Girard College is a private philanthropic boarding school on a 43 acre (170,000 m²) campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. The school is for academically capable students, grades 1 through 12, and grants full scholarships to eligible students from families with limited financial resources, headed by a single parent or guardian. Girard’s mission is to prepare students for advanced education and life as informed, ethical and productive citizens through a rigorous educational program that promotes intellectual, social and emotional growth. As of 2004, there were 669 students enrolled, 268 elementary school students (grades 1-5), 211 middle school students (grades 6-8), and 190 high school students (grades 9-12). Girard employs a total of 124 faculty members: 72 academic teachers and 52 residential advisors. It is a residential education program that seeks to provide great academic opportunites to children who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
The Girard College was founded in 1833, five years before the establishment of the second oldest public high school in America, the Central High School of Philadelphia, which soon became the capstone and flagship of the Philadelphia City Public Schools system and followed the first such secondary school in New England's Massachusetts, of the English High School of Boston in 1821, and six years before the third oldest such institution further south in Baltimore, Maryland, then named "The High School", (later renamed the "Male High School", then the "Central High School of Baltimore" when two female public high schools were established), and later The Baltimore City College, which is its title today, both are enscounced in landmark distinctive structures and are of the modern "magnet school" type, with college prep/academic curriculums, strict admission standards, with noted faculty and famous alumni with respected roles in their cities and states, similar to Girard's historic role in Philadelphia along with later Central High and Girls' High. The buildings and classrooms for Girard took some time to design and construct with their expensive "Greek Revival" stone architecture, but were ready and opened on January 1, 1848, under provisions of Girard's will supervised by the appointed trustees, including banker and financier Nicholas Biddle, (1786-1844).
His vision as a school for poor, white, orphaned boys who had lost their fathers was unique in educating an entirely unserved population. Girard saw a chance to educate boys who might otherwise be lost to the hopes of Society and to prepare them for useful, productive lives. Girard's vision for the school can best be understood in the context of early 19th Century Philadelphia. The City was then at the forefront of creating innovative American institutions designed to solve a specific social challenge, such as the newly founded and constructed Eastern State Penitentiary (humane incarceration), the Pennsylvania Hospital (mental illness), the Pennsylvania Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (disabilities), and the Franklin Institute (scientific knowledge). Girard chose to dedicate his immense fortune to help educate young men of Philadelphia as Americans for the future.
The specific term "orphan" appears in the will, and Girard specified "poor, white, male" orphans.
However, at the time in 1831, a mother who became a widow had no rights and resources, and "guardians" were often appointed by the "Probate" or "Orphan courts" of the city and state. In reality, Girard operated as a school for boys who were fatherless as a result of death of the father and were not children with no living parents or guardians, such as may become the wards of orphanages. (The College in the 19th Century determined the legal definition of the term "orphan" was "a fatherless child.") As the 20th Century progressed and women achieved full and equal rights and status including the right to vote, the descriptive term "orphans" became outmoded and deemed erroneous as a term of modern reference for Girard students, who, up to the time of the 1960s social changes, were fatherless by means of death of their parents.
Not part of the School District of Philadelphia, which had long been racially integrated (as being in a northern, formerly "free state"), the Girard College was still considered "private" even though it had a very public educational mission, so was racially segregated long before the consideration of the "Brown v. Board of Education" legal cases until it was ordered to desegregate by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 unanimous decision. Perhaps the key to the ruling was that Girard, following its founder's will, was administered by the "Board of City Trusts", and that public institution could not continue to maintain that historically old entrance requirement. The first African-American male student was finally admitted in 1968.
The first female student was admitted as a first grader in 1984, following more adjustments to the admission criteria, so that the death of a father was no longer required. Girls were gradually integrated into the College over a 12-year enrollment period with subsequent new female students only permitted to enroll in the same graduating class as the first female student or a younger class. The first young women finally graduated in 1993 with a Girard diploma. Girard's first female valedictorian was Kimberly Green. The graduating Class of 1996 was the first class to graduate with more female students than males, although it remains more or less balanced from year to year.
The College made history in May 2009, when it named Autumn Adkins as its 16th President, the first woman chief administrator in its 160-year existence. Ms. Adkins, who succeeded Dominic Cermele, became not only the first woman but also the first African-American to head the College. She later resigned three years later in 2012.