Today, it’s rare to find anyone on campus who uses the plain speech, wears the “Quaker grey,” or expresses their religious faith in any recognizable form of 19th century Quaker orthodoxy. Yet, Quaker testimonies remain central to most facets of the school. Five “normative” testimonies— integrity, simplicity, equality, peace and direct and immediate access to God/Truth—have been incorporated into the school’s curriculum. Guilford College’s seven Core Values, which are Community, Diversity, Equality, Excellence, Integrity, Justice and Stewardship, are clearly based on and consistent with these testimonies.
Over the years, New Garden Boarding School evolved into an institution that served young people of every religious affiliation or those with none at all. By the late 1800s, the school had transitioned fully into a four-year liberal arts college. In 1888, New Garden Boarding School officially became Guilford College under an only slightly revised version of the original 1834 charter, making it the fourth-oldest degree-granting institution in North Carolina.
Guilford’s campus is noted as an historical site where famed abolitionist Levi Coffin, a New Garden Quaker who grew up on the land that would become part of the boarding school a decade later, began his Underground Railroad activities. Escaped slaves came to the woods of New Garden and were aided in their flight to freedom in the North by Quakers in the New Garden community. Guilford is one of very few college campuses listed by the United States Department of the Interior as a National Historic District. The school remained open throughout the Civil War, and, with support from Friends in the North and Great Britain, gained strength during the Reconstruction era.
While it remains the only Quaker-founded college in the southeastern United States, Guilford is independent of formal ownership by any Quaker body. The school, its customs, administration and even its curriculum continue to be profoundly shaped and influenced by Quaker values, principles and testimonies. However, Guilford College looks beyond its North Carolina roots and Quaker heritage to welcome students from all regions and nations, faith traditions and life experiences.