Steven Girard

Merchant, Mariner, Banker, Philanthropist, Humanitarian, Patriot

by Mike DiMeo, Girard College graduate (1939) and author of "The Stone Cocoon," about the college.


Stephen Girard came to America by way of Philadelphia in 1776 through circumstance rather than by purpose. He had been to New York on earlier voyages, but it was not until his arrival in Philadelphia that Girard made America his permanent home. He went on to be the wealthiest citizen and, in several ways, he contributed much to the early growth of the new nation he adopted. His influence was evident in shipping, construction, banking, and even in politics, later into coal mining and railroads. In a more benign display of control, Girard gained great civic regard with his attention to the human tragedies that took a toll in the early years of the Republic. His generosity was exhibited in many charitable works, the most notable of which thrives today. One hundred and sixty seven years after his death, Girard College, a school opened in his name, continues to function as he decreed it, giving opportunity to those who would otherwise not have it. Stephen Girard's legacy lives on in diverse ways, visible and invisible, public and silent, his mark indelibly inscribed on our society.

Little Stephen

A postcard depicting an older Stephen Girard standing among the orphans

Born on May 20th, 1750, in Bordeaux, the largest seaport in southwestern, France, Stephen Girard felt the attraction of the seas at an early age, and would find his destiny in answering that call. The early business knowledge that Stephen Girard so readily acquired came after sailing the seas first as a recruit, later as master, gaining the wisdom that would take him far afield into profitable business ventures other than those that resulted from his maritime successes. The United States of America did not yet exist when young Stephen Girard boarded his first ship. However, his innate business intelligence, gathered beyond that of his peers, held that his destiny would one day make him the richest man in this country.

Girard grew up as the oldest in a large family of nine children born to Pierre and Anne Girard. He had no formal schooling; there was no system of public education in France until after the French Revolution. His education came from his parents and from tutors. Pierre and Anne Girard were aware of his growing love for a life at sea and were keenly attentive as their young son outlined his dreams to them, dreams that would soon take him across the seas and, eventually, to a new home.

Girard was a willing student; he assimilated knowledge quickly and developed a thirst for learning that served him well as he grew to be the foremost business titan of his time. The lure of the sea came naturally to Girard. His father had gone on to become a ship's captain while in his twenties, and his grandfather had even earlier decided on a career at sea when only ten years old. That influence likely effected Stephen Girard's tendencies toward the water.

Lonely Times

Girard's early life was difficult. Whether or not he was born without vision in his right eye is unknown. What is certain is that the eye was not only sightless, it became a repulsive looking abnormality that brought young Girard ridicule and, later, unwarranted social isolation. The cruelty of those with whom Girard associated in business and in casual social activity as they observed his affliction with obvious distaste, forced him into seclusion at times, and brought with it a stigma that labeled him as shy and withdrawn.

Anne Girard, Stephen's mother, died at the age of thirty-six. The continued pregnancies and the labors of childbearing, one upon another, contributed to her death in April of 1762. The passing of his mother had great impact on Stephen Girard and was likely the impetus that helped send him to sea early in 1764. He set sail from Bordeaux on the brig Pelerin as a pilotin, an apprentice officer.

Sea Ya!

The learning process as a pilotin included many ship-maneuvering nuances normally handled only by the captain of the vessel. Girard's quick and favorable responses to the demands of ocean travel quickly became apparent. As a result, Girard was given greater latitude in his role as pilotin. With that vote of confidence, he was able to grasp not only the demands of handling and commanding a ship at sea; he also learned much about buying and selling cargo; at that time, principally sugar and coffee. Despite a demanding schedule on board ship, Girard read extensively, broadening his intellect and developing an assurance and self-confidence that would bring him to a command of his own ship at an early age.

