I was a
high school student in
In 1941, Dr. Merle M. Odgers was only the school's sixth President since its opening 93 years ago. Odgers was preceded by Joel Jones 1848-1849, William H. Allen 1850-1863 and 1867-1882, Richard Somers Smith 1863-1867, Adam H. Fetterolf 1883-1910, and Cheesman A. Herrick 1910-1936.
In 1941, it was the quality of its staff that made Girard College an outstanding educational institution. Forty four of its members had master degrees, seven had doctorates, several were engineers, and others had degrees in health education, and music. Nearly all the teachers and house parents had at least a bachelor's degree. Additionally, the staff included seven medical doctors, six registered nurses, and five dentists. This impressive list of skills and academic achievement was unmatched in any pre-college school, private or public.
Student enrollment peaked at 1735, in 1939. In 1941, it cost $1.7 million to maintain the College and support its 1658 students. Forty-nine percent of the students were from Philadelphia and ninety-seven percent came from Pennsylvania. The yearly expenditure per student was $1017, including education and board and it was all free to the student.
On December 6th, 1941, the night before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the staff was giving Ernest Cunningham a retirement party. He had graduated from Girard College in 1892 then worked there for the next nearly 50 years. At retirement, he held the important position of Superintendent of Domestic Economy, and he probably knew more about the College than any other living person. This book is intended to supplement his outstanding book, Memories of Girard College, published in 1942. Although several books recorded the school's history, only his portrays the school from its inception.
Girard College has changed since 1941 and this book attempts to record those changes. In 1941, there were 362 candidates for admission, all poor, male, white, and fatherless. Today, nearly none of the students fall into that category. Most of today's students are "functional orphans," a term coined by the courts to describe children from a single-parent home. In 1941, 78 percent of the new students stayed to graduate, whereas today hardly 50 percent stay to graduate. In 1941 the student population was 1658, all boys, all white, and all orphans. Today there are about 600 students, a heterogeneous group of boys and girls of all races. The $1.7 million yearly operating costs for 1941 increased to $12 million in 1992. In 1941 the yearly expenditure per student was $1018. Today it is approximately $22,000.
What caused these dramatic changes? What caused the provisions of Stephen Girard's Will to be set aside? This book is an attempt to accurately document how the College, its campus, student body, faculty, and the school’s value to society have changed. Future historians must understand how changing times, social and economical conditions, and political events altered the Stephen Girard legacy. I compile 50 years of changes and events reported in the Presidents’ yearly reports, annual reports published by the Board of City Trusts, newspaper accounts, Steel & Garnet publications, special files maintained at the Alumni office, and student newspapers. Additionally, I have read many books written about Stephen Girard and his College, reviewed manuscripts and microfilm tapes containing his papers, and conducted discussions with several people associated with the College. I explain the litigations involving Girard’s Will so that future students may understand how history-making legal decisions set aside the dictates of the Will. The Estate's financial growth to permit evaluation of how the protectors of the estate have and are performing.
Today Girard College is a different school from the one I attended, but it is doing what Stephen Girard intended. He wanted to educate the less fortunate and that is exactly what the College is doing today. How well and how long the school continues to do that depends on the skill and integrity of the financial advisors, the dedication and experience of the College staff, and the skillfulness and dedication of the Board that governs--hopefully nonpolitically. Hopefully, a critical public will assure that the Girard legacy will be everlasting.
This is a revised addition of my first book, same title, published in 1997. Since then I have concluded additional research and written over 70 briefs, each a history lesson on Stephen Girard and the College, which were sent to graduates via E-mail. My Briefs and the result of the additional research are incorporated in this book.
I thank the College for letting me volunteer at the Founder’s Hall collection where I have had the priceless opportunity to examine many of Stephen Girard’s original papers and the mass of books and information that have been fortunately collected and saved by Alumni, former staff and people fascinated with Stephen Girard, the College and his Estate. It is a history that deserves recognition and preservation and towards that end this book was written.