Just blocks from the site on Mifflin Street where Franklin & Marshall College held its first classes more than two centuries ago, members of the F&M community gathered Nov. 15 in downtown Lancaster for a celebration of the College's 225th anniversary -- and an engaging and surprising history lesson.
"I had no idea F&M was the first coeducational college in the country," F&M alumna Maria Elliott '87 said after the event.
"I learned so much history about F&M and Lancaster," said current F&M student Alexandra Kranidis '13. "I didn't know F&M was the first bilingual college in the U.S."
Elliott and Kranidis joined more than 200 alumni, students, members of the faculty and professional staff, trustees and friends of the College at the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum to celebrate F&M's milestone anniversary. Hosted by F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield and the Central Pennsylvania Regional Chapter of the F&M Alumni Association, the event highlighted the College's deep and longstanding relationship with the Lancaster community, from the late 18th century to the present. The evening was one of the signature events in the College's yearlong celebration of 225 years of academic excellence, scholarship and service.
Thomas Ryan, president and CEO of LancasterHistory.org and a visiting scholar in F&M's Department of American Studies, placed the relationship between the College and Lancaster into historical context during a speech in the museum's main space -- an early-1900s banking room with a 64-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling. Ryan traced the College's history in Lancaster from its beginnings in a brew house on Mifflin Street in 1787 to its status as a nationally recognized liberal arts college in 2012.
"For 225 years, Franklin & Marshall has been making a difference in the lives of young men and women from Lancaster and now around the world," Ryan said. "F&M's symbiotic history of contributing to Lancaster, and drawing from its vitality and richness, is probably the part of its past that endears it most to those of us who call Lancaster home. Lancastrians, whether alums of F&M or not, are proud of Franklin & Marshall College."
Ryan took the crowd back to F&M's roots, noting that Franklin College began educating students on Mifflin Street in both English and German, making F&M the first bilingual college in the country. He also said the College's first class included 78 men and 36 women, making it the first coeducational institution in the country. Coeducation was soon abandoned, and not revived until 1969 -- well after Franklin College merged with Marshall College in 1853.
Ryan also highlighted the many ways in which F&M currently engages with the Lancaster community, from the James Street Improvement District to the Keith and Dorothy Spalding Conservancy to music and theater performances on campus. He also highlighted several initiatives in which F&M students provide a public service to Lancaster, including civic engagement programs such as F&M Works in Lancaster and Putting it Together in the Community, which are administered through the College's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.
"The College has worked with many of our community partners to create attractive, safe neighborhoods where students, faculty and staff now live," Ryan said. "The result has been a stable and mutually beneficial relationship as the city brings its vitality to campus and the College directs its gifts and talents toward enhancing the quality of life in Lancaster."
The celebration was especially meaningful for Deborah Murray Martin '72, F&M's director of special events and assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees, who spearheaded the planning of the event. Martin was among the first female graduates of F&M in 1972 and has strong family ties to the College.
"As an alumna of F&M and legacy student, it was fun to plan the event and learn about so many fascinating aspects of the College's history," Martin said.
F&M alumna Marjorie Kwah '91, a resident of Lancaster, enjoyed reconnecting with alumni and her former professors at the event. She particularly liked the historical theme of the evening; as a student, Kwah conducted research on the history of F&M for a College publication.
"Learning about the history of F&M as a student was the beginning of my love for the College," Kwah said.
Current F&M student Andre Douglas '15, a native of Delaware, said the celebration was a wonderful opportunity to learn about Lancaster. "I work at John J. Jeffries (a local restaurant) and the YMCA, so Lancaster feels like my home now," Douglas said. "I've been able to see how the College is intertwined with the city."
The work of F&M students provided a backdrop for the celebration at the museum, which is home to a quilt exhibition titled "The GRID: Amish Quilts, Esprit Clothing and Postmodern Design." Six F&M students, led by Associate Professor of Art History Amelia Rauser, researched, designed and curated the exhibit, which opened in 2011. The exhibit featurs the Esprit collection of Amish quilts and represents the influence of traditional Amish craft on Esprit design. (Esprit is a global manufacturer of apparel, accessories and other items.)
The complete schedule of events for F&M's 225th anniversary celebration is available online.