Girard's first voyage as a captain came at the helm of a brigantine named Sally. At twenty-three years of age, Stephen Girard was a small, man, only five feet six inches in height. But he was resolute as the captain of a sea-going vessel. His strong voice produced the authoritative ring necessary to hold the attention of a crew at sea for extended periods. His bright red hair accented his thorough demeanor, and he countenanced no nonsense on board his ship.

Upon his return to Bordeaux in 1773, Girard was formally licensed as a captain in the French merchant marine by the French government. His reputation and skill as a sea captain obtained other potentially lucrative voyages for him, and he was soon carrying out sizable business deals that brought him extensive profits.

New York, New York

Another voyage took Girard westward arriving in New York in July of 1774. In short order, he became acquainted with ship owners and merchants in the teeming city. A series of voyages to New Orleans on vessels owned by Thomas Randall, who befriended the energetic Girard led to a highly profitable business association for both of them. Stephen Girard began to develop an appreciation for the potential of the American market, buying sugar and coffee in the West Indies to sell in the new nation, while in return shipping American goods to the West Indies, an arrangement that allowed him to quickly accumulate considerable capital.


When America began to flex its young muscles, intent on gaining independence from British control, the Crown countered by blockading American ports. In May of 1776, the blockade of the colonies, took Girard off his intended course to New York and steered him instead up the Delaware River in command of the Jeune Babe, a schooner in which he had part ownership. The diversion proved to be fortuitous; it brought him to Philadelphia where he took up permanent residence and where his meteoric rise to riches began. On June 6, 1776, Girard found himself in the midst of a revolution; the colonies were debating whether or not to break from Britain, and Thomas Jefferson was putting the early touches to the Declaration of Independence.

The Loving Landlubber

In the first weeks of Girard's residence in Philadelphia, turmoil grew more insistent; the Declaration of Independence was finalized. Girard decided to throw his newly developed business influence, tenuous though it might have been in those first months, on the side of the Americans. As a Frenchman, he had no great love for the British, and saw an opportunity to help the fledgling nation in its bold determination to gain independence, not in any combative way for him, but in the profitable business of supply.

The business environment that Girard developed so skillfully around him eventually helped determine that he could no longer go to sea as an active seafaring merchant. It was not only the management of his business enterprises that demanded his attention at home in America. In 1776, he met, courted, and eventually married an eighteen-year old beauty, Philadelphia native, Mary Lum. Girard was then approaching his twenty-seventh birthday. Outweighing his need to tend to business was Girard's attachment and passion for Mary. Returning to France and continuing his sea life took a back seat to spending time with his new wife.

Shortly after Girard married Mary Lum, he purchased a home at 211 Mill Street in Mount Holly, New Jersey. There they lived and established a store selling sundry items to the locals, at the same time selling provisions to the American revolutionaries — which annoyed the British greatly. Girard had embraced the American bid for liberty, but in so doing, also saw opportunity for profit. He continued his business dealings in Mount Holly as the war raged about him in New Jersey.

As the British left the Mount Holly area, Stephen Girard and his wife moved back to Philadelphia where their business flourished in 1777 and 1778. While enjoying his profits as a Philadelphia merchant, Girard was also acquiring a fondness for the city itself and its stimulating environment. Girard, the Frenchman, was rapidly embracing the standards of his adopted American society. It was acceptable practice for wealthy and prominent citizens of the time to acquire slaves as a commodity. Girard was no different in that regard; he felt no stigma in owning slaves. But while he had slaves in his household, he did not carry slaves on any of his ships.

Citizen Girard

On October 27, 1778, Stephen Girard officially became an American. The process of formally accepting him took place in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Girard moved easily into his new status; in becoming an American, he also pledged an oath of allegiance to Pennsylvania. In doing so, he gained other favors that benefited him financially.

The war continued and for Girard business continued favorably. He put great emphasis on his maritime ventures. In defying the proximity of the British blockade, he took risks, but healthy profits were also his. He increased the potential for profit by investing in ships, buying into those ships that moved his cargoes.

