Girard College
School typeIndependent, boarding
Opened1848; 176 years ago (1848)
Enrollment2016-2017: 311
Elementary School (1-5): 122
Middle School (6-8): 89
High School (9-12): 100
Average class sizeElementary-Middle School: 12-15
High School: 15-18
Athletics conferencePenn-Jersey Athletic Association
Team nameCavaliers
Girard College Complex
Girard College is located in Philadelphia
Girard College
Girard College is located in Pennsylvania
Girard College
Girard College is located in the United States
Girard College
LocationBounded by Poplar St., Girard, W. College, S. College, and Ridge Aves., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Area43 acres (17 ha)
Built1833 (1833)
Architectural styleColonial Revival, Greek Revival, Collegiate Gothic
NRHP reference No.74001802[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 29, 1974
Designated PHMC1992[2]

Girard College is an independent college preparatory five-day boarding school located on a 43-acre campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The school was founded and permanently endowed from the shipping and banking fortune of Stephen Girard upon his death in 1831.

Stephen Girard's legacy

Born in the seaport city of Bordeaux, France, in 1750, Stephen Girard arrived in the city of Philadelphia, in May 1776, during the momentous summer of the American Revolutionary War and remained there for the rest of his life. During his 55 years in the city, he became the wealthiest American of his time and the fourth wealthiest American of all time, adjusted for today's dollars.[3]

With the assistance of noted attorney William J. Duane (1780-1865), in the 1820s, he wrote a long will and testament, outlining every detail of how his fortune would be used. Immediately after he died in 1831, the provisions of his will were made public. In addition to extensive personal and institutional bequests, he left the bulk of his fortune to the city of Philadelphia to build and operate a residential school. The bequest was the largest single act of philanthropy up to that time in American history.

The Girard Estate remains open in perpetuity. Its endowment and financial resources are held in trust by the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which provides much of the school's operating budget.


Girard College was founded in 1833, three years before the establishment of the Central High School of Philadelphia. Both schools, along with Girls' High, acted as a type of "magnet school" type, with college prep/academic curricula, strict admission standards, with noted faculty and famous alumni with respected roles.

The buildings and classrooms for Girard took some time to design and construct with their expensive "Greek Revival" stone architecture, with monolithic columns, but were ready and opened on January 1, 1848, under provisions of Girard's will supervised by the appointed trustees, including banker and financier Nicholas Biddle, (1786-1844).

Girard's vision for the school can best be understood in the context of early 19th Century Philadelphia. The city was then at the forefront of creating innovative American institutions designed to solve a specific social challenge, such as the newly founded and constructed Eastern State Penitentiary (humane incarceration), the Pennsylvania Hospital (mental illness), the Pennsylvania Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (disabilities), and the Franklin Institute (scientific knowledge). Girard chose to dedicate his immense fortune to helping educate young men of Philadelphia as Americans for the future.

Girard's will stipulated that students at Girard College must be "poor, white, male, orphans". For over a century, the school remained exclusive to orphaned white boys.[4] However, in 1831, a mother who became a widow had no rights and resources, and "guardians" were often appointed by the "Probate" or "Orphan courts" of the city and state. Girard operated as a school for fatherless boys rather than children with no living parents or guardians. (The College in the 19th Century determined the legal definition of the term "orphan" was "a fatherless child".)[5]

From May 1954, with the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, there was increasing pressure on Girard College to accept racial integration, as the city's public schools had long been. After an extended, bitter, 14-year civil-rights struggle led by Cecil B. Moore – including Martin Luther King Jr.'s August 1965 address to a crowd outside Girard's front gates ("[Philadelphia,] the cradle of liberty, that has ... a kind of Berlin Wall to keep the colored children of God out")[6] – the first four black boys entered the school in September 1968.

Not part of the School District of Philadelphia, which had long been racially integrated (as being in a northern, formerly "free state"), Girard College was still considered "private" even though it had a very public educational mission and was racially segregated long before the consideration of the "Brown v. Board of Education" legal case. Girard College was ordered to desegregate by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 unanimous decision. Perhaps the key to the ruling was that Girard, following its founder's will, was administered by the "Board of Directors of City Trusts", and that public institution could not continue to maintain the historically outdated entrance requirement.

