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History

The CA was founded in 1891 as an ecumenical Protestant campus ministry at the University of Pennsylvania. Housing Protestant ministries and encouraging faith development, the CA lived out it’s mission over the years by its action – advocating for peace and social justice, welcoming the immigrant, establishing hospitals in India and China, providing scholarships for students to do social justice and service projects during the summer, opposing war in Vietnam and Iraq, advocating equal rights for women and LGBT people, operating the Green Lane Camps for at-risk Philadelphia children, managing settlement houses for the poor, offering hospitality and dialogue on issues of the day, and always being a place to be safe and to question.


In the early years the CA shared space with the student union in Houston Hall and at one point even took over the student employment agency during the period from 1896 to 1922. In 1928, the CA erected a new building at 3601 Locust Walk with some $700,000 raised from students, faculty, alumni and churches in Philadelphia. At this time there were 14 full time student pastors and directors, several assistants, and many part-time workers at the CA, with a combined annual budget of over $181,000. In 1999, the CA sold the building to Penn and it is now known as the ARCH building and houses cultural resource centers. The building is listed in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

The CA’s history of over a century can be better understood through a closer look at the history of its diverse programs and areas of emphasis:

      • A series of art exhibits began in 1964. It gave new or less known artists opportunities to display their works. A film series started in 1970 and achieved a moderate level of popularity in Philadelphia. The viewings were not secular events as they were often followed by lectures or discussions of their theological, religious and ecumenical ramifications. Two of the more successful film oriented programs developed by the CA, The Neighborhood Film Project and the International Cinema Project, were taken over by the International House and continue to thrive. During the mid-1970s, the Wilma Theater became a resident theater company of the CA until it was financially on stable ground. The Cultural Harvest program started in 1980 as an umbrella program for various artistic endeavors.

        It supported the Big Small Theater (a Wilma Theater splinter group), the Fresh Fish Poetry series, and the People's Energy Theater. The Big Small Theater, which enjoyed a moderate level of success and publicity, often tackled political and moral issues from a left-wing perspective.

      • International Student House, which was unofficially founded in 1908 when the Rev. A. Waldo Stevenson, with the help of his friend Edward C. Wood, took into his home a group of Chinese students who had had difficulty obtaining safe and decent accommodations in West Philadelphia. In 1918, the CA bought the Potts Mansion at 3905 Spruce Street and used it as the program's home. While only twelve students could live at the house, it served as a center for hundreds of international students. In 1943, in order to secure funding from the Community Fund of Philadelphia, the International Student House separated from the CA to become the International House of Philadelphia. This program was reportedly the first of its kind in the country and has served as a model for other such institutions around the country.

        Another international program, the International Hospitality Program, was originally started in 1952 by the United Church Women of the Philadelphia Council of Churches as a host family program for foreign students and their families. It operated a clothing exchange and language classes, sponsored gatherings, and offered cultural training to wives of foreign students. In 1965, it relocated to the CA building, where it received administrative and financial support from the CA. The program moved to and was taken over by the International House of Philadelphia in 1977.

        In 1997, Dr. William Kelly began a weekly ESL program at the CA called SLANGuage. It continues to operate, sharing American slang, culture and justice issues with an international community at Penn.

      • Like other Ivy League schools, notably Yale and Harvard, Penn was swept by a zeal in missions overseas at the turn of the century. As early as in 1902, the CA Board resolved that for the purpose of making Jesus Christ the Savior known throughout the world, it would support a representative on the foreign mission in China. It appointed Andrew H. Woods, who was then secretary to the Christian College, Canton, China, its representative. In 1905, it sent Josiah McCracken to China to study the feasibility of taking over the medical school from the Canton College. Two years later, McCracken left again for China to operate the medical school in Canton, which was then renamed the University Medical School. When the Canton Christian College resumed operational control of the medical school in 1914, the CA transferred its interest to Shanghai, and from 1914 to 1948, McCracken served as Dean of the Shanghai medical school called "The Pennsylvania Medical School being the Medical Department of St. John's University." It took nothing less than the approach of a nation-wide Communist takeover to induce McCracken to leave the country. The medical school sponsored by the CA turned out hundreds of Chinese doctors, whose contribution to the development of China's modern medicine forms an outstanding achievement of the CA comparable to that of a similar project financed by the Rockefeller Foundation --the Peking Union Medical College.

        Similar to the McCracken mission, the CA formed in 1938 a committee exclusively for the purpose of supporting the work of Dr. Victor Rambo in India. Prominent members of the CA had paid for Rambo's medical education, and as a result, he dedicated his life to the elimination of blindness in India through eye surgery. Following the death of Dana G. How, CA director from 1928 to 1958 and a personal friend and strong supporter to Dr. Rambo, aid to this Indian mission soon ceased.

