Frank Aydelotte's use of Swarthmore College as a vehicle to achieve a national educational reform agenda

Ruth Shoemaker, University of Pennsylvania


At a time in American history when football ruled the American campus and Greek organizations dominated student life, Frank Aydelotte, through his determination to specialize exclusively in Honors, accomplished a feat virtually unknown in American higher education. That is, he succeeded in shaping one regional, Quaker school---Swarthmore College---into an intellectually-charged, academically-focused institution able to command national respectability, prestige, and financial support and commit itself to intellectual life at a time when higher education in the United States met with pressures against change in that direction. While oxymoronic in the early 20th century to suggest that a college would define itself by a commitment to the life of the mind, Aydelotte did just that, indelibly shaping the culture of Swarthmore in a manner so deep-seated as to persist to the present day. The ways in which Swarthmore changed as a college under Aydelotte's leadership shed light on how change occurs and persists in higher education and how change on a single campus can bring about wide-spread educational reform that affects a nation. As a Rhodes Scholar, Aydelotte had a transformative educational experience at Oxford that he deeply believed shaped who he was and how he engaged with the learning process. Aydelotte returned from England fully committed to affording to high achieving college students the educational experiences from which he had benefited at Oxford. Idealism and a deep reformer's drive to spread the Oxford gospel in America led to his focus on pedagogy when he returned to the US. However, Aydelotte tempered his idealism with concrete and highly strategic steps toward his long-term goal: introducing to American higher education Oxford-like methods aimed at empowering intellectually-oriented students to excel far beyond the barriers present in American education that resulted from high achievers being held back by the "pace of the average." Aydelotte saw that Swarthmore offered the ability to specialize in one core competency---Honors---and significantly alter to his liking everything extraneous in order to transform the College and, in time, hold it up to other American institutions as an example of the power of this type of rigorous curriculum.

Subject Area

Higher education|Education history|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Shoemaker, Ruth, "Frank Aydelotte's use of Swarthmore College as a vehicle to achieve a national educational reform agenda" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3211145.