The Birth of Pendle Hill

Over the past two years, I have drawn great inspiration from learning more about the founding of Pendle Hill. The story is a gift and I want to share it with you today on the occasion of Pendle Hill’s 80th anniversary.

Imagine that it is 1929. The stock market has crashed and you are attending a planning committee meeting for a new Quaker center of adult learning—not yet Pendle Hill, not yet in Wallingford.

You were active with Pendle Hill’s predecessor, the Woolman School, founded in 1915 as a project of the Advancement Committee of Friends General Conference, which closed its doors two years earlier, for lack of students and money.

Would you have pushed for the creation of a new school? Would you have had the courage to embark on a bold new project?

Even before the Woolman School closed, those nearest to it were dreaming bigger. Caroline Norment, acting director of the Woolman School for its last three years, wrote to Paul Furnas, then clerk of the Board, "Oh, Paul, we cannot let this thing die. There’s Light to be had if only we know how to go after it. . . . We need to stop rallying Friends around this small thing we have been doing" and "get it quite freshly to the Society with a plan of a bigger thing than we are doing." To another Board member she wrote, "I hope it will not shock thee in any way if I say that sometimes it seems to me that the Woolman School per se will probably have to die that a bigger thing may be born."

In other words, Caroline, Paul, and their colleagues responded to failure by enlarging their vision. They were willing to go through the cycle of death and resurrection by letting the Woolman School die that Pendle Hill might be born. Because they were faithful to a bigger plan, we’re here today. How many of us meet failure by expanding our vision and dreaming bigger?

But there’s more; there are stories hidden in plain sight all along for us to discover. Where did the money come from to purchase the Wallingford site? Mary Lippincott left her estate to the Woolman School, and the sale of that estate provided the purchase money for the Wallingford property. Why did she gift her estate? We don’t know for sure, but Carol Murphy, in her Pendle Hill pamphlet, The Roots of Pendle Hill, writes that Mary asked visiting British Friend Joan Marie Fry, "What are the great issues facing Quakers today?" Joan Marie is reported to have said, "Racial and economic relationships, and the Woolman School is attempting to face these." Certainly, when I read issues of The Friend from that era, I see strong evidence of the Woolman School’s work on race relations, poverty, and economic justice. So a commitment to racial justice may have inspired the gift that led to the founding of Pendle Hill at a time when neighboring Swarthmore College had not yet admitted an African American student. In contrast, two African American students were part of the first Pendle Hill class.

I believe that a concern for racial justice was woven into the founding fabric of Pendle Hill and is part of the legacy we have inherited. This legacy is both a challenge and invitation for us to live into today. This concern for racial justice was part of what the first director, Henry Hodgkin, meant when he said Pendle Hill would be a "school for prophets." The founding of Pendle Hill was a prophetic witness of an intention to create a more inclusive community, and indeed students came—as they continue to do—from around the world.

In what other ways is there continuity with the founders’ vision? The Pendle Hill Board continues to draw members from across the branches of the Religious Society of Friends and to serve as a crossroads for communication among Friends. In 1917, Friends General Conference’s Advancement Committee turned the Woolman School over to the Whittier Fellowship Committee, which appointed a Board of Managers representing all branches of Friends. Today, the Pendle Hill Board includes Evangelical and Conservative Friends, liberal unprogrammed Friends, and Friends who participate in Friends United Meeting programs.

Members of the original planning committee included young adults as well. According to family members, Paul Furnas, who had been clerk of the Woolman School Board, was still in his 30s at the time. His wife, Betty, who was appointed to the Continuation Committee that envisioned Pendle Hill, was only in her 20s. Today the Pendle Hill board includes three young adults, two of whom are in their 20s.

Pendle Hill also continues to attract students from other faith traditions. Over the last three years, the Resident Program has included many Quaker students; Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist students; a Catholic nun; a Presbyterian pastor; a Unitarian pastor; different kinds of UCC pastors; and a host of Protestants and Catholics who are neither pastors nor nuns.

Students and sojourners continue to come from around the world. Since 2007, students have come from 12 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Africa, and Wales. The most recent fall class includes a Quaker from India, an environmental scientist from Indonesia, and peace activists from Korea.

Today, the Resident Program is one of three programs at Pendle Hill, along with our short-term education programs and our ministry of hospitality and outreach through conference services, sojourning, and publications. Our short-term education programs are well known because we publish them in our catalog, but many may not know that through our Conference Services program we host many Friends and other faith organizations on campus. In the week before our celebration in November, both the senior management team of Friends General Conference and the Program/ Goals Team of the American Friends Service Committee held retreats on campus. Earlier last fall, Pendle Hill hosted Quaker Universalist Fellowship, Friends Publishing Corporation Board, and the planning committee for the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology—as well as Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Ridley Park Presbyterian Church, Roothbert Fund fellows (who have been meeting at Pendle Hill for 40 years), Haverford College counseling staff (who come every year), and—most frequently of all—the programs of Friends Council on Education. Just as Friends schools have been important forms of outreach for the Religious Society of Friends, so too has Pendle Hill’s hosting of other groups been an important form of outreach. Just before our celebration, a management consulting firm worked with the Hershey Corporation executives at Brinton House. As they left, members of the consulting firm purchased Pendle Hill pamphlets to take with them. Pendle Hill pamphlets continue to be the way many people first learn about Pendle Hill and find themselves part of Pendle Hill’s outreach and educational efforts.

I see my role as director of Pendle Hill as steward of the stories—collecting and sharing stories about Pendle Hill. I am eager to hear more stories and modifications to my stories.

I have a last hidden-in-plain-sight story to share with you. One of the reasons the planning committee chose the Wallingford site was for its existing arboretum. Today there are over 145 species of trees and shrubs present on the 23-acre Pendle Hill campus.

In honor of the trees of Pendle Hill, of grounds manager Lloyd Guindon’s 25 years of service this year as a Pendle Hill staff member, and to recognize all other past and present staff and Board members of this beloved institution, I will close with a poem written by Lloyd entitled "Autumn":

Behold the leaf!
Fire on the tree!
Frosting’s on the morning,
Day awaits thee!
Candles on God’s cake,
Ignite in the sun!
Bird serenades, spider’s
gift is spun.
Fire on the tree!
Burning colors sing and shout!
Winter’s wish is on the breeze,
And soon will blow them out!

Lauri Perman

Lauri Perman has been executive director of Pendle Hill since 2007. Before coming to Pendle Hill, she was associate head of the Sociology Department and assistant dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. She has extensive expertise with regard to socially responsible employment practices and has published work on workplace diversity and discrimination. A member of State College (Pa.) Meeting, she served as presiding clerk of Baltimore Yearly Meeting from 2004 to 2007. This article is based on remarks she delivered during Pendle Hill's 80th anniversary celebration in November 2010.