History

1711 Charter

Time-Honored Education

The William Penn Charter School has been in continuous operation for over 300 years since its founding in 1689 and proudly traces its origin and name to William Penn. Although it has changed names, locations and curriculum during that time (the original name was the Public Grammar School), Penn Charter's Quaker roots have remained constant.

Penn's Vision

William Penn knew that Pennsylvania needed leaders of high moral character, and his vision for a school was to not to make preachers of its students, but to help them visualize and create an ideal society. He wrote to Philadelphians in 1689 urging them to organize a school on the banks of the Delaware.

 

 


A Revolutionary School For the New World

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. When the school opened in 1689 on the south side of High Street, now Market Street, the progressive curriculum taught science in addition to Latin, Greek and Hebrew.


The First "Public" School

William Penn's unique concept was to create a school that would educate not only to the wealthy but also students of limited means. Because public charity was a basic rule of Quaker life, William Penn specified that poor children in Pennsylvania were to be educated for free. As early as 1697 the Overseers established a fund so that the children of the poor could attend. Penn Charter has long history of access and 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.


United as the William Penn Charter School

Under the guidance of the Gurneyite Friends, a group of schools operating under the original Penn Charter consolidated as a private all-boys college preparatory school in 1874, 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. 


A Move to the Country

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 relocation to School House Lane in 1920 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.


Excellence in a New Era

Penn Charter became fully coed again in 1980 and expanded to include a pre-kindergarten program in 2008. Now a diverse and exciting community of boys and girls, the tradition of Quaker education, as well as best practices in teaching and learning, continue at Penn Charter today.


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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