Germantown Friends School (GFS) is a co-educational Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, USA under the supervision of Germantown Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). It is governed by a School Committee whose members are drawn mainly from the membership of the Meeting and the School's alumni. The School's current Head is Dana Weeks.

Since the 1930s, Germantown Friends has been a respected and influential private day school, educating students in traditional humanistic studies in the light of the Quaker tradition. Many graduates have gone on to leading colleges and universities in the United States, including Trinity College, and the University of Chicago. Present Germantown Friends students generally have a reputation for community service, intellectual boldness, and broad artistic interests.


Germantown Friends School was founded in 1845 by Germantown Monthly Meeting which had grown in size and stature in the Philadelphia Quaker community during the previous several decades. The school was founded in response to a request of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting which like all Friends Meetings valued an equal education for boys and girls. Until some time in the early 20th century, Germantown Friends was a "select" school, meaning that only the children of Quaker parents were admitted. The school in the early 20th century was a cheerful but proper place. Germantown Monthly Meeting was an Orthodox meeting (see Quaker history) and thus valued classical education, but athletics and the arts were still considered, as they had been since the founding of the Society of Friends in the 17th century, a diversion from the essentials needed by a young person growing up in a complex world. Esther Greenleaf Mürer has collected some relevant sources on this issue. [1].

Attitudes were softening toward athletics at Germantown Friends, however. Baseball games against Chestnut Hill Academy and Penn Charter became regular events by about 1910. Nevertheless, the fine arts still were considered spiritually suspect. Irvin C. Poley, Class of 1908, however was not convinced that Quaker belief was inconsistent with a love of drama and music. Before and after his graduation from Germantown Friends, he attended concerts and plays in Philadelphia and New York, collecting a scrapbook of programs and reviews that is one of the archival treasures of GFS's Friends Free Library. He also studied drama seriously from a literary perspective. During his years as a teacher and administrator at GFS, Poley began to introduce drama gradually, first as an academic pursuit and later in performance. As a convinced Quaker, he also convinced Germantown Monthly Meeting to reflect seriously on traditional theological objections to the arts. In the larger Quaker world, others were apparently encouraging similar reflection. Poley eventually was successful, building a foundation for the tradition of excellent training in the visual arts, creative exploration in the literary arts, and especially expansive intracurricular and extracurricular activities in drama and music, which became an increasingly important focus within the larger mission of the school.

During the 1920s, Germantown Friends underwent a transformation. The Meeting decided it was inappropriate to continue as a Select school, since so many non-Quakers could benefit from the School's approach to education. Under the leadership of Headmaster Stanley R. Yarnall during the 1930s, Germantown Friends School emphasized academic excellence, and it was considered among the top ten private day schools in the nation, nearly rivaling boarding schools such as St. Paul's and Groton in prominence. The admission of non-Quaker students from wealthy and socially prominent families, however, may have compromised the commitment of the school to Quaker ethics of social justice. It also has been argued that the membership of Germantown Monthly Meeting from 1680-1950 cannot be characterized as of one mind concerning racial equality. On one hand, some of the earliest abolitionists were among its membership. On the other hand, Germantown Friends School for the first half of the 20th century resisted attempts at racial integration. In the early 1940s, for instance, two prominent African-American lawyers in Philadelphia sought admission of their daughter to Germantown Friends. The girl certainly was qualified for admission to elementary school, having excellent recommendations from her kindergarten teachers, and in addition, her aunt was a Quaker. The school admissions committee, however, concerned that parents would withdraw their children if the girl was admitted, rejected her for admission.

Strangely, it may have been the pacifism of Friends that forced their moral courage concerning racism to return. After President Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, the American Friends Service Committee convinced interned families to send high school-age children to Quaker schools in the East. It was these students who first "integrated" Germantown Friends, apparently causing some tension but generally not leading to the withdrawals that had been feared. This effort also may have provided one important seed of the reconstruction of Japan after World War II. In 1947, Elizabeth Gray Vining, an alumna of Germantown Friends and Bryn Mawr College and member of Germantown Monthly Meeting (and winner of the Newbery Medal for Adam of the Road), was asked by the Imperial Household of Japan to come to Japan to tutor the children of Emperor Hirohito, including Prince Tsugo (the present Emperor Akihito). The strong relationship between Japan and Germantown Friends continued. When future Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was working in the United States after the fall of the government of Nobusuke Kishi in which he had been Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, he sent his daughter Makiko Tanaka to Germantown Friends, from which she graduated in 1963. Makiko later became Foreign Minister in 2001 under the government of Junichiro Koizumi until her resignation in 2002. During an official visit to the United States in June 2001, she visited Germantown Friends.

