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The Enigmatic Mr. William Penn
30.08.2021 J. WILLIAM FROST
William Penn William Penn

My contacts with the Friends Historical Library go back till Christmas vacation 1965 when as a graduate student who had finished prelims I came to Swarthmore to check out whether there was enough material to do a dissertation on the Quaker family in early America. Fred Tolles was director, Dorothy Harris assistant director, and the library was housed in the Biddle wing of the main library (the part that thanks to fire proofing survived the student fire and became a sort of pub, only to be destroyed for a new dorm). I continued to use the library at intervals for the next 8 years, staying frequently at Pendle Hill while writing a dissertation, turning it into a book, and teaching history at Vassar. 

In the fall of 1973 it became my privilege to become Director of this collection of books, manuscripts, and records – whose strengths I came to appreciate ever more over the years – which by then was housed in the new wing of McCabe Library. I soon learned that the library functioned best when I allowed the staff to do their work in consultation with each other. They were knowledgeable, efficient, and friendly – both to researchers and each other. So I want to begin by paying tribute to those who for the last 40 years maintained and improved the excellence of the FHL – first those who served as Curator: Jane Rittenhouse, Bert Fowler, Mary Ellen Chijioke, and Chris and, what seems now to be an amazingly long-serving staff – there were only 11 changes in all those years (5 by retirement and 3 are still there): Nancy Speers, Eleanor Mayer, Ray Turburg, Kaz Oye, Jane Thorson, Claire Shetter.  Pat Neeley, Pat O’Donnell, Susanna Morikawa, and Charlotte Blandford. 

The Honorary Curators helped too, by persuading those with rare books and manuscripts to donate them and keeping the college administration cognizant of the importance of both the library and the college’s Quaker traditions. Then special tribute also should go to the Jenkins family and the Grundy Foundation for grants that paid only one half of my salary and books when I came and now – thanks to the stock market – make the library financially self-sufficient.  So Happy 135th Birthday, FHL.
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