Slave Ownership

Although there were many ways in which people could benefit from the institution of slavery, slave ownership was the most obvious and direct form of complicity. There is no evidence that any enslaved people were owned by the University of Pennsylvania itself. However, tax records show that many of Penn’s founders, early trustees, and faculty were enslavers. Click below to read more information about 18th century trustees and faculty members and their involvement in the institution of slavery.


Today, the University of Pennsylvania is one of the wealthiest universities in the United States. However, this was not always the case. In its early days, Penn (then known as the College of Philadelphia), was in financial trouble and needed to raise money to remain solvent. The school’s early administrators solicited donations from some of the most prominent enslavers in the Atlantic world. Click below to read about how Penn collected wealth earned from slave labor.

Medical School

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine is the oldest medical school in North America.  The School of Medicine advertised its faculty’s published lectures and its curriculum to students throughout the colonies. The Penn & Slavery Project has researched the materials, medical practices, and anatomical specimen collections used to teach students at the early Medical School. Click below to learn how Penn medical faculty and graduates developed the racial theories used to justify slavery and how these misconceptions still linger in medical science and practice today.


The University of Pennsylvania's very first campus was located on 4th & Arch street, in a section of Philadelphia now known as “Old City.” There is no evidence that the labor of enslaved people was used in the construction of the original building. However, as student research revealed, the owner and architect of this building did have ties to slavery. Penn moved its campus across the city to West Philadelphia in the late 19th Century, after slavery had been abolished in Pennsylvania. Despite that fact, there are many buildings named for enslavers on Penn’s campus. Click below to learn more about how enslavers built the old campus and are memorialized on Penn’s campus today.

Student Reports

The research undertaken by the Penn & Slavery Project is primarily conducted by undergraduate students. Their work is featured throughout the site. Click below to read the student reports in their entirety.


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