Biographical / Historical
Atlantic City Friends Meeting traces its origins to 1856 soon after the establishment of Atlantic City as a resort town. The first Quaker meetings for worship were gatherings at the summer cottage of the Whitall family. Several other summer residences and a public school served as the meeting house for the fledgling meeting. In 1872 a permanent meeting house was built.
Haddonfield Quarterly Meeting had been unwilling to authorize a meeting house, so several prominent local Friends, including John M. Whitall, Eliza P. Gurney, Elisha Roberts, George M. Elkinton, Charles L. Willets and Charles Rhoads, raised the necessary funds to acquire the property on South Carolina and Pacific Avenues. These Friends formed the Trustees for Friends Meeting House and Lots, a body charged with overseeing the finances and property holdings of the Atlantic City meeting. New trustees were selected by the existing members for a lifetime position. In 1874, Atlantic City Meeting became a indulged meeting for worship under the care of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting (Orthodox).
As the meeting's membership expanded, various additions and modifications were made to the meeting house. In 1882 a heating system was added to the building because Atlantic City had grown from a summer resort to a permanent residence for an extensive community of Friends. In 1900, the Atlantic City Friends School was started for members' children, and a second floor was added to the meeting house. In 1926 a larger Colonial Revival building designed by Walter Price was built on the lot, incorporating the old meeting house. Trustees associated with this expansion include J. Henry Bartlett, Walter J. Buzby, Charles Evans, and Henry W. Leeds. The meeting reached the height of its success in the 1950s and early 1960s under the next generation of trustees, including F. Fisher White, J. Howard Buzby, and Paul M. Cope. It became a monthly meeting in 1956, and a number of Friends from nearby meetings, both Orthodox and Hicksite, joined the Atlantic City Monthly Meeting, increasing membership to over 60 regular members. A high school adjacent to the main school grounds, which peaked at roughly 225 students, was also founded in this period.
Despite this period of success, the Atlantic City Meeting and, in particular, the Friends School were stricken by a financial crisis beginning in the late 1960s. Interest in the meeting began to decline among the younger generation of Friends, leading to declining enrollment in the school and in donations to the Meeting. The downturn was linked to the declining fortunes of Atlantic City, as the city entered into a prolonged period of economic recession and urban decay, leading to an exodus of the prosperous Quaker community that had utilized the school. Legal battles with the city government over the mortgage status of school property were also a significant drain on the school's financial resources. Litigation over the deed trust, collapse of the real estate market, and huge mortgage brought the School to the edge of ruin in 1982, but it was rescued by a loan from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
In 1986, the Board of Managers of the school decided to move the school from Atlantic City to a new facility in Egg Harbor township. This plan was abandoned as too ambitious, and the School was forced to move to rented facilities first in Northfield and then in Brigantine. The Atlantic City land sale in 1985 and lack of permanent location were the final blows to the School. A last minute effort to save it and move it to English Creek Road development in Egg Harbor Township failed when enrollment for the 1988-1989 academic year was insufficient to operate. Atlantic Friends School was laid down by the Board of Directors on the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee in August 1988. Student records were forwarded to Moorestown Friends School.
Francis Fisher White (1908-1989) was a Quaker businessman; his family owned the Marlborough and Blenheim Hotels in Atlantic City, N.J. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1929, served as president of the Atlantic City Convention Board and chairman of Guarantee Trust Company, and was active on the Atlantic City School Committee. His daughter, Rosalind, married Robert G. Williams. Robert Williams served on the Board of Managers of Atlantic City Friends School and on the ad hoc Executive Committee which tried to save the School in 1988.