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William Wistar Comfort papers

Identifier: HC.MC-1195

Scope and Contents

Papers include such biographical information as provided in William Wistar Comfort’s autobiography, a small amount of correspondence, as with his father, Howard Comfort, Comfort’s writings on French topics, Friends’ stories for children, on William Cowper and primarily on Quaker topics, including on William Penn, Anthony Benezet and Stephen Grellet. Comfort spoke publicly on many occasions, specifically at schools and colleges as well as in France during his stay there in 1937.


  • Creation: 1867-1941


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17).

Biographical / Historical

William Wistar Comfort (1874-1955), son of Howard and Susan Foulke Wistar Comfort, was born in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pa. and raised a Quaker, attending Meeting as a youth at the Meeting at Coulter and Greene Streets in Germantown . He graduated from Haverford College in 1894 and received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1902. His thesis was titled: “The Development of the Character Types in the French Chansons de Geste.” In 1902, he married Mary Lawton Fales. He returned to Haverford to teach from 1897-1898, also 1902-1909, took many trips abroad, and taught Romance Languages at Cornell University, 1909-1917. In 1917 he returned to Haverford to serve as its president until 1940, thus spanning the two World Wars. He often lectured on Quaker topics at the college.

Comfort was an elder, later minister in the Society of Friends. He was Clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting from 1934-1953, president of Friends Historical Association from 1941-53, and a member of the Board at Lingnan University, China. In 1937, he traveled to France at the request of the American Friends Service Committee to lecture on Quaker topics.

William Wistar Comfort was the author of a number of books primarily on Quaker topics, written both in French and English, including William Penn and our Liberties, Quakers in the Modern World, Arthurian Romances, French Romantic Plays, Just Among Friends: the Quaker Way of Life, Stephen Grellet, 1773-1855, and The Quest of the Holy Grail. But his interests ranged into other fields, and, for example, he wrote extensively on the poet William Cowper, as well as Quaker stories for children.

(Information from the Dictionary of Quaker Biography, Comfort Families of America… / by Cecelia C. and Roland B. Botting. Brookings, SD 1971. BX 7721 C73 B75 and internal evidence)


1.5 linear ft. (3 boxes)

Language of Materials




Papers of William Wistar Comfort (1876-1955), president of Haverford College in a particularly sensitive time between two world wars and scholar of French literature. Comfort was a prolific writer and speaker on Quaker topics, but also on such diverse subjects as William Cowper, children's stories, education and music.


Gifts of Howard Comfort, Tom Edwards, Whitfield Bell. Accession #: 2984, 3447, 3495, 3530, 3534, 3603, 3677

Related Materials

Papers of William Wistar Comfort may also be found in the Haverford College archives (HCB-001-005) representing his administration as president of Haverford, 1917-1940 and HCS-001-015 for lecture notes and papers from his time teaching at Haverford

William Wistar Comfort papers,1867-1941
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Revision Statements

  • October 2022: Reboxed and finding aid updated

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 Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections Library

370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford PA 19041 USA US