Business pursuits went on in methodical and practical fashion for Stephen Girard after the war ended. By 1781, he was a maritime entrepreneur of extraordinary dimensions. His expertise was widely recognized and his skills in business dealings seemed to flow quite naturally. But the success came from a practical and hard-working man. His prosperity came from an unstinting work ethic. All things pointed to a world full of promise and happiness.

Glum Lum

In early 1785, the world around Stephen Girard began to crumble. With a suddenness that was alarming, his wife exhibited prolonged periods of uncontrolled emotional outbursts. Mental instability accompanied by violent rage over time led to a conclusion that Mary Girard was insane. They had been married but eight years.

Mistress #1

Girard was devastated. For two years, he tried without success to have the medical community help her. But in 1787, Girard finally recognized that his marriage was ended. He took a mistress, Sally Bickham, into his home to replace the lost affections of his wife. At that time, there was no stigma associated with the practice of acquiring a mistress. Girard no longer had a wife with whom he could continue a peaceful and compatible relationship. Sally Bickham would fill the void.

Mind Your Business

Despite the sad intrusion of his wife's illness into his otherwise stable life, Girard was able to devote his energies to business; he widened his influence in the maritime trade. His astute business instincts led him in the direction of the trade with China, a decision that had him take the lead as a global trade prospector. He even went to sea on one of his own ships taking cargo to his native land, France. It was the last time he set foot in France and his last trip as captain of any vessel.

During his journey, in April of 1788, Girard's father died, though he would not learn of it for months. Stephen Girard's inheritance amounted to less than one hundred dollars, an irony considering his own gathering wealth. He also inherited the house where his father had lived and where he (Stephen) was born.

In 1789, the United States Constitution effectively brought on and established governmental control of the country, eliminating individual state mandates that had caused confusion in the shipping business. Any and all regulations governing the shipping industry were centralized with the federal government, presenting a more orderly process. For Stephen Girard, the decision was beneficial. The tentacles of his worldwide trade could reach out unfettered and unrestricted as they sometimes had been under state laws.

In 1790, the relatively peaceful maritime industry that Girard enjoyed was once again thrown into turmoil. The French Revolution would rage for years and disrupt world commerce. Girard knew that his profitable business enterprises would be in jeopardy.

Committed to Mary, but Mary Is Committed

His concerns in those troubled times were compounded by the increasingly deteriorating condition of his wife, Mary. She had been insane for five years, and there appeared to be no hope for recovery. In August of 1790, Girard had his wife committed to Pennsylvania Hospital as an incurable lunatic. This was not done without total awareness of the enormity of his actions. Girard, sparing no expense, made certain that there be effort made to ease his wife's discomfort; she was afforded every luxury possible. While confined, Mary Girard gave birth to a baby girl that died in infancy. There has never been conclusive proof that Stephen Girard fathered that child nor any proof to the contrary.

In the aftermath of his wife's commitment, a relative tranquillity settled on Girard until late in the summer of 1793. Philadelphia was then the capital of the United States, and the population was expanding rapidly. A scourge would come to Philadelphia that would diminish the population considerably before running its course.

Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever came to the city, likely by way of refugees who had fled a rebellion in St-Domingue and found refuge in America. With a touch of irony, Stephen Girard afforded financial assistance to some of those refugees who likely carried the disease to America. Girard was to emerge as a hero in the dissolution of the disease. Before the hideous malady had run its course, five thousand Philadelphians would die.

Citizens by the thousands fled the city, including the most prominent of them, President George Washington. But Girard, who could have taken refuge at any safe haven of his choosing, remained to care for the sick and the dying. He further supervised the work of other volunteers in transforming Bush Hill, a mansion just outside the city limits, into a hospital. There the grisly job of removing the dead coincided with improving the lot of the living. It was undertaken with Girard doing many of the menial tasks associated with those chores. Through his tireless efforts, those stricken with the disease, in the care of Girard and the staff at Bush Hill, gained a fair chance of survival. Those who perished were given proper burial.

