A History of Access

When you walk through Penn Charter's red doors, there's a reason our formal-looking school suddenly feels down to earth. Penn Charter was founded not for some people, but for all people. That is as true today as it was in 1689. Penn Charter was one of the first schools open to children of all religions and races, to educate girls and to offer financial aid. 

Today, families from more than 100 zip codes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are at home here. Penn Charter works hard to make sure that talented students from diverse cultures, faiths and means have access to Penn Charter.

We encourage families looking for a superb education for their children to walk through our doors. They are open to all.

1689 William Penn's Charter - William Penn Charter School is the oldest Quaker school in the world, established in 1689 by William Penn. The school that William Penn founded was different from schools elsewhere. Penn wanted his school to offer a new kind of education that would prepare young people to be teachers, merchants, builders and farmers, as well as political and professional leaders. Penn knew that Pennsylvania needed leaders of high moral character, so his school was to include classical languages and literature, not to make preachers of its students but to help them visualize and create an ideal society.



1689 The Treaty Elm -
In front of the school stands a direct descendent of the great elm tree under which William Penn is said to have signed a treaty of friendship with the Lenni Lenape. Just like that tree, we are deeply rooted in time-honored human values of mutual respect, equality and community that are not open for compromise. This is who we are. As one of our teachers has said, "That's what I like about coming to school every day. I know that there are some things here that will always be open for improving, but there are some things here that will never change."
1700 The First "Public" School - Wiliam Penn's unique concept was to create a school of "arts and sciences" open not only to the wealthy but also to students of limited means. The fifth oldest school in the country, Penn Charter was among the first to offer: education to different religions (1689), financial aid (1701), education for girls (1754) and education for all races (1770). Betsy Ross, African-American abolitionist and businessman James Forten, and Roberts Vaux, the man who led the movement for a public school law in Pennsylvania, were all students of the original Penn Charter.
1874 Boys from All Backgrounds - In 1874 a group of schools operating under the original Penn Charter consolidated as a private all-boys college preparatory school, but the original school's public
school roots had a lasting impact. Throughout the next century, boys of all faiths and economic backgrounds continued to come together at Penn Charter. Need-based financial aid often made this possible. One alumnus from the class of 1961, an academic star and student leader, speaks for many alumni of his generation when he says: "Without the imagination and gumption" [of a Penn Charter donor] and "the moral and financial help I got to attend the school, I would not have gone on to attend Harvard, and I wouldn't have had the career and the life I've had."
Delaware Valley Map



1920 Accommodating Expansion -
Penn Charter was originally a downtown urban school. The search for a campus that could accommodate the academic and athletic needs of an ever-growing student body from a broader and broader radius stretching west and north of Philadelphia and even into New Jersey took more than 50 years. The school's location on School House Lane was worth the wait. We have a green, wide-open campus that is still in the city. That's appealing to a lot of different kinds of families who come here from all over and feel comfortable.

1980 Girls Excel in a New Era - Girls enrolled in kindergarten and first grade throughout the 20th century, but Penn Charter became fully coed again in 1980. The mother of two alumnae says coming to a previously all-boys school may have given her girls an advantage: "My daughters graduated in 2004. It may sound odd, but I think for them it was an excellent education partly because it had previously been all boys. As an all-boys school there already existed the expectation that every student had access to every opportunity - athletics, music, academics, leadership. I think that freed my daughters to challenge themselves, raise the bar and do it all - be softball players, be excellent students, and be involved in the arts. That expectation already existed for boys. It comes from this school, and it shifted to both genders when the school went coed."
2008 Access for the Youngest - There are many definitions of access. In the fall of 2008, Penn Charter opened its doors to the youngest of students. It's not every day that we get to add a new grade and two dozen students. The program for four-year olds builds on Penn Charter's tradition of Quaker education as well as best practices in teaching and learning for young children. The philosophy: Children learn best when they feel safe, loved and respected. Project-based learning engages the passions and interests of our school's youngest students.



Penn Charter

A Friends School for Girls and Boys, Pre-K to 12

3000 West School House Lane Philadelphia, PA 19144 215.844.3460
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