This is the "Some Westtown History" page of the "Archives Home Page" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

Archives Home Page  

Last Updated: Apr 5, 2017 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

Some Westtown History Print Page

The Giant by N.C. Wyeth

The Giant by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) has hung in Westtown's dining room since 1923. Painted as a memorial to William Clothier Engle (1981-1916), class of 1910, this treasured painting continues to delight members of the school community and visitors alike while serving as a tribute to an artist lost at a young age. Read more about Westtown, Wyeth and The Giant.


                  The Giant by N. C. Wyeth               William C. Engle, Westtown class of 1910




Building a Better Sled: Westtown alumnus Samuel L. Allen

When Samuel L. Allen (1841-1918) entered Westtown as a student in 1852, “coasting” was developing into one of the boys’ most popular winter activities. By the 1870s,  they were designing and building bobsleds large enough to carry a team of as many as ten boys. (Girls were allowed to ride – but not steer – the sleds.) Those sleds ran fast, but their steering and brakes were primitive at best.

As the owner of S. L. Allen & Co., a Philadelphia firm which manufactured farm and garden equipment, Allen sought to add a product that would be made in the summer and sold in the winter so that his employees would have work year-round. Having designed many of the farm and garden products his company sold, Allen set out to design and build a safer sled. With his daughter in attendance at Westtown, some prototypes for what came to be the Flexible Flyer sled were tested by Westtown students on the long and icy sled track they built each year. These new sleds were lighter, included flexible steel parts, and could be steered (and stopped) more safely.

Patented in 1889, the Flexible Flyer eventually became America’s most popular sled. The school has a large number of sleds in the historical collection, but a few are always set aside for students to use on a snowy day so that they might appreciate this iconic winter toy with ties to their school. Read more about the history of sledding at Westtown School.


      Students on a Westtown bobsled.                  Samuel L. Allen                 A Flexible Flyer ride, 1950s.


Richard James, class of 1935, Inventor of the Slinky®

Richard (Dick) James, Westtown Class of 1935, is the creator of Slinky®, a classic toy recognized world-wide. After graduation from Westtown, Dick James studied engineering at Penn State University, and in the early 1940s, he was employed at the Cramps Shipyard in Philadelphia. His work there involved a system that would allow sensitive instruments to operate in sea-going commercial vessels being converted for naval use. A scrap of coiled spring came into the office area one day, and as the engineers played with it, the spring’s action so intrigued Dick James that he took it home and began to work on making the spring “walk.”

After coming up with the right properties in the steel and correct tension in the wire, Dick James had a local machine shop make 400 springs. His wife, Betty, gave the spring its name – “Slinky” – a word she found in the dictionary meaning “stealthy, sleek and sinuous.”  In 1945, the first Slinkys® were soldfor $1.00 each in Gimbels department store in Philadelphia.

Edward S. Sharpless, Westtown class of 1936, was a friend of Dick James and fellow engineer working at the Cramps Shipyard in Philadelphia when the idea was hatched for a toy made from the coiled spring. His memoir of Dick James and the invention of the Slinky® is in the school archives.  


                        Senior portrait and yearbook entry for Dick James in 1935


Westtown, George School, and a Moose: The Patterson Cup

The moose head that hangs in the Belfry at Westtown was presented to the school in the late 1960s by Dr. Hugh Patterson and his wife, Elizabeth Fox Patterson, Westtown class of 1929. Two of their four children attended Westtown, while two others went to George School. Inspired by the friendly rivalry evident in the athletic contests between these two Quaker boarding schools (including those contests in which his children participated), Dr. Patterson instituted a formal competition between Westtown and George School, known as the Patterson Cup. But it all started with a moose head hanging in the Belfry.

The Spring 1969 issue of The Westonian noted that a “new trophy” had been donated to the school – a moose head in the Belfry – and going forward “each game that is played between the two schools is recorded and the school that wins the most head to head varsity and junior varsity contests during the year will be rewarded by having its name inscribed on a plaque beneath the moose head.” Dr. Patterson intended to present a moose head to George School for the same purpose, but illness prevented him from further hunting and George School never received a moose. Patterson Cup winners since 1969 are recorded on a trophy cup which is awarded to the school on top of the standings at the end of each school year.

In December 1988, Westtown cheerleaders (yes, Westtown had cheerleaders) were looking for a mascot.  As reported in The Brown and White, a student poll resulted in these top five choices:  Moose, Wolverines, Quakers, Warriors, and Wildcats. The article noted that no official recognition had come yet from the school. The following winter, with the support of the faculty, two Westtown seniors collected donations from students to buy a “school spirit figure” – a moose costume. Their efforts were successful, so Westtown teams are now the Moose.  GO ‘TOWN!


                    Moose head in the Belfry                      The Patterson Cup


School Colors: Why Brown and White?

School records give some insight into the selection of brown and white as Westtown’s school colors. The faculty minutes for May 26, 1897 report that faculty discussed the topic and some women faculty were asked to bring ribbons of various colors as samples to the next meeting. At that next meeting, the decision was deferred until the next school year. Nothing further appears in the minutes, but the archives collection includes a handwritten note dated September 30, 1897 which states “These have been adopted by the faculty as the official school colors. Ribbon will probably be on sale in a few days. A sample sweater will be on exhibition tomorrow morning in the governor’s room.” Brown and white ribbons are pinned to that note. (It’s also interesting to note that The Westonian reported in March 1898 that the senior class had selected purple and lavender as their class colors.)

Some context for the decision regarding school colors
• The 1890’s was a decade at Westtown when “physical culture” (exercise) was introduced (1891) and when cricket and other field sports were first established as school-sponsored activities. This was also an era when other schools established representative “school colors” for the purpose of building school spirit around interscholastic competition.
• Philadelphia Quakers in 1893 and again in 1903 still stated in their Rules of Discipline their concern for “plainness” – what we now call simplicity – in dress, speech, and lifestyle. Westtown students were expected to dress in clothing that was “grave” or dark in color or in shades that reflected more the natural color of the fabric in a spirit of simple living, humility, and equality. Much plain clothing worn at Westtown, often described as “Quaker drab,” was generally a quiet shade of gray or brown. The girls’ and boys’ dress codes of 1899 and 1900 respectively continued to require such plainness.


The Farm at Westtown School

With the idea of a boarding school for children of the Yearly Meeting firmly in mind, Philadelphia Quakers purchased land for the new school in Chester County, and the indenture (or deed)  for that purchase in 1795 from Quaker farmer James Gibbons is in the school archives. Student-drawn watercolor maps of the farm – also in the archives – reveal the earliest improvements on the land, known then as the Westtown Farm. A portion of Westtown’s land has been farmed since the school opened, a long period of stewardship of the land by farmers as well as Westtown faculty, staff and students. Read more about the history of the farm at Westtown.


             New barn, 1913                            Westtown Dairy milk bottles


Loading  Loading...