In late October of the year, with the onset of cold weather, the hideous disease and the death toll associated with it began to wane. Girard was recognized as a hero, and was publicly acclaimed as such in a meeting held in City Hall. Girard's prominence as a successful merchant was already widely acknowledged in business circles. Not until his display of courage in combating the frightening Yellow Fever epidemic did he gain public acclaim. He remained ever reticent about his status as a hero, however.

Girard Disagrees with Washington

There was great unrest on the oceans of the world as the glow of victory over the dreaded Yellow Fever subsided for Girard and the year 1793 ran its course. His shipping enterprises were at risk again as marauding vessels, including British warships, French and Spanish privateers, seized many of his ships, and confiscated his cargoes. In the years between 1793 and 1795, Girard initiated a movement to have the U.S. government be more heavily involved in protecting the shipping industry. There was war between France and Great Britain at that time, and Girard was in sharp disagreement with President Washington's foreign policy on that issue. It was his contention that the United States should be more supportive of France. He reasoned that France had come to the aid of the young Republic in its struggle to gain independence; it was then quite proper for the United States to reciprocate, he further would suggest. In giving aid to the French, at the same time, the United States warships could provide security for all shipping. That was Girard's reasoning.

There was little of substance that came from his verbal confrontation with the Washington administration. A treaty was effected with Britain but gave little promise that the British would halt their aggressive actions against shipping. In fact, the compromise known as the "Jay Treaty," (John Jay was Washington's envoy to Britain) was quite conciliatory to the British and satisfied few, Girard being one of the most vocal in arguing its decidedly favorable British concessions. President Washington also saw the treaty as a victory in diplomatic circles for the British and a stinging setback for young America. But the president reasoned that it was a necessity for the time.

Despite the uncertainties of shipping worldwide, Girard's business enterprises continued to prosper; his wealth increased accordingly, but he remained a simple man, luxuriating only in a penchant for good food, fine wine and his mistress. As he approached the middle years of his life, he seemed to more enjoy his work and the increased demands made on him physically and emotionally. He shared his increased wealth willingly with those around him, giving considerable sums to charity, and afforded care and consideration for those whom he employed.

Idle Hands...

Generosity was one side of Girard that was apparent; another equally obvious characteristic was his discontent with an idle man; he found idleness to be offensive. One of those who benefited most by his generosity was the brother of his mistress, Sally Bickham. Girard had taken her younger brother into his care many years earlier. Martin Bickham gained much from Girard's love and teaching; he was treated as the son Stephen Girard never had. With Girard as his mentor and protector, Martin was introduced to the business world when only fourteen years of age. Under Girard's tutelage, Sally Bickham watched with pride as her brother became a eager student, absorbing the business savvy that his benefactor so willingly put before him, and prospered as a lifetime employee. With Sally and her brother under the same roof, Girard lived the family life he seemed to enjoy.

Mistress #2

In 1796, that family atmosphere was markedly changed. Sally Bickham, Girard's surrogate wife for nine years, left his side to marry. The parting was amicable and Girard was sorry to see her leave, but he did not tarry long in replacing Sally. Shortly after her departure, Girard took another mistress. Polly Kenton, a laundress, twenty-six years younger than Girard, and only twenty-six years of age, moved into the Girard house.

Girard's worth at that time was in excess of $250,000, and he was well on his way to becoming a millionaire; Polly Kenton saw that as incentive to take on the role as mistress. She did not disappoint Girard, giving him all the comforts that such a relationship included. In return, Girard lavished upon her gifts of extreme extravagance, a contradiction to the austerity he normally exhibited, especially in business matters. But Polly was a woman cut from the same cloth as Girard; she worked hard and expected others to do the same. Aside from his love for her, Girard wanted to honor his mistress with gifts that would please her as a woman.

