Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is the newest member of Universities Studying Slavery (USS), the consortium of nearly ninety schools in six countries that have embarked on scholarly and educational projects interrogating their founders and their pasts. The geographic breadth of the schools doing this work represents a sober reminder of the global extent of modern slavery as well as racism developed and articulated by enslavers who for centuries drove the Atlantic economy built upon human bondage.
Franklin & Marshall College became interested in the consortium after launching their Legacy of Slavery at F&M study group. That group was created by Franklin & Marshall College President Barbara Altmann and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Gretchel Hathaway. The study group’s purpose has been to look at the legacy of the school’s namesakes: Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall, both enslavers. During research this year, they have found some interesting historical turning points for Franklin as an enslaver, and are weighing Marshall’s contribution to the establishment of the Supreme Court against his record as an active participant in his state’s slave economy. As the study group digs further into the research, they see membership and participation in the consortium as benefiting their work (we concur!).
Franklin College is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the United States. It was founded in 1787 with a generous financial contribution from Benjamin Franklin. When classes began, they were offered in both English and German, making it the first bilingual college in the country. It was also the first co-educational institution in the United States, with 36 women enrolling in that first class in 1787 (co-education was soon abandoned and was not revived there until 1962). In 1853 it merged with Marshall College, which had been founded in 1836 and moved to Lancaster for the merger, thus forming Franklin & Marshall College. 15th President of the United States James Buchanan was the new school’s first President of the Board of Trustees.
Currently, Franklin & Marshall College is a residential college dedicated to excellence in undergraduate liberal education. It sits on the lands that were home to the Susquehannock, Lenape, Nanticoke, Piscataway, Seneca, and Haudenosaunee Confederacy. As Franklin & Marshall College’s mission states: “The College seeks to foster in its students qualities of intellect, creativity and character, that they may live fulfilling lives and contribute meaningfully to their occupations, their communities and their world.” With this goal in mind, F & M seeks to educate its campus and its community about college and local history especially during the era in which slavery existed. Their committee comprises faculty, librarians, staff, and students who are interested in acknowledging and identifying the institution’s historical legacies.
As always, we are thrilled to have Franklin & Marshall College join the consortium, learn from the expansive and diverse membership, and share their findings and ideas with everyone. We look forward to that conversation and collaboration!