Exploring the Stories Not Told

A new People’s History tour of the College, given by Rebecca Fisher ‘18, explores not only the physical campus, but also Haverford’s myths and history.

On one of the last cold days of April, a group of students, faculty, and staff circled underneath the Penn Treaty Elm on Barclay Beach. This was the first stop on a new People’s History of Haverford College tour. 

The tour was started this spring by Associate Professor of Peace, Justice, and Human Rights Jill Stauffer and Rebecca Fisher ’18, co-founder of inclusive historical walking tour company Beyond the Bell, to share stories about Haverford, its history, and its land that are not often told. 

At the Penn Treaty Elm, Fisher told Pennsylvania’s origin story and its relationship to the tree’s history.

She explained that when William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania, legend has it that he met with the Lenni Lenape, who had lived on the land for generations. Penn and Chief Tamanend of the Turtle Clan signed a treaty which ushered in a time of relative peace between the settlers and the Indigenous people who preceded them. However, when William Penn died, his son, Thomas, did not honor the treaty. He seized the Lenape land in 1737 and pushed the Lenape out of the Delaware Valley. 

However, Thomas still commissioned a painting of the initial meeting between his father and Chief Tamanend, featuring a large American Elm as a witness to the event. This painting was widely reproduced and the “Penn Treaty Elm,” as it came to be called, became a popular monument in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. This site is known as Shackamaxon in the Lenape language. Haverford’s Penn Treaty Elm is one of many genetic copies. 

The Penn Treaty Elm is just one of the tour’s 11 stops. Each one focuses on a different topic from the College’s history, from a story of a KKK cross-burning that happened near campus in July 1924 to the students of color boycotts in 1972 and 1977

Rebecca shows a group of people a picture of the students of color boyctt
Fisher shared pictures from the students of color boycott near the spot where they were taken in the 1970s.

Stauffer came up with the idea for the tour after a conversation with Indigenous scholar Beth Piatote and Tailinh Agoyo of We Are The Seeds, a local nonprofit that amplifies the voices of Indigenous people, about Haverford’s placement on Lenni-Lenape land. She hoped it would allow students, staff, and faculty to look at Haverford from a new perspective. 

Fisher, one of Stauffer’s former students, used her experience of creating Philadelphia walking tours to design, and then start giving, the People’s History tours this spring. 

“Every story has its place on campus and changed my perspective of the school and the land we occupy,” said Fisher. “I hope people leave with more questions than answers. If they research more about a person or a story, I will feel like the tour has done its job. If people walk around campus and have more context for not only the institution, but the Lenni-Lenape land that we live, work and exist on, then I will feel like the tour has accomplished its task.”

A few of the tour’s stops focused on Haverford’s history of exclusion.

“I’d never heard about Haverford’s Jewish quota before, nor about the part that Quakers took in Indian Boarding Schools and Indigenous assimilation strategies,” said Nicole Haas-Loomis ’21, who took the tour on April 17. “It makes me think more about how Quaker values and white supremacy are not mutually exclusive.”

Fisher explained the Jewish quota at the Carvill  Arch, outside Lutnick Library. As she explained, a 1931 letter to Julian W. Mack, a prominent Jewish judge, from an unknown writer at Haverford confirmed that, at the time, no more than three students in each class could be Jewish. This was to ensure these students assimilated and Haverford retained an identity as a Quaker institution. 

“Haverford into the 1930’s visualized itself as a white, Protestant space and would protect that integrity through institutional practices,” said Fisher. “This situates the College in relation to white supremacy as a backdrop to all historical and contemporary exclusionary practices of the College.”

The tour also stops at Haverford’s Edward B. Coklin Gate, which was designed by Julian Abele, the first Black man to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with an architecture degree, and the Ira de Reid House, where Fisher talks about the Haverford Discussions and its Haverford professor namesake. Fisher also shares information about the advocacy work of Theodore Briton Hetzel ’28 in the Kinzua Dam controversy, Quakers’ involvement in Indian boarding schools, and the Conestoga Massacre of the local Indigenous community in 1763.

Fisher shows a letter in front of the cricket house.
At the tour stop in front of the Cricket House, Fisher talks about Haverford’s first Black student, Osmond Pitter ’26, a cricket player.

One of Sarah Abraham’s ’23 biggest takeaways was that despite the importance of this history, there is a lot we do not know. 

“There was a lot of very specific, and fascinating, history that has not been well documented in regards to the College,” said Abraham. “I know there’s a lot of archival work happening now, and it just made it obvious how important that is because of the holes we have in the stories we are trying to put together of the past.”

To gather this sometimes hard to find history, Fisher talked to as many people as possible. 

“I very much consider the tour to be a product of crowd-sourced information”, she said. “I talked to professors, librarians Liz Jones-Minsinger and Sarah Horowitz, and a few students. I found enough content for many versions of this tour, but I tried to really look at this past year and ask myself what the most urgent stories were.”

Fisher will return in the fall to lead some more tours and train current students interested in leading tours in the future. She and Stauffer are also looking for ways to integrate the tour into campus life through Customs, new faculty orientation, or by creating a self-guided experience that anyone could take. 

“We’re looking into making it available in film format or as modules that can be accessed via smartphones at different points on campus as a self-guided tour that could be supplemented by students, faculty, and staff over time,” said Stauffer.

Photos by Patrick Montero.