Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States. It was established in 1793 with funds from the estate of Ephraim Williams. Originally a men's college, Williams became co-educational in 1970.
Colonel Ephraim Williams was an officer in the Massachusetts militia and a member of a prominent landowning family. His will included a bequest to support and maintain a free school to be established in the town of West Hoosac, Massachusetts, provided that the town change its name to Williamstown. Williams was killed at the Battle of Lake George on September 8, 1755. After Shays' Rebellion, the Williamstown Free School opened with 15 students on October 26, 1791. The first president was Ebenezer Fitch. Not long after its founding, the trustees of the school petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to convert the free school to a tuition-based college. The legislature agreed and on June 22, 1793, Williams College was chartered. It was the second college to be founded in Massachusetts. At its founding, the college maintained a policy of racial segregation, refusing admission to black applicants. This policy was challenged by Lucy Terry Prince, who is credited as the first black American poet, when her son Festus was refused admission to the college on account of his race. Prince, who had already established a reputation as a raconteur and rhetorician, delivered a three-hour speech before the college's board of trustees, quoting abundantly from scripture, but was unable to secure her son's admission. More recent scholarship, however, has highlighted how there are no records within the college itself to confirm that this event occurred, and that Festus Prince may have been refused entry for an insufficient mastery of Latin, Greek, and French, all of which were necessary for successful completion of the entrance exam at the time, and which would most likely not have been available in the local schools of Guilford, Vermont, where Festus was raised. In 1806, a student prayer meeting gave rise to the American Foreign Mission Movement. In August of that year, five students met in the maple grove of Sloan's Meadow to pray. A thunderstorm drove them to the shelter of a haystack, and the fervor of the ensuing meeting inspired them to take the Gospel abroad. The students went on to build the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the first American organization to send missionaries overseas. The Haystack Monument near Mission Park on the Williams Campus commemorates the historic "Haystack Prayer Meeting". By 1815, Williams had only two buildings and 58 students and was in financial trouble, so the board voted to move the college to Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1821, the president of the college, Zephaniah Swift Moore, who had accepted his position believing that the college would move east, decided to proceed with the move. He took 15 students with him, and refounded the college under the name of Amherst College. Some students and professors decided to stay behind at Williams and were allowed to keep the land, which was at the time relatively worthless. According to legend, Moore also took portions of the Williams College library. Though plausible, the transfer of books is unsubstantiated. Moore died just two years later after founding Amherst, and was succeeded by Heman Humphrey, a trustee of Williams College. Edward Dorr Griffin was appointed President of Williams and is widely credited with saving Williams during his 15-year tenure. A Williams student, Gardner Cotrell Leonard, designed the gowns he and his classmates wore to graduation in 1887. Seven years later he advised the Inter-Collegiate Commission on Academic Costume, which met at Columbia University, and established the current system of U.S. academic dress. One reason gowns were adopted in the late nineteenth century was to eliminate the differences in apparel between rich and poor students. During World War II, Williams College was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a Navy commission
Williams seeks to provide the finest possible liberal arts education by nurturing in students the academic and civic virtues, and their related traits of character. Academic virtues include the capacities to explore widely and deeply, think critically, reason empirically, express clearly, and connect ideas creatively. Civic virtues include commitment to engage both the broad public realm and community life, and the skills to do so effectively. These virtues, in turn, have associated traits of character. For example, free inquiry requires open-mindedness, and commitment to community draws on concern for others. We are committed to our central endeavor of academic excellence in a community of learning that comprises students, faculty, and staff, and draws on the engagement of alumni and parents. We recruit students from among the most able in the country and abroad and select them for the academic and personal attributes they can contribute to the educational enterprise, inside and outside the classroom. Our faculty is a highly talented group of teachers, scholars, and artists committed deeply to the education of our students and to involving them in their efforts to expand human knowledge and understanding through original research, thought, and artistic expression. Dedicated staff enable this teaching and learning to take place at the highest possible level, as do the involvement and support of our extraordinarily loyal parents and alumni.
As of August, 2013, there are 30,300 living alumni of record, and 70 regional alumni associations nationwide and overseas. Alumni participation in the 2011-12 Alumni Fund was 62.5%. More than 58% of the alumni from the classes of 1980 to 2000 have earned at least one graduate or professional degree. The most popular graduate disciplines for alumni are management, education, law, and health care. The Society of Alumni of Williams College is the oldest existing alumni society of any academic institution in the United States. The Society of Alumni was founded during the "Amherst crisis" in 1821, when Williams College President Zephaniah Swift Moore left Williams. Graduates of Williams formed the Society to ensure that Williams would not have to close, and raised enough money to ensure the future survival of the school.