Around the country, universities are exploring their historical connections with the institution of slavery. The University of Pennsylvania has recently joined the national conversation. Since 2017, undergraduate students have conducted archival research, examined the history of Penn and the institution of slavery. Explore our website to read information about the project members, their findings, student publications, and presentations, and news coverage about the project!

Image: Trustee Daybook noting the university paid Ebenezer Kinnersley for the work of his enslaved man, Caesar.

Slave Ownership

Ownership is the most apparent form of complicity in the slave trade. There is no evidence that any slaves were owned by the University of Pennsylvania itself. However, tax records suggest that many of its early founders, trustees, and faculty owned slaves while connected with the university. Click below to read more information about the 18th Century Trustees and Faculty members and their involvement in the slave trade.


Today, the University of Pennsylvania is one of the wealthiest universities in the United States of America. However, this was not always the case. In its early days, Penn was in dire straights and needed to collect funds from outside sources to stay financially viable. Click below to read information about how Penn collected wealth earned from slave labor.

Medical School

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was colonial America's first medical school. To increase student interest, the School of Medicine advertised and hosted lectures to students throughout the colonies. The Penn & Slavery Project has researched the materials, medical practices, and specimen were used as teaching tools in the early Penn Medical School. Click below to learn how they contributed to the racial rhetoric used to justify slavery, and the racial misconceptions still extant in the field of medicine today.


The University of Pennsylvania's very first campus was on 4th & Arch Street, in a part of Philadelphia now known as 'Old City.' There is no evidence that slave labor was used to build the original buildings, but information about the owner and architect of the building, and information about student life on campus reveal different links to the institution of slavery. And although Penn moved across the city the late 19th Century, traces of the institution of slavery can still be seen on the West Philadelphia campus. Click below to learn more about the legacy of slavery on Penn's campuses.

Student Reports

The researchers for the Penn & Slavery Project includes advising faculty members and professors, but the research is primarily conducted by undergraduate students. Their work is featured throughout the site. Click below to read the student reports in their entirety.


Click below to learn more information about The Penn and Slavery Project. Get to know our undergraduate researchers! Read our news coverage! View our past presentations and learn information about our upcoming events!