Biographical / Historical
Frank Aydelotte was born on October 16, 1880, in Sullivan, Indiana, the oldest of three children. His family was not Quaker, and he was the first president of Swarthmore College who did not belong to the Society of Friends, although he attended Quaker meeting at Swarthmore Monthly Meeting and was in accord with its principles. He received his B.A. degree from the University of Indiana in 1900 and three years later received an M.A. from Harvard. He taught high school in Kentucky and then was named a Rhodes Scholar in 1905 and studied at Oxford University. In 1907 he married Marie Jeanette Osgood. Upon his return to the United States, he taught at his undergraduate alma mater from 1908 to 1915, taking one year off to research at Oxford. From Indiana he went on to teach English Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught until he became President of Swarthmore College in 1921. Aydelotte remained very active in the Rhodes Scholar Program because the time he spent in Oxford was so influential to him. He was the secretary of the Alumni Association, editor of the magazine, and in 1917 appointed American secretary of the Rhodes Trust and was responsible for the administration of Rhodes Scholarships in the United States until 1953. One of his goals as an educator was to find an institution in the United States where he could implement the intense type of education he had received in England. This place was Swarthmore College, and the accelerated education took the form of the Honors Program, initiated during only the second year of his presidency.
While Swarthmore College had made academic gains during the administration of Joseph Swain, it was under Aydelotte that it became committed to excellence. Aydelotte is best remembered for the drastic changes he made in the school, not only in his revision of the curriculum but changes in student life as well. His first year was spent planning Honors courses, the structure of which would be seminar style, similar to what he himself had experienced at Oxford. An alternative to the pass degree, the Honors Program included examinations at the end of the senior year conducted by external examiners distinguished in the appropriate fields. In the fall of 1922, 22 juniors enrolled in the two year Honors Program in English Literature or Social Sciences. The number of students enrolled in the Honors Program continued to grow to about 40 percent and stayed there until the late sixties and early seventies, with the exception of the World War II years. Though the Honors Program was a great success, it was costly to run. However, Aydelotte had a wonderful ability for raising money, and during the years of his presidency he raised the endowment from three to eight million dollars and increased the yearly income from $470,000 to $925,000.
In other efforts to place the school into the realm of other prestigious colleges and universities, Aydelotte changed the student body and life on campus as well. The success of the Honors Program was largely due to the fact that he began raising the intellectual level of the college as a whole. He appointed teachers who were experts in their particular fields and improved the student/teacher ratio. Wanting to downplay the highly social aspects of campus life, he began to de-emphasize the role of football on campus, abolished hazing in fraternities, reduced the number of fraternity dances, and organized the independent male students. During his presidency, sororities were abolished. He raised the academic standard for admission by making acceptance much more competitive. Enrollment increased as he reached out to qualified students across the country and managed to gain applicants from a number of different states and ethnic groups.
In October 1939, Aydelotte resigned from the presidency Swarthmore College to become the second director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he served until his retirement in 1947. He had been a trustee at the Institute since its founding in 1930. Leaving Swarthmore College, he had succeeded in raising the intellectual level, established the Honors Program, and increased the College's endowment. Upon resigning from the presidency of the College and no longer concerned that joining the Society of Friends would give an appearance of partiality, he joined Swarthmore Monthly Meeting on Oct. 17, 1939. In 1945, he became a member of the Swarthmore College Board of Managers and also participated in the Joint Anglo-American Commission on Palestine. Frank Aydelotte died in Princeton, New Jersey, on December 17th, 1956, after several years of failing health.