HISTORY OF FRIENDS
Friends School has a long
and honored history in Palestine and it is interesting to trace the
origins of our two schools of which we are justly proud. The history of
the Friends School is one closely tied with the history of Palestine.
Over the last one hundred and fifty years, the School have experienced
Turkish, British, Jordanian, and Israeli occupation, world wars, and
The Friends School in their checkered political history has served not only as schools but as
a center for refugees, as a hospital, as a center for community
lectures, concerts and other cultural activities.
Friends work began in 1869 with a number of small schools for girls in the villages surrounding Ramallah. In October 1889
Friends Girls School opened as “The Girls Training Home of Ramallah”.
The fifteen students who enrolled the first year came from Lydd, Jaffa,
Aboud, Jerusalem, Beirut and Ramallah, and six years later the first
class graduated. Miss Katie Gabriel from Lebanon was the first
principal, serving eighteen years.
In 1897 the first
addition was made to the original two-story house. That was the present
girls’ dining room with adjoining room and hallway, and a dormitory
above, which is now Swift Hall. Gradually, class by class was added
until Friends Girls School became a secondary as well as an elementary
school. In 1910 the third floor dormitory was added.
A Boys Training Home was founded in 1901, at the
urging of community members, for the purpose of providing Palestinian
boys a rigorous academic program under girded by the principles of the
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The school was first housed in
a building near the Friends Girls School in Ramallah and as the school
grew from its initial enrolment of 15 students, land was bought in
El-Bireh in 1905 and the first stone of the main building laid in 1913.
experiments in mixed classes of boys and girls began in 1902, the two
training homes for Boys and for Girls had classes together for one and
half hours a day and it was hailed as a great success. The Friends
Meeting House in the centre of Ramallah was built in 1910.
In 1914 the Friends Boys School
Main Building was completed but it only came into use as a school in
Girls Training Home and the Boys School like all other schools in
Palestine were closed throughout the war. During those years Turkish and
then British troops occupied the buildings. British troops used the
Boys School as a hospital in 1917.
Both schools reopened in 1919. At the newly named
‘Friends Girls School, day students, as well as boarders were accepted.
Electric light was first used at the schools in 1923. Building at the
Girls School continued and in 1925 the remainder of the third floor was
constructed. At that time the former dormitory on the second floor was
converted into an assembly room and named Swift Hall in honour of Sara
J. Swift of New England. The home economics cottage was built in 1929
and Whittier Hall in honour of Alice Whittier Jones in 1934.
Boys first took
the Palestinian Matriculation examination in Jerusalem in 1926. The
Lowell Jones Library was given by Rufus Jones in 1928. Tennis courts
were added in 1927. Grant Hall was built in 1933.
partition of Palestine in 1948 and the subsequent expulsion of many
Palestinians again changed the character of the School. Friends Meeting
House and the School grounds as they became the temporary home for
refugees. School numbers swelled to accommodate refugees from the
coastal cities. The White Gifts giving was instituted to give
foodstuffs and money to needy families. There was a conscious endeavour
to increase the Schools’ scholarship support. As World War Two came to
an end, once again the schools continued to struggle to be a positive
influence in a troubled world.
schools had a relatively peaceful life during the Jordanian period from
1948-1967. The fifth secondary class of the Friends Girls School was
added in 1956, and plans were ready for opening the sixth secondary in
1963. In 1962 four classrooms were added to Whittier Hall.
Israeli occupation the boarding sections in both schools were closed, as
students from neighboring countries were no longer able to come.
Since the very earliest
years of the schools’ foundation, both boys and girls from the two
separate schools had shared some classes and this strategy had proved
successful. Both boys and girls were always taught together from
Kindergarten to Grade 2. The upper Kindergarten had begun very early in
the Friends Girls School history and was permanently expanded to the
Lower Kindergarten in 1983. There was a growing belief that co-education
was educationally sound and could work well in Palestine. As the first
Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, grew in strength, enrolment
plummeted. The financial situation also put pressure on the Board to
look closely at how to use the resources of the two schools more
efficiently. In 1990, the campus of the Girls School became a
co-educational Elementary School and Kindergarten and the campus of the Boys School became a
co-educational High School. When both schools are fully occupied, FGS
will have 580 pupils in Kindergarten and grades 1 to 6 and FBS 470 boys
and girls in grades 7 to 12.
the Oslo agreements, the uneasy peace brought greater stability to the
schools with the emergence for the first time of a government in waiting
that had a real interest in Palestinian education. The second
Intifada began in September 2000. Since the beginning of the second
uprising, the Schools have been in the center of towns exposed to a new
level of violence with sequences of nightly shelling from Israeli tanks
and light artillery and attacks by helicopter gunners. The psychological
well being of our parents, students and staff was shaken and our
enrolment figures fell to 370 pupils in the FBS and 540 in the FGS in
2000/2001 as families left for America and elsewhere to escape the
violence. The expansion of the Friends Girls School to three classes in
each grade from 1 to 6 will be complete by September 2003. However, in the
past following each tragedy the school has recovered, maintaining its
reputation as a leading academic center in the Palestinian community.
Despite everything today the Schools continue to demonstrate the
resilience and patience of the Palestinian community keeping alive the
hope and vision of a better future and to demonstrate the willingness of
our Friends and Alumni overseas to help financially when the school’s
viability is threatened.