Girard College

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Girard College
Girard college logo.jpg
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
School type Independent, co-ed, college prep, 5-day boarding
Oversight Board of Directors of City Trusts, Philadelphia


Girard College Complex
Girard College.jpg
Location Bounded by Poplar St., Girard, W. College, S. College, and Ridge Aves., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Area 43 acres (17 ha)
Built 1833 (1833)
Architectural style Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, Collegiate Gothic
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 74001802[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 29, 1974
Designated PHMC 1992[2]

Girard College is an independent, co-ed, college prep, 5-day boarding school located on an extensive 43-acre campus in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the eastern United States.

Girard College enrolls academically capable students, grades one through twelve, and awards a full scholarship with a yearly value of approximately $44,000 to every child admitted. The scholarship covers most of the costs of attending Girard, including tuition, room and board, books and school uniforms. The scholarship may be renewed yearly until the student's high school graduation. Applicants must be at least six years old (by the first day of first grade), demonstrate good social skills and the potential for scholastic achievement, and come from a single-parent, low-income (determined by HUD guidelines) family. Girard accepts students on the basis of previous school records, admissions testing, a visit and interviews. The process is conducted 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 the Atlantic merchant and naval seaport city of Bordeaux, in the Kingdom of France, Stephen Girard 1750-1831), was the eldest of nine children.[3] His mother died when he was aged 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 the Delaware Bay and River port city of Philadelphia in June 1776, during the momentous summer of American Revolutionary War events at the nearby old "Pennsylvania State House" (now "Independence Hall") and remained there for the rest of his life. During his 55 years in the "City of Brotherly Love", he became one of the richest Americans of his time.

Girard was later married at age 27, to Mary Lum from 1777 until her death in 1815. They had no children.

His initial success in business and source of his first fortune was in international shipping and merchant activities. He sent his cargo sailing ships, crews, and captains around the world and deposited his growing wealth in the "First" Bank of the United States, a semi-private/public financial institution, chartered by Congress, with deposits and an official relationship with the United States Department of the Treasury and its domineering first Secretary of the Treasury, the newly appointed Alexander Hamilton, under the administration of the first President George Washington. The new BofUS had just recently established on behalf of private financiers, businessmen and the new central U.S. Government in the temporary national capital of Philadelphia. When the first Bank of the U.S. later lost its charter two decades later in 1811, he bought the Bank's landmark Greek Revial-styled building, left his deposited money and accounts there, and reopened a new financial institution there as the "Bank of Stephen Girard". This made him America’s first private banker. He then made his second fortune in banking and helped raise the $16 million required for the U.S. Government to undertake to continue to fight the War of 1812 against the Kingdom of Great Britain, after war was declared by the Congress at the request of fourth President James Madison in June. Folklore has it incorrectly that he saved the government from bankruptcy, when it approached financial insolvency and possible failure to make payments on its loans' interest or even the principal sums, after the disasters with the later national capital and the Burning of Washington in August 1814. 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 devastating "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 primitive hospital’s health care and record-keeping and becoming personally involved in the nursing of patients and medical care.

With the assistance of noted attorney William J. Duane, (1780-1865), in the 1820s, he wrote a long will and testament, 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 so-called "Ivy League" college or university but to assist children in need. In 1831, the bequest was the largest single act of philanthropy up to that time 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 May 1954, with the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, there was increasing interest in integrating Girard College by race, as the city's public schools had long been. After a long, bitter 14-year civil-rights struggle (including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's speaking at Girard’s front gates in August 1965), the first four black boys entered the School in September 1968. Sixteen years later, the policy of an all-male student body was also changed, and the first girls, both black and white, were admitted in 1984. Current enrollment of the Girard College in the 21st Century is about evenly divided between boys and girls and about 80% African-American.[citation needed]

The Girard Estate remains open in perpetuity. Its endowment and financial resources are held in trust by the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which provides much of the school's operating budget.


The Girard College was founded in 1833, five years before the establishment of the second oldest public high school in America, the Central High School of Philadelphia, which soon became the capstone and flagship of the Philadelphia City Public Schools system and followed the first such secondary school in New England's Massachusetts, of the English High School of Boston in 1821, and six years before the third oldest such institution further south in Baltimore, Maryland, then named "The High School", (later renamed the "Male High School", then the "Central High School of Baltimore" when two female public high schools were established), and later The Baltimore City College, which is its title today, both are enscounced in landmark distinctive structures and are of the modern "magnet school" type, with college prep/academic curriculums, strict admission standards, with noted faculty and famous alumni with respected roles in their cities and states, similar to Girard's historic role in Philadelphia along with later Central High and Girls' High. The buildings and classrooms for Girard took some time to design and construct with their expensive "Greek Revival" stone architecture, but were ready and opened on January 1, 1848, under provisions of Girard's will supervised by the appointed trustees, including banker and financier Nicholas Biddle, (1786-1844).

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 to the hopes of Society 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 then at the forefront of creating innovative American institutions designed to solve a specific social challenge, such as the newly founded and constructed 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 young men of Philadelphia as Americans for the future.

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

However, at the time in 1831, a mother who became a widow had no rights and resources, and "guardians" were often appointed by the "Probate" or "Orphan courts" of the city and state. 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, the descriptive term "orphans" became outmoded and deemed erroneous as a term of modern reference for Girard students, who, up to the time of the 1960s social changes, were fatherless by means of death of their parents.

Not part of the School District of Philadelphia, which had long been racially integrated (as being in a northern, formerly "free state"), the Girard College was still considered "private" even though it had a very public educational mission, so was racially segregated long before the consideration of the "Brown v. Board of Education" legal cases until it was ordered to desegregate by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 unanimous decision. 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 continue to maintain that historically old entrance requirement. The first African-American male student was finally 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 College over a 12-year enrollment 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 young women finally graduated in 1993 with a Girard diploma. Girard's first female valedictorian was Kimberly Green. The graduating Class of 1996 was the first class to graduate with more female students than males, although it remains more or less balanced from year to year.

The College made history in May 2009, when it named Autumn Adkins as its 16th President, the first woman chief administrator in its 160-year existence. Ms. Adkins, who succeeded Dominic Cermele, became not only the first woman but also the first African-American to head the College. She later resigned three years later in 2012.[7]


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, however all students attend "non-denominational" religious services in the school’s chapel, offering a continuing forum for spiritual and moral development.

Entering 2010, student enrollment at Girard is 549; of these, 183 are "Lower School" students (grades 1 to 6) and 366 attend the "Upper School" (grades 9 to 12). Girard employs 127 faculty members; of which 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 have 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 of Girard's graduates are accepted into accredited colleges and universities with approximately 95% continuing to higher-education institutions, a percentage far higher than most public high schools in the School District of Philadelphia, except for institutions like Central High, the Philadelphia High School for Girls or a few others, and many private or religious secondary schools.

Founder's Hall[edit]

Founder's Hall, Girard College
PH(1897) p21 GIRARD COLLEGE.jpg
Founders Hall (1897)
Coordinates 39°58′26″N 75°10′12″W / 39.9740°N 75.1701°W / 39.9740; -75.1701
Built 1848 (1848)
NRHP Reference # 69000158[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 4, 1969
Designated NHL August 4, 1969

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, banker and financier and president of the later revived and reorganized 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 Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  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, published 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