The Place of Penn: Learning at the College and Academy
“Unless your education is seen conspicuous in your lives, alas! what will be its significancy to you, or to us?” — William Smith to first graduating class, 1757
illiam Smith’s organizational “view” of the College, Academy, and Charity Schools, which he first published in his American Magazine in 1758 and reprinted subsequently, suggests the rapid growth of the institution during the 1750s, as well as its complexity. Within the Fourth Street grounds, elite College students in their teens and twenties studied in proximity to Academy students from ages eight to eighteen, and to poorer Charity School boys and girls. A manuscript plan of the school which may date from the 1790s shows the “campus” shortly before the University moved to new quarters at 9th Street. On it, the “New Building” (1740) is flanked by a second building (1765), which housed a residence hall as well as the Charity Schools.
If the founding of the institution owes much to Franklin, the direction of the school itself was largely the work of Smith (Provost, 1755-1779) and Francis Alison (Vice-Provost, 1755-1779), a Scottish-trained Presbyterian minister. While favoring a classical curriculum, they also introduced new ideas from Scottish Enlightenment thinkers which emphasized “moral philosophy,” the laws of human behavior and conduct. The Scots adopted a fundamentally optimistic view of human reason and “moral sense” to choose good over evil and benevolent acts over selfish ones. Other courses of lectures focused on metaphysics—the investigation of the soul, the existence of God, and morality—and natural philosophy, the study of the physical universe and the laws governing it. In 1757, the College presented its first degrees and diplomas; the diploma shown here was awarded to William Bingham, later a U.S. Senator, in 1768.
The emphasis on science at the College made it receptive to a school of medicine, and with the opening of the Medical Department under the direction of John Morgan in 1765, administrators began referring to their institution, informally, as a university. Morgan, educated at Samuel Finley’s Presbyterian academy in Nottingham, Pennsylvania, became Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physick, with William Shippen, Jr., who had also studied with Finley, as Professor of Anatomy. Benjamin Rush, yet another student of Finley’s and subsequently a medical student at Edinburgh, joined as Professor of Chemistry in 1769. Shown here are the “tickets” of student Jonathan Easton, admitting him to medical lectures.
tudents learned not only by listening to lectures but also by copying out lecture notes and summaries of important authors. Evidence for these practices survives in numerous copybooks, like those of early graduate Jasper Yeates, and study charts, like Samuel Jones’s 1761 summary of moral philosophy. College Secretary William Shippen’s order sheet for 1764-65 suggests the impressive quantity of quills, paper, and ink which students and teachers consumed.