For fourteen years, the legal battle to desegregate Girard College continued. Beginning on May 1, Cecil B. Moore and the Philadelphia Freedom Fighters marched around the wall encompassing the campus for seven months in 1965. The initial pickets were met with strong resistance, directed by police chief Frank Rizzo. On the first day, 1,000 police officers lined the walls of the College.[7] The police used repressive tactics toward the protests including motorcycle and foot charges into the crowds and arrests, beginning on May 5.[8] Stanley Branche and seven other members of the Black Coalition Movement were arrested when they attempted to scale the walls.[9] A highlight of these protests came on August 2 of that year when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the front gates of Girard's campus and addressed the protesters.

The first four African-American male students were finally admitted on September 11, 1968.[10]

Sixteen years later, the policy of an all-male student body was also changed, and the first girls were admitted in 1984. The first female student was admitted as a first grader in 1984, following more adjustments to the admission criteria so that the death of a father was no longer required. Girls were gradually integrated into the College over a 12-year enrollment period, with subsequent new female students only permitted to enroll in the same graduating class as the first female student or a younger class. The first young women graduated with a Girard diploma in 1993. Girard's first female valedictorian was Kimberly Green. The graduating Class of 1996 was the first class to graduate with more female students than males, although it remains more or less balanced yearly. Current enrollment of Girard College in the 21st century is about evenly divided between boys and girls and about 90% African-American.[citation needed]

In May 2009 Girard College named Autumn Adkins as its 16th president, the first female chief administrator in its (then) 160-year existence. Adkins, now Autumn Adkins Graves, was not only the first woman but also the first African-American to head the College. Adkins resigned in 2012.[11]

Following Adkins, Clarence D. Armbrister was the first African-American man to serve in this role.[12] He was succeeded in 2018 by David P. Hardy.[13]


Girard College enrolls academically capable students, grades one through twelve, and awards a full scholarship to every child admitted. The scholarship covers most of the costs of attending Girard, including tuition, room and board, books, and school uniforms. The scholarship may be renewed yearly until the student's high school graduation. Applicants must be at least six years old (by the first day of first grade), demonstrate good social skills and the potential for scholastic achievement, and come from a single-parent, low-income (determined by HUD guidelines) family. Girard accepts students based on previous school records, admissions testing, visits, and interviews. The process is conducted without preference for race, gender, religion, or national origin.

All students live in single-sex dormitories arranged by grade level. Residential advisors occupy apartments in the dorm buildings. Girard requires that all students participate in the five-day program for the full benefit of its academic and residential curricula. All students go home on weekends. Girard is open to students of all religious backgrounds. Once a month at the beginning of the school day, however, all students attend a non-denominational assembly in the school's Chapel, offering a continuing forum for spiritual and moral development. The Chapel has a large pipe organ, designed and built by Ernest M. Skinner in 1933.[14] The acclaimed instrument is used for occasional concerts and has been recorded by such organists as Virgil Fox and Carlo Curley, who was director of music at Girard College in 1970 when he was 18 years old.[15]

Entering 2016, enrollment at Girard was projected to be 311; of these, 122 were Elementary School students (grades 1 to 5), 89 were Middle Schoolers, and 100 attended High School (grades 9 to 12). Girard employs 127 faculty members, of which 71 are academic teachers and 56 are residential advisers. Class sizes range between 12 and 20 students in the elementary school and 16-22 students in the middle school. In the high school, honors classes have 15 students, and regular classes - 20 to 25 students.

Girard's performance-based curriculum is in accordance with national standards. All grade levels and subject areas have specific benchmarks and content standards that measure successful student outcomes and achievements. Girard is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. It also holds membership in the National Association of Independent Schools, the Association of Boarding Schools, and the Coalition for Residential Education.

Virtually all of Girard's graduates are accepted into accredited colleges and universities, with approximately 95% continuing to higher-education institutions, a percentage far higher than most public high schools in the School District of Philadelphia.

