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Edward H. Magill Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG6-D02

Scope and Contents

The collection contains President Magill's official and personal correspondence, genealogical material on the Magill family, writings, lecture notes, and speeches. The bulk of the correspondence falls within the period 1880-1890. The correspondence includes photocopies of 26 letters from President Magill to his son-in-law, Andrew D. White, President of Cornell University, concerning family, academic, and Quaker affairs. Also included are Swarthmore Post Office records. Magill was interested in shorthand ("phonography"), and some of his annotations and notes are in shorthand.

Organized into nine series:

  1. Genealogical materials
  2. Correspondence
  3. Swarthmore College papers
  4. Reference material
  5. Post Office records
  6. Published articles and speeches
  7. Writings and speeches
  8. Lecture notes
  9. Financial papers


  • Creation: 1867-1907


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research with the understanding that certain confidential materials may be redacted. Please contact the repository for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has not been assigned to Friends Historical Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.

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.


17 linear ft. (34 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection contains the official and personal correspondences, genealogical material on the Magill family, and related manuscripts of Edward Hicks Magill, second president of Swarthmore College (1871-1889).

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Related Materials

Edward Hicks Magill. ALS to Matilda Rushmore, 1907-11-4. MSS 004/1907-11-4.

Edward Hicks Magill. Diaries, 1903 1904. MSS 003/093.

Separated Materials

  1. 1 photograph dated April 2, 1883 of Schofield School was removed to PA 100/S3/S3. Pictured in the photo are the students lined up in front of the old (1870) and next to the new (built 1882) schoolhouses in Aiken, South Carolina.
  1. 1 photograph of Sarah Warner Magill. Placed in the General Photo. file- Portraits, Magill.
  1. 1 folder labeled Correspondence 1891 containing letters addressed to President Magill's successors, Appleton and DeGarmo; moved to the papers of those two presidents, series D03 and D04.
  2. 1 folder labeled Correspondence 1892 concerning potential college students; removed to the DeGarmo series D04.
  3. 1 folder labeled Correspondence 1912-1913; removed to the Joseph Swain series D06.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed circa 1962 at which time materials were sorted, foldered, and a detailed inventory created. In 1998/99, as part of the reorganization of the Swarthmore College Archives, the collection was reprocessed by a library intern. Items were placed in acid-free folders and the original order maintained. Three folders of correspondence and one photograph were transferred to other collections. A new finding aid was produced, with biographical information amended in 2001. In 2006, additional manuscript items were added to the collection. In 2007, the finding aid was revised for further clarification. In 2013, box 14 was removed and its contents divided between half-full boxes 13 and 15 for better space management.

Finding Aid for Edward H. Magill Papers, 1867-1907
Finding Aid Prepared by FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

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Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA