More than a full year before the Constitution would become the supreme law of the land, on a warm morning in June 1787, a crowd gathered outside of the courthouse in Lancaster. Among them were four ministers from the German Reformed Church and Lutheran Church who hoped to do nothing short of helping to preserve the newly-founded republic of the United States, and to achieve their goal, they decided to establish a college in the heart of their community.
Today, that college is a cornerstone of Lancaster: Franklin & Marshall College, named for two men—Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall, respectively—who embodied the values that the college’s founders hoped to impart in students. Today, F&M is one of the nation’s top colleges.
At the time of its founding in 1787, however, it was simply known as Franklin College thanks to a gift of £200 from the most famous kite-flier in American history. In fact, the school didn’t adopt its current name until 1853 when it merged with nearby Marshall College, named in honor of John Marshall, one of the most influential Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. James Buchanan, a Lancaster native and future President of the United States, served as the first president of the newly-formed institution’s board of trustees.
F&M has left an indelible mark on American higher education. Classes at Franklin College were taught in both English and German, making it the first bilingual college in America, and with 36 women enrolled in classes as early as 1787, it was also the nation’s first coeducational college; one of those women was actually the first Jewish woman to attend college in the United States, Richea Gratz.
Although there were only 114 students in Franklin College’s initial class enrollment, today, over 2,000 undergraduates study at F&M in disciplines ranging from neuroscience to art history. The college attracts students from all over the country and the world—over 14% of the student body consists of international students—and in recent years, F&M has focused on increasing access to a college education for students of all backgrounds. Under President Dan Porterfield, F&M has partnered with a number of organizations and launched several initiatives to recruit potential students from low-income households, and as a result, many F&M students are often the first in their families to attend college.
F&M also looks for opportunities to connect itself with the Lancaster community. Hundreds of lectures—including the popular Common Hour series—as well as student performances, film screenings, art exhibitions, and more are open to the public. F&M students can commonly be found working, volunteering, and just having fun around Lancaster.
Most recently, the school itself has offered professors stipends and support in their endeavors to plant roots in the City of Lancaster by providing loans and cash for home purchases. Homeownership is a crucial step to becoming deeply invested in the community, and the administration of Franklin & Marshall knows this well. The Andy Esbenshade Team has been in Lancaster for seven generations and can help everyone from students to tenured professors find their home in the city. Contact us to get more information!