A History of Access

The Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship are the foundation of our school and how we approach diversity. The work of Diversity and Inclusion is woven through the academics, arts and athletics programs in each school division. Our administration, faculty and staff are committed to making Penn Charter a welcome an inclusive environment for our students and their families. 

1689. Access and equality. William Penn founded this school so that all of the citizens in his new colony could be educated. His unique vision was to create a school of "arts and sciences" and to open the school not only to the wealthy but to students of limited means as well. Penn's school was one of the first to teach students of all religions and races, one of the first to educate girls and to offer financial aid. Those values of access and equality are present today in how we teach and operate our school.

1700. The first public school. William 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 of 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."

1920Accommodating 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. Penn Charter graduated the first modern coed class in 1992.

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 the Reggio-Emilia education, and current best practices in teaching and learning for young children.