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.

  • 1790
  • 1799
  • 1805
  • 1840
  • 1869
  • 1886
  • 1888
  • 1899
  • 1906
  • 1912

    Owen Biddle published A Plan for School to encourage members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to establish a boarding school for Quaker children modeled on Ackworth School, founded by the London Yearly Meeting in 1779.

    The first students arrived in May 1799 – 20 boys and 20 girls, with more admitted monthly until there were about 200 in all. The school “family” lived and learned in this building designed by Philadelphia architect (and Quaker) David Evans, built with bricks made from clay on the farm. This watercolor, attributed to Abiah …

    Student Jeremiah Reynolds drew this mariner’s compass and wrote “Plain Sailing” principles on these pages in his exercise book that included his work in algebra and bookkeeping. The school’s curriculum, emphasizing useful skills and knowledge, also challenged him to create a technically correct navigator’s log for a voyage from England to the Island of Madeira, …

    This 1840 painting by English painter John R. Smith reveals the fully enlarged Westtown schoolhouse as well as extensive beds, cold frames and arbor in the Boys’ Garden, in front of the building. Boys, girls and teachers could work in their gardens during leisure time, or take walks on paths near the school. Mr. Smith …

    A new building was completed in 1869 to add classroom space for boys. First called “The New Building” and later, “Industrial Hall,” it has provided a gymnasium, a wood shop, chemistry and physics labs, a science museum, and even a boys’ dormitory when the original schoolhouse was taken down. This building achieved fame in 1885 …

    The first gathering of graduates was held in 1886, after the founding of the Westtown Alumni Association, open only to graduates of the school. The Westtown Old Scholars Association – for any former student – was organized in 1896. The two groups merged into one in 1919, known as it is today, the Westtown Alumni …

    Two unidentified men inspect the work on the roof above Boys’ End of the new main building under construction. After more than 80 years of heavy use, expansion and repair of the original schoolhouse, Westtown’s governing committee determined that a new building with modern conveniences like electricity and steam heat, would cost less than updating …

    On the 23rd of June, 1899, the 34 members of the Class of 1899—the largest class yet to graduate from the school—celebrated commencement in a ceremony similar to our graduations today, by hearing selected classmates reading original essays and by receiving their diplomas from the head of school. Westtown had awarded its first diploma in …

    The girls’ field hockey team played its first home game (ever!) against another school on December 8, 1906. They hosted Moorestown Friends on a field just outside girls’ end of the main building, and beat them 5-1.
  • LAKE

    After classes on a cool and cloudy Friday, October the 25th , 1912, close to 100 Westtown alumni, committee members, teachers and students gathered on the water in canoes and on the wharf of the new Lake House to celebrate the official opening of the new Westtown Lake. The three men most responsible for the …