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The University of Pennsylvania

Posted on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

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The University of Pennsylvania - America’s Oldest University

The History

The history of the University of Pennsylvania (also known as Penn) dates back to 1740. In that year, a charity school was founded in Philadelphia and work began on the construction of a schoolhouse on 4th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia. However, the school ran out of funding and the building sat unfinished until it was purchased in 1749 by a new charity school named The Academy of Philadelphia. The Academy was founded in part by Benjamin Franklin who became the school’s first President.  
 
Benjamin Franklin, In Front of College Hall, University of Pennsylvania
 
While other early American schools modeled their education on European schools that focused on educating clergymen, Franklin sought to create a new school model that would focus on a practical education.  Rather than teaching students in Greek and Latin, Franklin’s school would educate students in English and follow a curriculum that taught students useful subjects such as natural history, geology, geography and modern languages.  Franklin hoped his new school would educate the future leaders of business and government in Philadelphia. Franklin’s school began classes in 1751 and by 1755, Ben Franklin and the schools’ board of trustees had secured a charter for the school to operate as college, now named The College of Philadelphia.
 
In 1765, The College of Philadelphia established the first medical school in the American Colonies.  With the creation of this medical school, Franklin’s school became America's first university, thus giving that distinction to Penn today.  The organization of the university, its name, and its faculty would endure changes throughout the chaotic period of the American Revolutionary War, but the university survived the Revolutionary War, and it was officially renamed the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) in 1791.  
 
At the turn of the 19th Century, the University of Pennsylvania would move from its first home on 4th and Arch Streets to a new home at 9th and Market Streets. The new campus centered around a building that had been constructed as the intended residence of President George Washington while Philadelphia served as the Capital of the United States.  The University of Pennsylvania continued to grow, adding a law school (Penn Law) and new campus buildings.  Running out of room in Center City, in 1870 the University of Pennsylvania purchased the Almshouse farm in West Philadelphia to serve as their new campus.  The first classes in its West Philadelphia campus were held in College Hall in 1872, and the campus has remained there ever since. That area has also become known as University City given that it is home to several schools including Penn and Drexel University.
 
College Hall - The University of Pennsylvania
 

The World's First Business School

In 1881, Joseph Wharton who was an American entrepreneur and industrialist, established the world’s first collegiate school of business at the University of Pennsylvania - the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Annenberg School of Communication

In 1958, Walter Annenberg who was a publisher, diplomat, and philanthropist founded the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania with these words:

“Every human advancement or reversal can be understood through communication. The right to free communication carries with it responsibility to respect the dignity of others – and this must be recognized as irreversible. Educating students to effectively communicate this message and to be of service to all people is the enduring mission of this school.”

What to See

The University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia has grown considerably since 1872.  College Hall still stands at Penn's epicenter, but whereas in 1872 it was the University’s only building, it is now one of many.  The University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League School, and its campus aptly fits the description of what comes to mind when thinking of an Ivy League School. Other Ivy League schools include Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
 
Old stone buildings designed by renowned architects such as Frank Furness mark the center of the campus, connected by brick paths, stately squares and large old trees.  Penn’s beautiful campus is a joy to walk around and simply take in the scenery.  Aside from the beauty of the architecture, the University of Pennsylvania also has a wealth of public art and a number of interesting green spaces in which to enjoy a nice day.
 
Fisher Fine Arts Library designed by Frank Furness
 

Penn Athletics - Go Penn!  Go Quakers!

The University of Pennsylvania is also home to two of the most storied and historic sports venues in collegiate athletics. Franklin Field was originally constructed in 1895 for the University’s track and field competitions as well as for the University’s football team; the current stadium structure dates back to 1922. Named after Penn's founder Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Field is the oldest football stadium still in operation, and it home to the Penn Quakers. Over the course of its storied history, Franklin Field has seen thousands of athletic competitions. Franklin Field was the home of numerous Football National Championships that the University of Pennsylvania claimed in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century when the Penn Quakers led Collegiate Football in attendance and performance.  The stadium was also home to many Army – Navy games, a historic rivalry game between the Army’s academy at West Point, New York and the Navy’s in Annapolis, Maryland.  The Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL also played at Franklin Field from 1958 until 1970, including in 1960 when the Eagles won the National Championship (pre-Super Bowl). Franklin Field is also home to the Penn Relays every year, which is the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States. Franklin Field has also hosted U2 on its Pop-Mart tour in June 1997
 
The University of Pennsylvania is also home to the Palestra, a basketball arena which dates back to 1927. Often called the “cathedral of college basketball” or “the birthplace of college basketball,” the Palestra has hosted more NCAA men’s basketball games than any other U.S. arena.  Aside from hosting the Penn Quakers, the Palestra has also been home to many “Big 5” basketball games between the historic Philadelphian collegiate basketball programs at the University of Pennsylvania, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.  The Palestra has also frequently been the arena where local High Schools have competed for the city’s championship.  Known for its intimate nature that packs fans close to the court, the arena is considered a must see for all basketball fans.
 

Insider Tips

While plenty of tourists to Philadelphia will visit the University of Pennsylvania’s campus to take in its beauty, see a sporting event, or visit the wonderful Penn Museum, there are of course many who visit the University of Pennsylvania as prospective students.  Those who are considering attending the University of Pennsylvania should be sure to explore beyond just Penn’s campus. The University of Pennsylvania is located in Philadelphia, directly across the Schuylkill River from Center City.  Penn students frequently take advantage of Penn’s location to explore the rest of Philadelphia, and we encourage you to do the same on your visit to Philadelphia.  
 
Locust Walk - The University of Pennsylvania
 
The Constitutional Walking Tour not only offers public tours that prospective students and their families are welcome to purchase tickets for, we also offer private VIP tours that can accommodate your exact needs. Our tour guides are not only well versed in Philadelphia’s history, but also in the practical aspects of living in and getting around Philadelphia. Whether it is tips on how to use the subway, or guidance on navigating the city on your own, our helpful tour guides should be able to answer all of your questions. Besides, no trip to Philadelphia is complete without walking around historic Old City Philadelphia to visit America's Birthplace and historic sites including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
 

How to Get There

The University of Pennsylvania is located in West Philadelphia, roughly three miles away from the National Constitution Center where all of The Constitutional's tours begin and end. The easiest way to get to the Penn from The Constitutional Walking Tour is to head to the 5th Street Station, located just a block south of National Constitution Center. Inside 5th Street Station, take the westbound train to 34th Street and walk south to quickly reach Penn’s campus. Visitors can also easily drive to the University of Pennsylvania via Walnut Street and multiple parking garages on campus should accommodate your parking needs.
 

Additional Information

1 College Hall, Room 1
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215.898.7507
 

 
 
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