Westtown is believed to be the oldest, continuously operating coeducational boarding school in the country.
Westtown School first welcomed students in May 1799. Members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) established the all-boarding school so that their children might have a “guarded education,” one based on useful learning in a setting that promoted mindfulness of God’s continuous presence. Our campus is still comprised of the original 600 acres purchased in 1794 when travel to the new school in Chester County was a full day’s ride from Philadelphia.
Students in the early years – boys and girls – had plenty of training in practical subjects: reading, penmanship, bookkeeping, geography, and a strong exposure to mathematics and the natural sciences. Girls were also instructed in sewing, while boys learned surveying. The expansive grounds offered an ideal setting for experiential learning for students engaged in gardening and botany walks, plus recreation in the form of swimming, ice skating and sledding. In the 1830s, Greek and Latin classes were added and the school year was divided into 2 sessions ending with examinations. The first Westtown diploma was awarded in 1862.
Quaker outreach brought international students to campus beginning in the early 1900s. Non-Quakers were admitted for the first time in 1933, and the student body became more culturally, racially and economically diverse in years following. Younger students have always been part of Westtown, first as boarders, then as day students. Lower School was given a permanent home on its present site in 1936. Middle School, then consisting of grades 7 and 8, was given its own space in Industrial Hall in 1960. Those facilities were expanded in 1983 when grade 6 was moved from Lower to Middle School.
Visual and performing arts classes added a new dimension to the curriculum in the 1920s. Students were organized into work jobs in the 1940s to help maintain the school during the labor shortage of the war years, the roots of today’s Work Program. Service Network was established in 1978 to engage students in the community beyond Westtown. New buildings began to dot the campus, including the Meeting House in 1929, and structures devoted to physical education, science and the arts.