Guilford Celebrates 175 Years
Anniversary year offers opportunity to reflect on College’s solid foundation based on Quaker principles
On August 1,1837, Guilford College opened as the New Garden Boarding School, an institution established to serve the children of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) living in and around Guilford County, N.C. New Garden Boarding School provided a “guarded” education, one in which children of Friends could be formed in an environment shaped by Quaker testimonies. The first students at the school used the “thee’s” and “thou’s” of Quaker plain speech, dressed plainly, worshiped in the silence of the Quaker meetinghouse and were schooled in the simple truths of the Bible and the Quaker community.
As Quaker society changed, the school grew into a less separated and more open institution, evolving into a liberal arts college rooted in Quaker values. Today, it’s rare to find anyone on campus who uses the plain speech or wears the “Quaker grey.” Yet, Quaker testimonies remain central to most facets of the College. Five “normative” testimonies— integrity, simplicity, equality, peace and direct and immediate access to God/Truth—have been incorporated into the curriculum. The College’s seven core values, which are community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice and stewardship, are clearly based on and consistent with these testimonies.
Guilford’s campus is noted as an historical site where famed abolitionist Levi Coffin, a Quaker, began his Underground Railroad activities prior to the Civil War. Escaped slaves came to the woods of New Garden and were aided in their flight to freedom in the North by Quakers in the community. Guilford is one of very few college campuses listed by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic District. The College remained open throughout the Civil War, and, with support from Friends in the North and Great Britain, gained strength during the Reconstruction era.
In 1888, New Garden Boarding School officially became Guilford College under an only slightly revised version of the original 1834 charter. It is the third-oldest coeducational college in the country and the fourth-oldest degree-granting institution in North Carolina. The College was named after the county where it is located. The name Guilford harkens back to an English town frequented by George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends.
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 looks beyond its North Carolina roots and Quaker heritage to welcome students from all regions and nations, faith traditions and life experiences.
Now if I were asked to phrase the ideal and the service which are represented by
Guilford College, I would do it in a somewhat alliterative but altogether accurate
analysis, and I should frame it somewhat after this fashion: ‘Here is a sound, a sane,
and a substantial school, free of frivolity, constructed on character, and filled
N.C. Governor J.C.B. Ehringhaus – 1934