Down on the Farm

In addition to his wealth-building expertise in shipping and shipbuilding and in sharp contrast to the environment of the maritime business, Girard purchased a farm at the southern end of Philadelphia. He used the land as a working farm on which he would do much of the manual labor. His daily regimen included visits to the farm; it was a pleasant removal from his normal business of ships and other maritime matters. He loved the feel of the soil and the hard work associated with farming. Included with the purchase of the farm was a farmhouse that still stands today at Twenty-First and Shunk Streets. Girard never lived in that farmhouse, but those in his employ who did live there were ever conscious of his presence on the farm each day.

Many of the hundreds of fortunate youngsters who attended Girard College, a school Girard later endowed, and who gained so much through the excellence that Girard College represents, regularly gather at the farmhouse in ceremonies to honor their benefactor.

The angst that Girard suffered when the Jay Treaty was approved by the Washington administrations years earlier was relieved when Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801. Girard worked on Jefferson's behalf toward his election and was rewarded when Jefferson made drastic changes in foreign policy, changes that Girard had wanted and was denied by the Jay Treaty. Jefferson also took other measures to gain safety for ships at sea from which Girard took pleasure and comfort. Jefferson was Girard's kind of president.

The nineteenth century began with continuing unrest; the war between France and Great Britain still made trading with European nations a risky business. Stephen Girard began to look more to longer trade routes that could be profitable while he lessened his attention somewhat to those that were closer by in Europe. He eyed especially, the possibilities of increasing his trade with China. The shipping lanes to that distant land sent Girard's vessels around South America, and made ports along the way attractive for trade as well.

A Revolutionary Experience

He had been secretly selling arms to revolutionaries in South America, Simon Bolivar, in particular. Other South American countries also were experiencing political upheaval. It was a time for bold and perhaps risky moves toward supplying those countries with not only the implements of war, but also with everyday necessities.

Girard was not one to shy away from risk if profit came from that risk. He did not plunge into unwarranted trouble sites, but weighed carefully his return. He tactfully petitioned the federal government, President Madison in particular, to approve his desire to supply those countries in South America, fighting to maintain their independence, with arms and supplies. Girard got no approval; in fact, he received no response at all from President Madison. Girard, therefore, drew the conclusion that he could not and should not supply the South American rebels with arms and ammunition.

The problems with Great Britain had not abated and, in fact, the War of 1812 was on the horizon. In 1811, Girard was sixty-one years of age and had become a multi-millionaire, the richest man in America. His ability to continue to build his fortune was always at risk, however; piracy on the high seas still persisted, threatening ships and cargoes. Girard constantly reminded his government about what he felt was their responsibility to offer protection. Diplomatic and political effort failed to resolve the hardening impasse between the British and the Americans. Each took reprisals aimed at stifling trade between them, each banning one country's imports from the other.

Girard's Bank


Earlier, in 1791, the congress of the United States had sanctioned a national bank; the First Bank of the United States was born and began operations later that year. The public was permitted to buy shares in the fledgling enterprise. Stephen Girard, ever on the prowl for newer ways to turn a profit, intuitive in his assessment of opportunity, invested heavily and by 1811 was the bank's largest shareholder.

In 1812, the Bank's charter was due for renewal. There was great debate on the merits of government in banking; Girard was one who saw benefit in government operating a bank. The charter was not renewed however as the congress defeated the motion to renew. The Bank's property was put up for sale, and Girard, the opportunist, bought the Bank and its assets, reopening the facility almost immediately. Thus, this highly successful shipping magnate and merchant of high repute and skill boldly stepped into another business venture that would bring him enormous profit, far beyond even his boldest estimates. He was farsighted and he was fearless. Becoming a banker was only another conquest for this shrewd, hard-working man. Girard became a banker almost overnight and, in the process, he became America's most powerful banker. In naming his bank simply, Girard's Bank, it was not done to vent his ego. Rather, it exemplified his simple, straightforward, personality. There was no need for grandeur and pomposity. Girard's Bank would figure prominently in the future of his adopted nation in short order.

