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Gilbert White presidential papers

Identifier: HCB-001-008

Scope and Contents

This is a very small selection of material from White's administration and provides little documentation of White's successful nine and a half years presidency. With the exception of the "Letters" file and a few files transferred from other presidents' papers, the method of acquisition is unknown.

The most complete file is the three binders of texts and notes for White's speeches, from the beginning to the end of his presidency, to Haverford students, alumni, Quaker and other schools, Friends, civic, government, and professional organizations. White spoke about education, particularly Quaker education, the Korean War and other world affairs, military conscription, natural resources, technology and society, and moral and spiritual values (for an interesting glimpse at White's philosophy on nature and faith , see his statement on Edward R. Murrow's broadcast of "This I Believe," 1951/52).

The Correspondence files, 1946 and 1955, consist of letters to White and his responses on his appointment and resignation. While much of it is routine, the 1946 correspondence does reveal some of the expectations held for the future of Haverford, and includes some letters from White's fellow war prisoners. The 1955 file attests to the high esteem held for White and the success of his tenure, as do the letters of appreciation written for the December 1955 Haverford News. The minutes of the monthly meetings of Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, and Haverford College presidents (College Cooperation file) document the efforts to coordinate academic and administrative programs. A few files deal with discussions on curricular changes (Committee on Curriculum & College Planning, Courses—English, Psychology). A small file on War Emergency is indicative of the threat of the Korean War to Haverford, one outcome of which was the creation of the Graduate Curriculum in Social and Technical Assistance for which there is also a file. The series of Letters are items written by prominent men and women in the United States and abroad. Most of the other files are sparse in size and content.

Files that were continued into Hugh Borton's presidency have been noted in the inventory.


  • Creation: 1944-1955
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1946-1955


Conditions Governing Access

Permission for all access must be obtained from the College Archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.


Gilbert Fowler White came to Haverford in 1946 and, at 35 years old, he was the youngest academic president in the country. White had received a PhD in geology from the University of Chicago in 1942 while serving as a researcher and advisor on land and water conservation with the government. White worked with the American Friends Service Committee in child-feeding and refugee relief in France during the war, spending a year interned by the Germans after the defeat of France. On his return to the United States he administered Quaker activities in India and China and consulted with the U. S. Military Government in Central Europe. White was a convinced Quaker, having been first inspired as an undergraduate by a Rufus Jones lecture at Chicago.

White had written that "When I met with the Board of Managers prior to the appointment, I said that I would have not the slightest interest in Haverford unless it could be made into a distinctive instrument of Quaker education." During his presidency the quantity and quality of faculty increased. There were innovations in the curriculum, including requiring a set of "general courses" to provide a "breadth of outlook," the senior seminar to consolidate the previous years' education, and course expansion and revision including Russian studies, French, English Literature, Philosophy of Science, and Biology. The cultivation of alumni helped the endowment to more than double, allowing for increases in salary, scholarship, and library funds. White was lauded for leading all the improvements with "intellectual strength….indomitable integrity…and spiritual insight."

White resigned in 1955 to return to teaching and researching geology, having decided that he and his wife would "be more useful and find more satisfaction in the resources world." In his final annual report, he offered the frequently quoted advice for Haverford's future: "Keep it small; keep it Quaker; cultivate the inquiring mind; find good men with courage and integrity; then back them." White would become the "father of floodplain management" and a leader in the environmental movement. He remained actively involved with the Society of Friends. White died in 2006.


2 Linear Feet (2 boxes)




Gilbert Fowler White's papers are sparse and provide little documentation of what was a very popular presidency. Their transfer to the archives appears to have been totally random, with a portion found as part of a transfer of Provost records. They have been placed in one alphabetical arrangement. There is some information on the efforts for Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore cooperation, the response to the Korean War, and curriculum considerations. Correspondence on White's appointment and his resignation and the letters of appreciation written for the Haverford News give some indications of the College community's expectations for his presidency and his success in meeting those expectations. The texts and notes for his speeches to Haverford audiences, Quaker schools and organizations, government, civic, and professional groups do not provide additional documentation of his administration at Haverford, but do reveal his observations on education, world affairs, natural resources, and moral and spiritual values. Letters of prominent men and women responding to invitations to speak at Haverford provide an occasional interesting glimpse into famous lives. Files that were continued into Hugh Borton's presidency have been noted in the inventory.

Other Finding Aids

See collection HC.MC-816 for Gilbert F. White Papers relating to his World War II service with the American Friends Service Committee.

Custodial History

The "Letters" of prominent figures were transferred by White's secretary during his presidency. Some files were found in the Provosts records and some small files were transferred from other presidential papers. There is no indication of how or why many files came to the Archives.


The Spirit and the Intellect: Haverford College, 1833-1983 (Haverford, PA, 1983)

Haverford News, December 12,

1955 Proceedings of The American Philosophical Society v. 152, no. 3, September 2008,

Processing Information

Files were found in the Provost records after the initial processing was completed. These were integrated into the existing order and are indicated by "File located in Provost Records transfer" in the Repository Processing Note.

Processed by Linda Stanley. Reboxing and additional description completed by Cole Hannah (Class of 2024) in summer 2022.

Gilbert White presidential papers
Linda Stanley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Find It at the Library

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Haverford PA 19041 USA US