George Whitefield was an 18th century Anglican minister and lifelong friend and inspiration to Penn’s founder, Benjamin Franklin. Whitefield was also instrumental in the creation of the University.
Whitefield first came to North America from England to spread the word of the Great Awakening evangelical movement. As Methodism was beginning, he held revivals in Philadelphia to introduce the Protestant denomination to America. Franklin attended Whitefield’s outdoor revivals and was so impressed that he published some of the minister’s writings.
Whitefield was an original trustee of the Charity School of 1740, which was created on the grounds of his revival meeting house at 4th and Arch streets. The school, a forerunner of the University of Pennsylvania, offered free instruction “in the knowledge of the Christian religion and in useful literature” to low-income children.
Franklin purchased Whitefield’s meeting house as the site for Franklin’s Academy of Philadelphia, which became the College of Philadelphia, and later, the University of Pennsylvania.
Whitefield also solicited the first donations to Penn’s Library.
Whitefield’s strong interest in education also led to the creation of other schools. He was instrumental in establishing the “Log” college, which later became Princeton University. He also helped found Dartmouth College.
For the 200th anniversary of his birth, a group of Penn alumni commissioned a statue of Whitefield to honor him for his role in the founding of the University. Unveiled in 1919, the statue created by R. Tait McKenzie is located in the Quad in front of the Morris and Bodine sections of Ware College House.
The inscription on the panels of the statue’s pedestal includes this quote from Franklin: “I knew him intimately upwards of thirty years. His integrity, disinterestedness and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work I have never seen equalled and shall never see excelled.”
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on March 21, 2013