Biographical / Historical
Born September 24, 1825, Edward Hicks Magill became the second president of Swarthmore College in 1871 after the school had been in session for little more than a year. A birthright Quaker, he was the son of Jonathan Paxson and Mary (Watson) Magill. In 1852, he was married under the care of Makefield Monthly Meeting (Pa.) to Sarah Warner Beans. The Magills had six children: Helen, Eudora, Beatrice, Gertrude, Francis, and Marian. Helen Magill was a member of the first graduating class of Swarthmore College, the first female awarded a Ph.D. in the United States, and became the wife of Andrew D. White, President of Cornell University. Edward Magill was educated at Brown and Yale Universities. Swarthmore College opened in the fall of 1869, and Magill became principal of the new preparatory department as well as professor of Latin and French at the College.
Magill was regarded as being academically well prepared to assume the presidency of the College. However, his appointment had much to do with the fact that he also believed in strict discipline and the principles of a guarded education. The first president, Edward Parrish, resigned in February 1871, largely in disagreement with the Board of Managers over the primary mission of the College. Magill was named President of the College, but the Board of Managers assumed the majority of the executive powers. Magill favored electives and wanted to make Swarthmore more than a sectarian college, but rather than confront the Board, he implemented his 100 Rules, strict rules of social conduct, as a means to answer the Board's concerns.
While the College's social rules were strict during Magill's term of office, Swarthmore also made significant academic progress. Swarthmore's first class graduated in 1873, consisting of five women and one man; by 1881 students began publishing the school newspaper, The Phoenix. In 1881, a fire swept through Parrish Hall, the College building, gutting the interior. Plans for rebuilding began as quickly as two weeks later. Classes were held in temporary facilities in nearby Media until Parrish reopened in 1882. The library increased its volumes, and a science and engineering building, meeting house, and the observatory were added to the campus. As part of his job description, Magill also served as postmaster of the Swarthmore Post Office.
Though the College began predominantly as a preparatory school, Magill worked hard to change that. By 1890 the College was twice as large as the preparatory department, and two years later the latter was abolished completely. Near the end of his tenure as president, the majority of Magill's rules were liberalized to attract more students. By the time he retired as president in 1889, Swarthmore was fully established as a college, and its reputation was growing. Magill retired from the presidency in 1889, but continued to teach French at the College until 1900. Edward H. Magill married a second time in 1902, to Sarah E. Gardner, and he died December 10, 1907.