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Swarthmore College: Background information when reading A Mind Unraveled

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A Mind Unraveled

A Memoir

by Kurt Eichenwald

A Mind Unraveled by Kurt Eichenwald X
A Mind Unraveled by Kurt Eichenwald
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2018, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2019, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Swarthmore College

This article relates to A Mind Unraveled

Print Review

Much of Kurt Eichenwald's memoir, A Mind Unraveled, takes place while he attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

ObservatorySwarthmore is the product of a meeting of the Joint Committee of Friends (aka Quakers) in 1861. The liberal Hicksite branch of the Society of Friends pushed for the establishment of a co-ed school "under the care of Friends, at which an education may be obtained equal to that of the best institutions of learning in our country." The Joint Committee agreed to set aside $150,000 to purchase land, specifying that the school's site should be rural so that students could have a "healthful country living as well as intellectual and moral training."

300 acres of woodland was purchased west of Philadelphia for the purpose, and the future college was called Swarthmore, named for Swarthmoor Hall, a 17th-century manor near Ulverston, England that was the center of the early Quaker movement. According to the school's web site, the difference in spelling was intentional. "By the 19th century," it states, "the commonly established form was Swarthmoor – 'black moor.' But it seemed logical to plain-speaking American Friends that a word rhyming with 'more' should be spelled m-o-r-e, regardless of etymology."

To pay for the building, the school was sold to 6,000 stockholders, each of whom paid $25 per share. Edward Parrish was elected as the college's first president in 1865, and upon receiving the honor he set about raising additional funds, traveling for months on horseback to reach those who might contribute. The cornerstone of Swarthmore's first building, College Hall, was laid in 1866; when completed three years later it contained a library, a geological museum, classrooms, chemistry lab, parlors, a dining room, kitchen, and student rooms.

Swarthmore opened its doors to its first class on November 10, 1869. The school's original purpose was to act as both a prep school as well as a college, and of the 199 students admitted only 25 were first-year college students – 15 of whom were women. Tuition was $350/year for tuition, room, board, and student fees - about $6500 today.

The school gradually phased out its preparatory program, completely abolishing it by 1892. It also became increasingly secular, officially calling itself a nonsectarian college by 1906. It has continued to try to stick close to its Quaker roots, however; the school maintains the core tenets of "academic excellence, thoughtful stewardship of natural resources and educating for the common good," and its Mission Statement is to "…[H]elp its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern."

Today, the campus has grown substantially; along with the original building (rebuilt in 1883 after being gutted by a fire and now named after the school's first president), it has 18 residence halls and seven libraries, as well as multiple administration buildings, classrooms, and other spaces. The grounds have been maintained as an arboretum, with Garden Design magazine calling it "the most beautiful campus in America."

Parrish HallThe student body has grown as well, with an enrollment of 1,641 (2017-2018), comprised of 809 men and 832 women, 95% of whom live on campus. The student/faculty ratio is 8:1, with 187 full-time tenure and tenure-track faculty teaching. It hosts 22 varsity sports teams and over 100 clubs and organizations.

Swarthmore has lived up to its founders' intent to provide education "equal to the best institutions of learning in our country;" it's consistently ranked in the top three best liberal arts colleges in America by US News & World Report. It is also one of the most selective; only 9.45% of applicants were selected for admission in 2018. Although tuition is expensive ($68,062/year for 2018-2019), Swarthmore is liberal with financial aid. No student is turned away because of an inability to pay, and 56% of students receive financial aid with the average award being $50,361.

All quotes from Swarthmore College's history web page.

This "beyond the book article" relates to A Mind Unraveled. It originally ran in January 2019 and has been updated for the October 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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