War of 1812

On June 18, 1812, after exhaustive and repeated attempts to solve the differences between America and Great Britain that had festered over the years, President Madison signed an official declaration of war against the nation the United States had defeated three decades earlier in the Revolutionary War.

There was determination in the declaration of war, but there was also great risk. America was hardly capable of conducting the war with any superiority in numbers or equipment. As a fledgling nation, only beginning to gather itself as an independent, America was hardly in a position to conduct a war. It would need resources and money. On the opposite side, the British were in a far better position to conduct a successful war.

After many attempts to shore up the finances of the Treasury Department, all of them failing, it became obvious to all government officials and Stephen Girard, that the United States would lose the war with the British unless a large infusion of money was made to the U.S. Treasury. In early 1813, the fears became fact: the U. S. Treasury had run out of money. Stephen Girard was the only one with the necessary cash to make the Treasury solvent once more. John Jacob Astor and a few other lesser financiers had committed to a part of the sum needed to help the Treasury, but their commitment fell far short of the sum needed to finance the war.

A Loan to the Treasury in Excess of Eight Million Dollars

Without demanding the concessions from the government, concessions that he could readily have obtained, Girard displayed the courage and the patriotism that few others could or would. He risked his entire fortune in granting a loan to the Treasury in excess of eight million dollars. When his country was down and out, Girard came to the rescue.

The Treaty of Ghent officially ended the war in December of 1814. America once more retreated to a peace that was obtained largely because one man, Girard, displayed the confidence in his nation that others lacked. Bold and fearless, wise, and with indomitable spirit, Girard gave America a lesson in courage and love of country that should have been recorded by historians with greater understanding, certainly with a more profound passion and eloquence.

September 13, 1815, should have been a date of no special import for Stephen Girard. There were no new shipping disasters, and there was nothing to interfere with the new and successful banking career of Stephen Girard. It did become, however, a date of momentous proportions to Stephen Girard. On that date, his wife Mary, who had been a loving companion in marriage for eight years before going insane, and who languished in the silence of her insanity for twenty-five years, died at Pennsylvania Hospital. She was fifty-six years old at her death.

Girard was distraught when Mary died; he displayed great emotional distress at her passing and wept as he said farewell at her final viewing. His moving expression of remorse at her death might have come from his torment of not having been able to consummate a family with her; his joy when having children around him in his home, some as almost strangers, might give credence to that speculation. He had tried on two occasions to gain a divorce from Mary while she slowly passed through her twenty-five years of insanity, but he never neglected her well being. She was afforded the best care that could be provided at that time despite the difficulty in understanding and treating the illness that plagued her. In accordance with her husband's wishes, Mary Lum Girard was laid to rest on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Hospital, her grave site unmarked and unadorned.

Girard's business strength never faltered in the face of that adversity. His banking successes multiplied and his reputation in the banking industry soon became legend. He was frequently courted for advice and support on banking matters. A Second Bank of the United States came about largely through his influence. The bank was located in Philadelphia so as to be in concert with Girard's Bank, also located in that city. Girard's wealth and personal appeal were a positive factor as well as the financial stability that accrued in doing business with Girard's Bank.

Despite his wealth, which entitled Girard to a life of luxury and ease should he desire, he was a hands-on businessman; in shipping, farming, and in banking, he was visible in all areas of the workplace, often performing menial, physically demanding tasks in defiance of his advancing years. "My deeds must be my life," he said. "When I am dead, my actions must speak for me." He further said that when death came for him he would be busy unless he was asleep in bed. Those words truly represented this simple living, but philosophically complex man.

New Investments

Girard's physical abilities were diminishing in the advance of his years, but his mental acuity remained at a high level; he saw opportunity where others did not. Coal and the railroad became a new, exciting and profitable challenge for him as he approached the twilight of his life. He purchased land in upstate Pennsylvania; the value that Girard perceived in making his bold venture was to be accrued as coal mining would bring him new riches. He was then seventy-nine years old. When eighty-one, he invested in railroading, the vehicle that would carry the coal to the markets he envisioned would be there.

