In 1881, John George is living on the family farm, the sole survivor of a wealthy Hicksite family of six siblings who never married. After Swarthmore College (a Hicksite school) suffers a serious fire, he crosses paths with George Maris, who is campaigning for funds to repair the damage. Maris, a vigorous promoter of post-primary education for Hicksite Friends, lays the groundwork for discussing a secondary school during their first visit.
In two later visits (hastily conducted, for John George is by that time in his mid-eighties), George Maris and fund-raising companion Edmund Webster (later a member of the George School Committee) advocate the benefits of creating a secondary boarding school for Hicksite Quakers. By their third visit, John George is adequately convinced—and just in time. He adds a penciled codicil to his will only seventy-four days before his death on February 11, 1887, committing the bulk of his estate “for the purpose of erecting a boarding school.”
Although George Maris may be aware of the codicil, he keeps it to himself following his final visit. Contemporary accounts affirm that the will’s publication on February 18 is “a surprise and thrilling interest” to Philadelphia Hicksites.
The nature of the last-minute add-on to John George’s will raises prudent concern that the codicil may be contested. Although the codicil’s contents are published in 1887, the school does not open until 1893. At one of the opening ceremonies, George School Committee member George Watson attributes the six-year delay to the fear that someone might contest the will.
Rather than build the new school on the George family farm in Overbrook (a rapidly expanding suburban town), the Hicksite Yearly Meeting elects to sell the farm and choose a site elsewhere. The farm’s sale to developers makes George School’s initial endowment 50 percent higher than anticipated—total proceeds are close to $500,000.
In 1993, George School pays tribute to its founding donor by establishing the John M. George Society, which honors individuals who provide for the school in their wills or estate plans. Within five years of its establishment, it has more than 300 members.