History Lesson: The Honor Code’s 120th Anniversary

This year marks the 120th anniversary of Haverford’s Honor Code. And we’ve got the Class of 1900 to thank for it.

The idea for an “Honor System” that would allow examinations to be held “on an honor basis and [that would] have entire control in managing any possible cases of cheating” first came up in the fall of 1896, when the debating society made it a topic for argument. While those opposed to the idea won that debate, the Class of 1900 forged boldly ahead anyway and went to President Isaac Sharpless with a petition requesting the creation of such an Honor System.

On Jan. 7, 1897, Sharpless presented the faculty with the students’ petition, and so began a hallowed tradition … eventually. The petition wasn’t actually codified until a later date, and it applied only to exams. And it wasn’t even a school-wide code back then. Instead, each class created and agreed to its own Honor System each year.

Except when they didn’t. The Class of 1902, for example, refused to approve an Honor System that required students to report peers who were discovered cheating. The faculty, which had to approve each system, would not support a version that omitted the reporting requirement. So that class spent its entire four years with no Honor System, becoming the last Haverford class to take proctored exams.

A school-wide system was adopted in 1925, and in 1944 it expanded beyond exams to cover all academics. The first social aspects came about in the post-World War II era, when behavior standards regarding the use of alcohol and female visitors to the dorms were proposed. Self-scheduled exams—which have become an intrinsic part of the Honor Code—were first proposed in 1961, and became a permanent part of the system a year later. The turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, when the College grew from 450 students to more than 1,000, ushered in other changes as well. The Honor System became officially known as the Honor Code during this era; time limits for women in the dorms were liberalized; and drug use was specifically and extensively addressed in various iterations of the Code. Through it all, the Honor Code has proved itself strong and malleable; the document’s capacity for change and need of reaffirmation each school year makes it a living, breathing part of campus life. So kudos to the Class of 1900 for planting the seedling that grew into the tree at the heart of a Haverford education.

—Rebecca Raber and Eils Lotozo