Girard continued to exert his diminishing physical energies to all of his many and diverse business enterprises. His personality remained as always: determined and resolute; hard work the only companion he felt to be a worthy one. Polly Kenton no longer was his mistress. After thirty-one years of a faithful relationship that had satisfied both parties, the separation came in 1827. The few remaining years of his life were spent as they had always been, working and looking constantly for more worlds to conquer.

Girard's Death

Death came to Stephen Girard on December 26, 1831. Influenza was taking a heavy toll in Philadelphia. He contracted the disease that quickly developed into pneumonia and proved to be fatal. His faithful slave, Hannah, was at his bedside when Girard died. She had served him for more than fifty years, and she would be rewarded in his will accordingly. She was granted her freedom and an annual income that would serve her well for the rest of her life. His generosity did not cease with his death.

Girard was buried four days later in the churchyard cemetery of Holy Trinity, where a simple grave site ceremony took place. In the four days between his death and burial, the city of Philadelphia paid tribute to Girard with acclamations of appreciation and respect for his contributions, both on a business and personal level. He had gained admiration from the citizens of Philadelphia for his selfless expressions of humanitarian concern; his funeral became a significant event as mourners, the rich, the poor, notables and the common man, all wished to publicly acknowledge the loss they felt.

Girard's Remarkable Will

Founder's Hall at Girard College

Girard's will had been carefully and painstakingly written and rewritten, especially in the final year of his life. Aside from his slave, Hannah, he also allotted lifetime incomes to the other women in his life allowing them to live comfortably in their remaining years. Many other charitable groups benefited from Girard's benevolence; his generosity knew no bounds.

Above all else, in a gesture that stands alone in the educational history of America, unique in the magnitude of that gesture, and an acknowledgment of the foresight of the man who envisioned the benefits, was the gift of Girard College. It is perhaps the single, most extraordinary portion of a legacy that speaks of Girard's generosity as no other. Carefully structured to his wishes, Girard College is located in the northern part of the city of Philadelphia. Stephen Girard, in his will, allocated millions to build and operate a boarding school for "poor, white, male orphans." That legacy was carried out as he willed it for one hundred and twenty years.

The will was amended in 1968 by order of the Supreme Court of the United States to strike the "poor, white, male orphan" provision so as to include the underprivileged without regard to race, creed or color. It was later amended a second time to allow for the admission of females. The school remains today as a leader in providing quality education to hundreds of children from poor families everywhere. It is a school without parallel.

Girard's will was severely challenged by relatives who regarded his gift to orphans to be excessive and counter to their own welfare in seeking the huge estate value for themselves. In 1844, provisions of the will were argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Daniel Webster was the petitioner for the Girard family; a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, Horace Binney, argued for the defense. In 1844, the Supreme Court upheld the will as it was written. It was then considered a stinging defeat for Daniel Webster.

Girard College


Building on the forty-five acre tract of land where Girard College was to rise in North Philadelphia had begun earlier. On January 1, 1848, the first students entered Girard College to begin studies in the basics of Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and other more advanced subjects touching on Astronomy, and various Philosophies. The curriculum also included the French and Spanish languages. Girard's will was specific in outlining the design of the buildings to house the students; he had given great thought also to the education that would be provided.

On January 9, 1851, Girard's remains were taken from the grave at Trinity Cemetery and moved to Girard College, and placed in Founder's Hall. Months later after completion of a sarcophagus, the casket holding the remains of Girard was placed in the sarcophagus in the front foyer of Founder's Hall. A life-size marble statue of Girard stands before the sarcophagus giving the students and visitors who can view it from the roadway below an impression of dignity, authority, and a peaceful aura of simplicity, competence, and durability.

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