Penn dates its founding to 1740, when prominent evangelist George Whitefield had the idea of building a Philadelphia charity school that would double as a house of worship for his followers. After construction was underway, however, the cost was seen to be much greater than the available resources, and the project went unfinished for a decade. Then in 1749, Benjamin Franklin—printer, inventor and future founding father of the United States—published his famous essay, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth, circulated it among Philadelphia’s leading citizens, and organized 24 trustees to form an institution of higher education based on his proposals. The group purchased Whitefield’s “New Building” and in 1751, opened its doors to children of the gentry and working class alike as the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania. Franklin served as president of the institution until 1755 and continued to serve as a trustee until his death in 1790.
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