Founder's Hall

Founder's Hall, Girard College
Founders Hall (1897)
Coordinates39°58′26″N 75°10′12″W / 39.9740°N 75.1701°W / 39.9740; -75.1701
Built1848 (1848)
NRHP reference No.69000158[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 4, 1969
Designated NHLAugust 4, 1969

Founder's Hall at Girard College (1833–1847)[16] is considered one of the finest examples of American Greek Revival architecture, for which it is designated a National Historic Landmark.[17] School founder Girard specified in his will the dimensions and plan of the building. Nicholas Biddle (1786–1844) was chairman of the School's building committee, banker and financier, and president of the later revived and reorganized Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.

Girard's will demanded an architectural competition for the school's design. Endowed with his $2-million contribution, the 1832 competition was the first American architectural competition to participate nationally.[18] The winning architect was Thomas Ustick Walter (1804–1887). After the Girard commission, Walter designed the dome of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. He returned to Philadelphia and became an assistant architect on the City Hall and, in 1857, a founding member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Founder's Hall was the school's original classroom building. It has three main floors, each measuring 14,000 square feet (1,300 m2). The plan for each floor, according to Stephen Girard's specifications, consists of a 100-by-20-foot (30.5 m × 6.1 m) front hall, four 50 ft. square rooms with 25 ft. ceilings arranged two-by-two, and a back hall the same size as the front hall. The scale of the spaces was impressively large when the building first opened.

Resulting from his association with architect Walter, Nicholas Biddle hired him in 1834 to convert the Biddle country seat, Andalusia, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, from a large Pennsylvania farmhouse into an exemplary domestic Greek-Revival structure.

Notable alumni

Graduates (or, in some cases, former students) of Girard College include:

Notable faculty

See also


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "Girard College Civil Rights Landmark - PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Archived from the original on December 7, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  3. ^ "The richest Americans | 4 | FORTUNE". Retrieved April 17, 2024.
  4. ^ DiFilippo, Thomas J. "The Will, No Longer Sacred". Stephen Girard, The Man, His College and Estate. Joe Ross. Retrieved May 3, 2009.
  5. ^ Romano, Louis A. (1980). Manual and industrial education at Girard College, 1831-1965. Arno Press. pp. 138–139. ISBN 0-405-13450-9. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  6. ^ "The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Visit to Philadelphia (KYW-TV video, and archives' transcript)" (1965-08-03). Urban Archives Film and Video | Civil Rights in a Northern City | Desegregation of Girard College. Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Temple University. Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  7. ^ Murray, George (May 2, 1965). "1000 Police Bar 'Invasion' of Girard College". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 33.
  8. ^ Thomas, Charles (May 5, 1965). "Girl Hurt, 6 Held at Girard". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 1.
  9. ^ McLarnon, John M. (2002). ""Old Scratchhead" Reconsidered: George Raymond & Civil Rights in Chester, Pennsylvania". Pennsylvania History. 69 (3): 328. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  10. ^ "School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories: Girard College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania". NARA. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  11. ^ "Graves to step down as Girard College president". Archived from the original on November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  12. ^ "Clarence Armbrister to Step Down in June From Presidency of Johnson C. Smith University". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. January 16, 2023. Retrieved March 30, 2024.
  13. ^ "People". Girard College. Retrieved March 30, 2024.
  14. ^ "Skinner organ". Girard College. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  15. ^ "Carlo Curley Obituary". The Daily Telegraph. August 17, 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2021.(subscription required)
  16. ^ "Girard College". Philadelphia on Stone. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  17. ^ Miller, Arthur P Jr.; Miller, Marjorie L. (2003). Guide to the homes of famous Pennsylvanians: Houses, museums, and landmarks. Stackpole Books. p. 59. ISBN 0-8117-2628-2. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
  18. ^ Bruce Laverty, Michael J. Lewis, and Michelle Taillon Taylor, Monument to Philanthropy: The Design and Building of Girard College, 1832-1848 (Philadelphia: Girard College, 1998)
  19. ^ "Al Bright, John White receive Heritage Award at Faculty/Staff Banquet | YSU News Center".
  20. ^ "Pulitzer Prize awarded to Globe film critic Wesley Morris". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2012.

39°58′26″N 75°10′21″W / 39.9738°N 75.1725°W / 39.9738; -75.1725