Charles m. Wharton

Charles Wharton circa 1896 with signature below

Charles Marim Wharton was born in Magnolia, Delaware on November 14, 1870, a son of William and Amanda Layton Wharton.  William Wharton was a St. Jone's Neck farmer whose family was closely identified with Kent county dating back to the early 1700s.   Charles Wharton attended the Smyrna public schools and Conference Academy in Wilmington.  Wilmington Conference Academy was a Methodist preparatory school for boys founded in 1873 with the assistance of Charle's grandfather.  The school would later become a two year college and eventually Wesley College.   His first knowledge of football was gained not at Conference Academy but with Delaware Field Club, a local country club.  

The Delaware Field Club, Delaware's first organization for outdoor sports, started modestly on Jefferson Street in Wilmington in 1882 as a cricket club.  In 1890 the club moved to a spacious new headquarters in Elsmere and developed some of the finest sporting grounds in the state.   The new club was seven acres, enclosed with a twelve foot fence, and featured 24 tennis courts, a baseball field and a cricket field.   When the club moved to the new facility it also added a new sport - football.  Charles Wharton played football for the Delaware Field Club in 1892.  At 6’3” and 204 lbs. 'Big Wharton' was immediately a ‘tower of strength at right guard’ for the team.  He also played for the Warren Athletic Club in Wilmington that year.  It was his dominant presence with Warren against the Philadelphia Amateur YMCA Club, which was made up mostly of Penn football players, which caught the attention of first year Penn coach George Woodruff.  Wharton subsequently enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School in the spring of 1893 and began playing varsity football for the Quakers that fall. 

1895 Penn football team.  Wharton is second row, first on the left.

Wharton was the first great guard in George Woodruff’s “guards back” formation which led Penn to consecutive undefeated championship seasons in 1894 and 1895. This innovative system provided moving interference for the running backs and allowed the guards to occasionally carry the ball.  For a large man Wharton was unusually fast and was in the thick of every scrimmage. One news reporter referred to Wharton as a “blocking dynamo, often taking out entire sides of an enemy line in the style of an axe-swinging Paul Bunyan”.  He was a unanimous choice for captain in 1896 and led the team to a 14-1 record, with their sole loss against undefeated national champion Lafayette (6-4).  He was a unanimous first team All-American selection in 1895 and 1896. In 56 games he played for Penn the Quakers only lost four contests.

Wharton from the 1895 Penn-Harvard football program

After graduating from dental school, Dr. Wharton played guard for the Orange Athletic Club in New Jersey.  The 1897 squad was made up of fellow Penn teammates Carl Williams, William Farrar, Alfred Bull and Joseph Oppenheimer. The team had an underwhelming 4-3-1 record that year.  The services of Wharton, along with Oppenheimer and Farrar, were procured by the Duquesne Country & Athletic Club for their championship contest against the Pittsburg Athletic Club on November 20, 1897.  It was common practice back then to recruit star players for key matchups.  With Wharton in the lineup, DC&AC cruised to a 10-0 victory.  Wharton was noted as a ‘whole team in himself’ during the contest and scored the first touchdown that afternoon.  After the game Wharton returned to Orange Athletic Club for the remainder of the season.

1897 Orange Athletic Club football team

The following year Wharton gave up professional football and enrolled at the University of the South Medical School in Sewanee, Tennessee where he received his medical degree in 1901.  He practiced medicine briefly in Philadelphia, PA and Dover, DE.  While attending to a patient in Dover he fell in the love with his nurse, Margaret Page.  They were wedded in 1916 and were married for 31 years until Margaret passed away on December 8, 1947.

During World War I, Wharton joined Walter Camp’s fitness program to develop a system of physical training for both the US Army and Navy.  He was a commissioned Captain and charge of athletic development at the Naval Training Base in Hampton Roads, VA.  In 1919 he was sent to Cooperstown, NY to supervise the construction of a military hospital for the psychiatric recovery of shell-shocked military aviators.  After the war this hospital would become the prestigious Bassett Medical Center. 

Penn coaches circa 1925.  Wharton is second from the left.

Wharton was a Delaware state senator from 1914 to 1918. He was also the unsuccessful Democratic Party candidate for governor in 1928, losing to Clayton Douglass Buck.  He returned to the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor of physical education and field director of athletics from 1919 to 1931.  He also coached the defensive line for the Quakers.  He was head of the Delaware University Physical Education Department from 1932 to 1936.  Wharton was a trustee of the Ferris Industrial School, where a recreation hall was named in his honor.  He was a member of the local free mason Harmony Lodge, a member of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Delta Phi Fraternity and an active member of the Christ Episcopal Church in Dover, DE.  He was the director of the Delaware Unemployment Compensation Commission in Wilmington when he passed away at his home on November 14, 1949.  He was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.

circa 1930 reunion photo of the 1894 Penn football team.  Wharton is back row, far right.


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