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BFU: Inspired by Ben Franklin

This post was written by Kelsey Diemand Librarian in Residence in the Science, Technology and Business Division.

Benjamin Franklin, portrait by Charles Willson Peale. Photo Detroit Publishing Co., between 1900 and 1920.
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You may know Benjamin Franklin as a scientist and inventor, statesman and diplomat, or maybe you recognize him as the guy on the one-hundred dollar bill. Ben Franklin is famous for his role in the American Enlightenment and as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Recently, I was on the hunt for something interesting to commemorate Franklin’s 313rd birthday (which was on January 17th). I discovered some images in Prints & Photographs of Benjamin Franklin University (BFU), which I learned was located right here in DC! (The university was originally housed in the Transportation Building at the Northeast corner of 17th and H Streets and moved in 1938 to 1100 16th Street Northwest). While Ben Franklin was a polymath and man of many ambitions, perhaps lesser known were his beliefs on industry, thrift, frugality, and self-reliance. It was upon these principles and his legacy that the Benjamin Franklin University School of Accountancy and Financial Administration was formed in 1925, more than a century after his death.

Needing to learn more, I searched the Library stacks and found a small collection of Benjamin Franklin University catalogs right here in the Adams building! The catalogs include information on annual tuition, faculty, and courses for BFU. Many of these catalogs also include the type and number of degrees conferred for that year and lists of successful alumni. From the beginning, the programming at BFU emphasized accounting theory and practice, financial administration, and business management.

Benjamin Franklin University. Exterior of School of Accountancy, Benjamin Franklin University II, 1100 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. . Theodor Horydczak Collection, between 1937 and 1950.
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“Take great care in keeping your accounts well…examine whether you gain, or lose; and carefully survey your stock, and inspect into every particular of your affairs.” – Benjamin Franklin in Rules Proper to be Observed in Trade

Several of the BFU catalogs also include a brief history of the university. As noted in the 1978-79 catalog, BFU was founded by John Thomas Kennedy “for the purpose of offering the part time student the opportunity to acquire professional preparation for accountancy, financial administration and general business.” Kennedy was a “fourth generation Philadelphian” who admired his fellow Philadelphian’s principles of thrift and self-reliance, and thus named the university in his honor. BFU succeeded Pace Institute (established 1907) in Washington DC. By 1979, we learn that BFU’s “seventy-two years of specialization in accountancy has produced thousands of accountants, controllers, and corporate officers who have attained high positions in business, government, and the public practice of accounting.” Unfortunately, BFU closed its doors in 1987 due to changing educational standards and accreditation issues; however, BFU was able to live on, in a sense, by merging with The George Washington University (GWU). Then-President Lloyd Elliott stated that “The agreement provides an excellent opportunity for qualified Benjamin Franklin University students to continue their education.” The Benjamin Franklin University records are housed locally in DC at The GWU Archives.

Benjamin Franklin University. Theodor Horydczak Collection, between 1937 and 1950.
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BFU tried to boost enrollment by appealing to different types of prospective students and offering relevant course options. It provided evening classes, encouraged women to enroll, and offered summer courses for Veterans hoping to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. Nevertheless, the BFU community did suffer some limitations, as people of color were not represented at BFU until 1963. The two original degrees offered were Bachelor’s and Master’s of Commercial Science and by 1979, BFU also offered an Associate Degree in Business Administration. In the 1978-79 Benjamin Franklin University catalog, we learn that the first female bank examiner in the U.S. and the first female C.P.A. of Washington, DC were graduates of Benjamin Franklin University.

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

On this, the anniversary month of Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, we can clearly see the legacy he left through the Benjamin Franklin School of Accountancy and Financial Administration.

Benjamin Franklin: The statesman and philosopher. Currier & Ives, 1847.
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“In short, the way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words – industry and frugality; that is, waste neither your time nor money, but make the best use of both.” – Benjamin Franklin in Advice to a Young Tradesman

If you are interested in learning more about Ben Franklin and his thoughts on industry, frugality and thrift, you can view this publication by The Franklin Institute, which includes excerpts from some of Franklin’s writings on those subjects. You can also read Franklin’s The Way to Wealth, a collection of proverbs and advice, presented in his 1758 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac or check out the Benjamin Franklin Collection, housed here at the Library of Congress.

2 Comments

  1. Larry
    January 26, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    Interesting article…nicely done! Thank you.

    Any idea as to what the University building is used for now? Apartment house? Offices?, etc…etc.

    Thanks for any info.

    Larry Miller

  2. Kelsey Diemand
    January 29, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    Larry –

    I’m glad you enjoyed learning about Benjamin Franklin University! 1100 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C., the location of BFU for the majority of its lifetime, currently serves as home to the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center (SQCC). According to their website (https://www.sqcc.org/), “SQCC is dedicated to educating the peoples of the United States and Oman about the breadth and richness of our two cultures.” SQCC appears to have public exhibitions and other educational resources available for community involvement. Even before SQCC moved in in 2014, the building on 16th Street had a history of educational and cultural tenants. You can check out this Washington Post article to learn more of the building’s uses for the past three decades: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/answer-man-audits-the-history-of-benjamin-franklin-university-school-of-accountancy/2014/03/22/1147d274-af7b-11e3-95e8-39bef8e9a48b_story.html?utm_term=.54357f542b4f.

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