Biographical / Historical
The Quaker Study Center today known as Pendle Hill evolved out of an earlier organization devoted to Quaker study and education. The Woolman School, also known as “The Friends' School for Social and Religious Education,” opened in January 1915 under the care of the General Conference Committee for the Advancement of Friends' Principles of the Seven Yearly Meetings (Hicksite). The seven yearly meetings of Hicksite Friends of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Genesee, and Ohio, had been affiliated in 1900 as a representative body, Friends General Conference.
Henry W. Wilbur (1851-1914), General Secretary of the Friends General Conference, was an important force behind the creation of the School, but died before his plans were realized. Its purpose was “To fit Friends and others for more efficient service in the field of religious activity, especially with the Society; to train workers to labor more efficiently in their won meetings; and to prepare for social service.” The name Woolman School was chosen in honor of John Woolman (1720-1772), an important traveling minister who represented pre-Separation Quakerism to the School's founders. In 1917, the management of Woolman School was reorganized as a joint enterprise of Hicksite and Orthodox Friends, governed by a Board of Managers. It was incorporated in 1918 as “The Woolman School” and drew many of its faculty from Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges and the University of Pennsylvania, although it had no official connection with those institutions.
The first location of the School was on a three acre plot located in Swarthmore adjacent to the Swarthmore College campus and above Crum Creek. The lot and large stone house on the property, named John Woolman House by the Advancement Committee, were purchased by William and Emma Bancroft and leased to the Committee in 1914. Their plan was to give the property to Swarthmore College when the Woolman School found a permanent home. Students were welcome to use the libraries and facilities at Swarthmore College, as well as to attend worship at Swarthmore Monthly Meeting.
In 1925, Mary W. Lippincott donated to the School a large property in Wyncote, Montgomery County, with the understanding the property could be sold and the proceeds to benefit the Woolman School. Beginning the fall of 1925, the Woolman School moved to the Wyncote campus. Separate accounts were kept for the two facilities in 1925-1926. By 1927, there was a sense that the Woolman School could no longer survive in its present form. A series of conferences studied the possibilities, and Joseph E. Platt was appointed to explore the possibilities. Although the Board had expected the Wyncote property to be permanent home for the Woolman School, financial pressures and its inconvenience to public transportation and library facilities led to the sale of the property in 1928. With dwindling student registrations and financial pressures, the Woolman School no longer conducted a regular program of classes. However, the Board continued to meet, and Joseph E. Platt (1886-1980) and his wife, Edith Stratton Platt (1888-1986), were hired to explore alternative plans for the mission of the School.
In 1928, it was decided to completely restructure the Woolman School to serve as a graduate school and Quaker study center, inspired by the model of Woodbrooke in England, a Quaker social and religious study center. In November 1928, Henry T. Hodgkin (1877-1933), an English Friend, accepted the call to be director of the proposed “New School”. In 1930, in keeping with the new mission, the name of the school was officially changed to Pendle Hill, “a Quaker graduate center for religious and social study.” It was named after Pendle Hill in England, where George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, experienced a vision, with the hope that it would home to a “new vision” in American Quakerism. Rather than a “school,” which duplicated the mission of already successful Quaker schools and colleges, the new organization was intended to serve as a Quaker study center and retreat. In February 1930, the board of the Woolman School met for the last time and appointed a new board of managers, with some overlapping, for the venture now known as Pendle Hill. In May 1930, after considering a number of potential locations, the proceeds from the Wyncote was used to purchase a property in Wallingford, PA, a short distance from the Swarthmore Campus.
While legally the evolution from Woolman School to Pendle Hill involved only a name change and the assets of Woolman School were used to finance the new project, there was a change of mission and intent between the two schools. The Woolman School Associates, an alumni group of students, was disbanded in 1932 since they felt little sense of continuity to the new Pendle Hill group. Because Pendle Hill limited itself to graduate work and there was no place for many of the students who had been earlier participants, the Pendle Hill Summer Session was established in 1931, open to all without the academic requirements of the regular sessions.
Under the brief leadership of Henry Hodgkin, the school was organized as a non-degree granting program. Hodgkin began to suffer from declining health in 1932 and returned to England where he died unexpectedly in March 1933. In his absence, John Hughes served as acting director. Howard Brinton, on leave of absence from Mills College, was acting director in 1934-1935, and he was followed by Richard Gregg, who served as acting director in 1935-1936. Continuity through the transition and first decade of Pendle Hill was provided by Joseph E. Platt who served as dean of Pendle Hill until 1943. In 1936, Howard H. Brinton (1884-1973) and his wife, Anna Cox Brinton (1887-1969), became co-directors of Pendle Hill, a position they held until 1952. Dan Wilson was named acting director in 1952 and subsequently named director. D. Robert Yarnall served as chairman of the Board of Directors from the inception of Pendle Hill until 1953. He was succeeded by Douglas V. Steere in 1954.