Penn Founding Date


Seal University of Pennsylvania 1755

Penn began operating as an academy or secondary school in 1751 and obtained its collegiate charter in 1755.

1750 appears on the first version of the university seal. Sometime later in its early history, Penn began to claim 1749 as its founding date. This year was the accepted official founding date for over a century, including at the centennial celebration in 1849.

In 1899, the board of trustees voted to change the founding to an earlier date, this time to 1740, the date of "the creation of the earliest of the many educational trusts the University has taken upon itself.” In taking this step, the university retroactively revised the university's founding date to appear older than Princeton University, which was chartered in 1746.

The trustees were able to justify the earlier date 1740 because it marked the beginning of construction on George Whitefield’s building, which would later become the university's first campus. By including George Whitefield’s Philadelphia building in the university's timeline, Penn was able to lay claim to the title of "America's first university" but it also intertwined its official history with Whitefield’s personal history of advocating for slavery.

~ VanJessica Gladney