2. Retrieved January 27, 2011
  10. ^ "Pulitzer Prize awarded to Globe film critic Wesley Morris". Retrieved 2012-04-17. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°58′26″N 75°10′21″W / 39.9738°N 75.1725°W / 39.9738; -75.1725