      • The CA’s campus ministry to gay students begin in the 1970’s. The first gay and lesbian peer counseling center in the Delaware Valley was established in 1975. The Gay Cultural Festival, support of student groups at Penn (Gays at Penn, Lesbians at Penn) and creation of the Philadelphia Lesbian Gay Task Force (PLGTF) all took place in 1978. The last organization was a support to the legal anti-discrimination efforts of the gay community at Penn and in Philadelphia.. Over the years the has sponsored LGBT events and speakers, sponsored Queer Christian Fellowship, embraced LGBT board members and staff and been an important ally on LGBTQ issues.

      • The CA served as a sanctuary during both the Vietnam War and the period following the passing of the Selective Service Act in the early 1980s. Also in the early 1980s, the CA started sponsoring student groups like the Penn Peace Action Committee and a number of "Peace & Justice" projects, among them the Mobilization for Survival (MOBE) and Stop the Pentagon/Serve the People (STP). The CA also invited the Berrigan brothers, prominent for their advocacy of civil disobedience, for talks against nuclear weapons and gave financial support to such outside groups as Swords into Plowshares.


        In 2002, Penn Faculty and Staff against the War in Iraq was organized. Veterans for Peace currently meet at the CA on a regular basis.

      • The CA committed itself to a domestic mission called Project Mississippi in 1965. Participants in the program traveled to Tribbit, Mississippi, to build tent homes and facilities for striking tenant farmers who had been evicted. In 1974, the CA organized the Penn Hunger Action Committee and in the early 1980s sponsored the formation of the Penn Committee for the Homeless. The latter grew in time into a cooperative program called the University City Hospitality Coalition, which started feeding local homeless people on a regular basis and continues to this day.

        Outside the U.S., the CA focused its efforts in Central and South America and South Africa. It supported such programs and activities as the Central American Solidarity Alliance, the Penn Committee for Divestment (from South Africa), and the Progressive Student Alliance. Throughout the 1980s, the CA organized Central America Week at Penn, a movement based originally on the memorial for Oscar Romero, a missionary priest killed in El Salvador.

      • In 1898, two Penn undergraduates, Josiah C. McCracken (M.D., 1901, and CA president of 1898-1900) and William Remington (B.S., 1900, and CA vice president of the same period), started a Sabbath-afternoon School for a group of boys in the neighborhood in an impoverished area east of the Schuylkill River. This initiative turned out to be the forerunner of two major programs of the CA's social service in the future--the settlement houses and summer camps.


        Settlement Houses

        The CA General Secretary reported in 1899 that a "U.P. Christian Settlement" formally opened on January 1st, 1899, at 2524 South Street, and that the inauguration of the program and the supervision of the work had largely been a credit to Andrew H. Woods (M.D., 1899). As the program grew, the CA moved the University Settlement House to 2601 Lombard Street in 1906. Later on, the settlement house program further expanded, first in 1928, to the Dixon House at 1920 South 20th Street, a property it eventually owned, and then in 1932 and 1945 respectively, to two others which it operated--the Oxmead Farm work camp in Burlington, NJ, and the Western Community House at 1613 South Street (the latter being formerly the Western Soup Society founded in 1837).

        In 1905, records show that there were 75 volunteer workers teaching young men's classes in civil government, printing, history, gymnastics, singing and shorthand; lectures to men by university professors; boys classes in reading, history, spelling, arithmetic, drawing and gymnastics; and weekly entertainments in each of the 4 houses. Religious meetings were held on Sunday evening in each house. In addition, there were several good teams in football, baseball, basketball -- coached by Penn students. Reading and game rooms were open every evening. There were also cooking classes for mothers, kindergarten for children, and girls classes in sewing, cooking, drawing, singing, gymnastics, girls basketball teams. The settlement also had a doctor treating about 300 cases monthly; camp for young men, boys and girls.

        Summer Camps

        The search for summer camp to which mothers and their little children under 10 and boys and girls of the settlement could go for two weeks stay began at Swamp Creek (Unami) in upper Montgomery County and the students followed the creek down until they reached a beautiful section of the creek for swimming and boating, an old farm house and barn and 70 acres of land. Marshall Morgan purchased and donated the property for University Camp for Boys at Green Lane, PA (70 acres.) He had been President of the General Board of the CA and chairperson of its Social Service Committee. The Green Lane Boys Camp is started for Philadelphia boys from families with modest means. The last 10 days of the camping season were given to girls. Each summer, nearly 800 boys between the ages of 10 and 14 are accommodated during the camping season. Outing for mothers with children under 10 were provided at Oxmead Farm in Burlington NJ.

        In 1925 Green Lane Girls camp was established, sharing the University Camp for Boys. Dr. Edward Sibley donated 150 acres of his estate for a separate Green Lane Girls’ camp in memory of his 12-year-old daughter. The camps were required to maintain as close as possible to a 50/50 white/non-white ratio, and had Penn students serve as counselors during the summer. Both programs--the settlement houses and the camps--flourished from the late 1920s through the late 1950s, when Dana G. How was the CA Director. In 1963, the camps and settlement houses were separated from the CA and placed under control of the Diversified Community Services (DCS).

        To learn more about Dana How, the history of the University Camps and the Dana How Social Services Fund go to www.universityboysandgirlscamps.com