For the Record: International students at Penn

Penn’s diverse campus offers opportunities for the entire University community to experience the richness and nuance of a variety of ethnicities, nationalities, orientations, and perspectives.

Since the early years of Penn, the student body has included people from across the globe. The University’s Christian Association (CA) was among the first campus groups offering assistance and social programs to create a safe and welcoming environment for international students. The CA’s 1901 charter states that its mission is to promote “spiritual welfare of the students of the University of Pennsylvania by encouraging Christian fellowship and cooperation.”

In the late 1800s, the CA held a Sabbath-afternoon school for neighborhood boys in West Philadelphia. The school’s opening led to the creation of summer camps for area boys, and years later, a camp for girls, as well.

Through the years, the CA’s interest expanded to issues such as global peace, humanitarianism, and providing services to minorities and marginalized groups such as gays and lesbians.

Located at the Potts Mansion at 39th and Spruce streets, the CA, along with the International Student House, offered housing for a dozen students and served as a resource center for hundreds of other international students.

The CA shared space with the International Student House for 25 years. The International Student House separated from the CA in 1943 to qualify for funding from the Community Fund of Philadelphia, and became the International House of Philadelphia. The organization later became a model for similar facilities across the nation.

In this 1912 photo, Russian students are learning to speak English and singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” led by instructors at the CA.

Another program started by the United Church Women of the Philadelphia Council of Churches in 1952 provided host families for international students and their families.

The International Hospitality Program held social events, operated a clothing exchange and offered cultural training to the wives of foreign students.

For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.

CA Record