Admission of African-Americans to Germantown Friends began in 1948. The Germantown Friends' Community Scholars Program, which provides full tuition and the payment of other expenses to qualified low-income students from the neighborhoods surrounding Germantown Friends, has done a great deal to increase and maintain the school's racial and economic diversity despite the school's great popularity among a wealthier and less diverse population in other parts of Philadelphia and the Main Line suburbs. The GFS Craft Show is the primary fundraiser for the Community Scholars Program, and it is one of the most prominent juried craft shows on the East Coast. It also should be noted that the Meeting, led by its commitment to the community, declined to move the school elsewhere in the area, despite a change in the racial and economic makeup of Germantown and a generous offer of land in the Philadelphia suburbs. Other schools in the area, such as Germantown Academy, have not made the same choice.

Athletic traditions[]

Germantown Friends School teams are nicknamed "The Tigers." A charter member of the Friends Schools League (FSL) [2], its teams are almost always competitive within the League and sometimes are well-known in the Philadelphia area. A friendly rivalry exists between GFS and Friends' Central School, who compete with each other for possession of the Felsen Cup, named after an administrator who has worked at and given much to both schools. Another rival is Penn Charter School, whose campus is adjacent to Germantown Friends' athletic fields. However, Penn Charter is a member of the Inter-Academic League, de-intensifying this rivalry. One interesting tradition of Germantown Friends School basketball teams is never to play full-court defense if leading by 20 points or more. GFS also excels in other athletic activities as well, for instance teaching students rock-climbing. There is no Germantown Friends School fight song. Further, the school guidelines on spectator-conduct encourage cheering in favor of the GFS teams, forbid cheering against the opposing team, and are enforced by all faculty and staff present at athletic contests.

Academic and extracurricular traditions[]

Since 1993, Germantown Friends has been divided into three divisions, the Lower School (K-5), the Middle School (6-8) (later named after former teacher, administrator, and Quaker, Eric W. Johnson), and the Upper School (9-12). First among the traditions of the school is weekly Meeting for Worship of each division. Meeting for Worship gives students the opportunity for introspection and discussion of spirituality. The weekly Meeting of each division have rather different characters. The Lower School Meeting is generally quite active with many short messages from students because elementary school children tend to appreciate the chance to be heard. The Middle School Meeting often is a very silent meeting, only punctuated by the occasional spiritual stirring of a faculty member. The Upper School Meeting is often focused on current events and fundamental issues of young adults. Seniors tend to speak, knowing that they will soon graduate and depart into the hopeful but complex world.

Other notable traditions include concerts by the GFS Choir under the direction of Mary Brewer and Lawrence Hoenig. Choir tours have visited London (UK), Falaise (France), Cracow (Poland) and Copenhagen (Denmark), among other locales. In March of 2005, the GFS Choir traveled to China, where it performed in conservatories, concert halls, and in the occasional impromptu street performance. Other traditions include the 9th Grade Musical (traditionally a work by Gilbert & Sullivan), the Dionysia (an Ancient Greek dramatic festival performed by 10th grade Ancient History classes), the Latin III Debates during an annual "Classics Day," and the Chorus Show.

One unusual graduation requirement at Germantown Friends School is the requirement that each junior complete an independent project, known as a "Junior Project." During this project, students have the opportunity to pursue some independent but intellectually rigorous activity in the local community or elsewhere in the world. If completed in January, students are given the month off to pursue the project, although they must go through a proposal process and present written and oral accounts of their work afterwards. Students must pay for at least half of all project expenses out of money the student earned through work (rather than by means of a parental allowance).

For many years, Germantown Friends gave academic awards to its students. During the 1990s, there arose concerns that the tradition might contain an underlying negative effect on the broader school community. After five years of faculty discussion and four years of student and alumni surveys, in 2002 the school discontinued its practice of making academic awards. In announcing this decision to the school community, the head of school noted that there were long-standing concerns about the detrimental effect of elevating a select few students above others in a ceremony with clear winners and losers, and how the practice stood in contrast to Friends' beliefs in honoring every person. He further noted that when surveyed, "students opposed any practice that created incentive to compete for grades rather than for learning's sake." While athletic awards are still given at Germantown Friends, the academic awards have been replaced with more opportunities for all students to showcase their work.

Commencement in recent decades has taken place at Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia. The ceremony begins with an instruction concerning Meeting for Worship by a Quaker member of the graduating class, followed by a meeting. At present, GFS does not calculate GPA for purposes of class ranking, and therefore no Valedictorians or Salutatorians are selected. Instead, the graduating class elects one faculty member and one member of its own ranks to give addresses after the conclusion of the meeting. Following the addresses, the Head of School speaks and then awards diplomas to each member of the graduating class.


  • The main character from the TV series Twin Peaks, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, supposedly grew up in Germantown and attended Germantown Friends School (as created by director David Lynch, who spent many years in Philadelphia).[1]

External links[]


  1. Frost, Mark: "The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes", page 1, Pocket Books, 1991.