Student Life in the 1830s

Detail from an 1833 map of campus showing Samuel Hilles and early students

Detail from centennial map of campus, illustrating Superintendent Samuel Hilles and early students

Infractions recorded in the Haverford register

Disobedience Disorder
Rudeness Profanity
Prevarication Cutting his desk
Whistling Eating in school
Being out of bounds Being noisy in chamber
Singing Theatricals
Drinking wine Novel reading
Having a copy of Shakespeare Smoking
Indecent behavior Firing a gun
Swimming Throwing in school
Being in another boy’s room after bedtime Setting fire to grass on lawn
Cooking frogs

The first students at Haverford were boys from Quaker families between the ages of 13 and 18. Their daily schedules may have been regimented and their extracurricular activities may have been under the constant watchful eye of Superintendent Samuel Hilles, but they still found opportunities to cultivate active social lives and to express themselves creatively. An extraordinary document titled Annals of Haverford College provides ample evidence of student fun and leisure. Authored in the spare moments of 1834-1835 by three self-appointed school historians, these accounts mention swimming, sledding, ice skating, nature walks, “common plays of ball,” an abortive attempt at founding a student debating society, and an elaborately planned New Year’s Day party. The accomplished, even elegant, prose style of these three students reveals their anonymous writers to have responded well both to the subjects they studied as well as the methods of their teachers.

This is not to say that early students complied with each restriction obediently. Lapses in discipline were common enough that they merited mention in the “register,” or gradebook. The activities at right are recorded in the gradebook as justifications for deducting points for bad conduct.