President Jane Fernandes shared this message with faculty and staff as well as the wider community on Aug. 1, 2017, the 180th birthday of Guilford College.
On Aug. 1, 1837, New Garden Boarding School opened its doors to fifty young Quakers, marking a significant milestone in the history of American education. The school enrolled 25 girls and 25 boys taught by two women and two men, and in that respect, the founders embraced equality as an institutional core value from the beginning.
At the close of that very first day, students and teachers came together to listen to one of the school’s benevolent champions, 79-year-old Nathan Hunt. Nathan, with a tenderness of heart and overwhelmed with joy declared: “This day as I have looked upon you, my dear children, I have been affected to tears. I could not restrain my tears from rolling down my aged cheeks.”
A few decades later, even in the throes of the Civil War, the boarding school remained open thanks to the determination of Friends such as Francis T. King, a Baltimore Quaker, and philanthropist who became one of the institution’s leading advocates and champion for the creation of a college program. In 1888, the school, after reconstruction of the South, became Guilford College.
As we begin the new academic year, we will celebrate our heritage and at the same time chart our future as a liberal arts college of distinction doing a few things splendidly. 1837 witnessed the formation of our beloved institution; 2017 marks a transformation for the present-day College. We are taking bold, visible and immediate steps like our founders to ensure the vitality and longevity of Guilford College for future generations.
We will have a birthday party and cake as well as a series of other activities and events throughout the year to celebrate our 180th-year milestone. A committee of faculty and staff working with Vice President Ara Serjoie and Meredeth Summers in the Office of Advancement will confirm and organize these activities. Details will be available soon.
Dorothy Gilbert, who taught English at Guilford and established the Friends Historical Collection, reflected on the lasting value of our founders’ efforts in her book, Guilford: A Quaker College. She stated, “They planned with such beauty and precision of thought that their concept of education still has the shining validity it had in the days they shaped it.”
Friends all over the nation worked together in the 19th century to establish a school to provide an excellent education rooted in Quaker values. They invested all of their time, talent and treasure in the future. How great their joy must have been! They planted the seeds for a transformative Guilford College education for diverse and talented 21st students of today.
Their commitment to excellence and equality has stood the test of time. Guilford is not perfect, but we are in the struggle to teach, learn and live by these values to which we remain committed. As we embark to ensure Guilford College’s vitality and bright future, may we take pride and confidence that ours is a worthy cause -- a reason to celebrate!
Jane K. Fernandes