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The St Andrew's Society of Philadelphia

The St. Andrew's Society of Philadelphia was formed in 1747 by twenty-five prominent gentlemen of Scottish descent in order to provide assistance to persons of Scottish ancestry who found themselves in financial distress in the Philadelphia area. The Society is believed to be the oldest charitable organisation in continuous existence in North America.

Foundation and Early History

In its early years, the Society welcomed many immigrants from Scotland, in particular those coming to American as a result of the 1745 rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the steady influx continued up to and past the Depression of the 1930s.

The Society figured prominently in the early days of the United States. Five of its members, Phillip Livingston, Thomas McKean, George Ross, James Wilson and John Witherspoon, signed the Declaration of Independence and two of these also signed the Constitution. Additional well-known Society members have included the first US Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Presidents William Howard Taft and Warren G. Harding, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, polar explorer Adm. Robert Peary and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Actress Reese Witherspoon is a direct descendent of Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, the only clergy member to be a signatory of the US Declaration of Independence.

Over the last half century, there has been less need from immigrants for the Society's assistance, and it has been able to devote more of its resources to education, and to other projects dedicated to the preservation of Scottish customs and traditions in the US. These include piping competitions, highland dancing, and Scottish games. Members take a direct role in local communities by giving lectures to schools and civic groups on Scottish history and culture.


Back row, l-r, St. Andrews Society Executive: 
Esther Anne McFarland, Rev. J. Barrie Shepherd, 2nd VP, John Francis 
McDonald, Past President, George C. McFarland, Jr., John Black
 McGowan, 1st VP; front row, l-r, 2007-2008 St. Andrew's Society Scholars: McNeil (at St. Andrew's), McFarland (at Edinburgh) and two Mutch scholarsIn 1958, the Society established a separate Foundation, the purpose of which was to provide scholarship assistance to local students who wished to study for a year at a Scottish university. These students are Andrew Mutch scholars, named for the revered former Society chaplain and president. The Foundation has grown considerably over the years through the establishment of specific family funds, such as the McNeil, McFarland, and Somers scholarships, to the extent that the Society now sends six area students to the Universities of St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, and brings one student from St. Andrews University to the University of Pennsylvania every year.

Since 1958, more than 117 scholars have attended Scottish Universities and more than 30 Scottish scholars have attended the University of Pennsylvania. The photo shows American students from the class of 2007-8 with Society officials. Thirty local colleges are invited to nominate candidates for these scholarships. Further to its dedication to education in our community, the Society maintains its office and library, containing several thousand volumes which are available to the public by appointment, at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia.


The Society holds an annual dinner on or around St. Andrew's Day, Nov. 30, which is attended by up to 400 members and guests with about half being in highland dress. The entertainment is supplied by the Cameron Highlanders Pipe Band which plays throughout the evening (but not continuously!). Invited speakers have included such luminaries as Lord Airlie (the Lord Chamberlain), Malcolm Forbes, the Duke of Argyll, and more recently, Mr. Henry McLeish, former First Minister of Scotland.

The Society holds an annual Burns Supper, Golf Outing, and has inaugurated a Tartan Ball which celebrates Tartan Day in the USA, April 6. It also publishes a newsletter, the Chronicle, and maintains a web site where more detailed information can be found. The Society is delighted to announce that The First Two Hundred Years 1747-1947, the recently republished history of the Society, will be available in September 2007 at Polyglot Press.

The primary activities of the Society members revolve around the quarterly meetings where Society business is conducted prior to cocktails, dinner, and a post-prandial speaker. For further details on our activities, please contact Andrew McGhie on mcghie @ lrsm.upenn.edu or David Scott at david @ polyglotpress.com (Select and Copy the address, Paste in your email message and remove any spaces).