The Faces of Parrish Parlors: Frank Aydelotte

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“Frank Aydelotte transformed Swarthmore from an acceptable Quaker college of local reputation to a truly outstanding institution of national renown.”
Swarthmore College Bulletin 2003

Born:  October 16th, 1880 (Sullivan, Indiana)

Died:  December 17, 1956 (Princeton, New Jersey)

Parent(s): William Aydelotte and Matilda Brunger

Spouse: Marie Osgood Aydelotte

Education: Educated at Indiana University, and after teaching there for a year he went on to get his Masters in English at Harvard. He went on to win the Rhodes Scholarship and researched at Oxford University.  

College Affiliations: Swarthmore College, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Relation to Swarthmore: President of Swarthmore from 1921-1939


The Original Swattie

It’s not often that a leader so closely embodies and shapes the essence of a place as much as Frank Aydelotte embodied and shaped Swarthmore. In 1921, he was selected to be the President of Swarthmore College, a small “conventional and undistinguished” school by Aydelotte’s own words. Frank Aydelotte’s hiring was unique in that he was the first non-quaker president of the school. However, instead of distancing the school from its quaker roots, Aydelotte sought ways to blend the educational processes he learned throughout his life as an academic into the Quaker values Swarthmore espoused. 

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“Aydelotte found Swarthmore conventional and undistinguished; under his administration, it became known for its commitment to intellectual purpose”
-Time Magazine

Under Aydelotte’s administration, Swarthmore became known for its commitment to intellectual purpose as he fought mediocracy on all levels. He wanted to make Swarthmore a “citadel for excellence”. Seeing the value of independent study and they tutorial style, Aydelotte mirrored the Oxford system which put students in small seminars where they were taught at an accelerated rate, given the freedom to research what they would like and then examined by outside experts. This program made way for the Honors Program that we currently have at Swarthmore.

Aydelotte was not only interested the academics of the school but also in athletics, being an amateur golfer himself. He created the first athletic requirement for students, ensuring that “every Swarthmore boy and girl must spend some time on the college playing fields.” To facilitate this requirement, Aydelotte took the school out of its major sports conferences and “restricted its games to teams of its own class.” He deemphasized football and lacrosse, even though he was proud of both teams and pushed for Swarthmore to be a more academic space. This eventually lead to the end of the football program at Swarthmore and made the way for the D3 athletics we have now.

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“For a while the names Frank Aydelotte and Swarthmore were synonymous”
-Charles F Jenkins, President of the Board of managers

In typical swattie fashion, even while burdened with the work of research and running the college he still made time to be in countless committees and commissions whose focus was on promoting learning and understanding. He and his wife could always be seen around campus, getting involved in student life and interacting with faculty, During his tenure spending on academics and faculty increased 200 percent.  

But it was ultimately his love of knowledge and discovery that drew him away from Swarthmore after 18 years. In 1939 he was selected to the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton NJ. There he worked with Albert Einstein and other acclaimed scholars to research and advance the pursuit of knowledge.

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“He was able to do many things well because of his robust constitution, sanguine disposition, capacity to distinguish the essence from the miscellany, and unusual skill in personal relationships”
Dictionary of American Biography

Dr. Frank Aydelotte died on December 17, 1956 in Princeton, New Jersey. It was said that during his presidency the name Frank Aydelotte and Swarthmore were synonymous, his legacy through the honors program, staff increases and dedication to excellence continues to shine through to the present. To honor his profound impact on the school and to hold his life and work always in remembrance, a portrait of both Frank Aydelotte and his wife Marie Osgood Aydelotte, hangs in Parrish West Parlor.

Facts and Figures

  • Initiated tenure system in 1924
  • Increased salaries by 200 percent
  • Enrollment grew from 510 to 678
  • Faculty increased from 41 to 83
  • Financial aid rose from $16,000 for 96 recipients to $75,000 and 281 recipients
  • Endowment went from $2.8 million to $7.7 million

Aydelotte Foundation

Aydelotte pictured in Parrish Parlors

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