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Compassion, a BFS and Quaker tradition

The program of our first
commencement, from 1910

BFS has always strived to be compassionate for its community, particularly for its students, both while enrolled at our school and forever after. Compassion is often found at the core of the Quaker Testimonies. One of the nicest BFS archival finds remains the “BFS chapter” from the personal memoir of Dorothea Gillette Murray, our first woman graduate, a member of our first graduating class of 1910. Originally written for her grandchildren, Mrs. Murray kindly gave BFS a copy of the BFS chapter of her memoir in the 1970s with permission to reprint. Mrs. Murray’s words give great insight into our school’s tradition of academic excellence and also to the tradition of compassionate caring BFS has striven to give its students since 1867.

Mrs. Murray indicated in her memoir that her family consisted of only her and her mother, a working woman – an unusual family for BFS at that time. It seems there was deep compassion for this family from our school and New York Monthly Meeting. Mrs. Murray attended BFS with some financial aid, but her memoir shows it seems to have been more of a work-study program in her final student years. Financial aid for a non-Quaker like Mrs. Murray was unusual at the time: for many years, the children of members of New York Monthly Meeting were educated free-of-charge at Brooklyn Friends School and Friends Seminary, a practice made possible by the interest from certain monies of New York Monthly Meeting that were used to fund their unpaid tuition. Mrs. Murray indicated further, “[Principal] Mr. Rawson got me a partial scholarship to Swarthmore College and later in my freshman year got hold of the rest of the tuition money for that same year.” Not only did Mrs. Murray graduate Swarthmore, but she received her Masters from Columbia. A public school educator, Mrs. Murray was also an active retiree who sought to help her community by giving back to BFS, by working for peace, and by teaching English as a Second Language from 1960 to at least 1975, when, at 83 years old, she decided to share a chapter of her memoir with BFS.

A little over a year ago, while researching in Proceedings of New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends for 1910, Mrs. Murray’s experience at BFS sprang to mind since she entered BFS in 1899, plus there was only one other non-Quaker in her 1910 graduating class of five and he seems to have gone to Harvard. From the Education Committee’s Report to NYYM, delivered by the Schools Board Chairman, Will Walter Jackson in May, 1910: “The case has arisen of a pupil who has been in one of our schools for eleven years and is now ready for Swarthmore, but who is not a member of this society. The committee asks, if there should be an unexpended balance this year, the Meeting would be willing for a portion of it to be used in this or similar cases.” It seems more than probably that this request was for Mrs. Murray and that it was granted

Such a request by the Schools Board Chair may have more typically occurred for Quaker children attending Quaker colleges. Additionally, many of those institutions regularly received financial contributions from Friends Meetings and were helped by broad solicitations by many Friends Meetings to their members, work which helped build those college’s endowments. Dorothea Gillette Murray, BFS Class of 1910, seems to show our school’s earliest known effort in assisting a non-Quaker student in need. She may have been grateful to BFS, but our school is probably even more grateful to her.