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Founding and Early HistoryEdit

The first American president George Washington had long argued for the creation of a university in the District of Columbia. In his will, he bequeathed fifty shares of the Potomac Company to support such an institution. He wrote, "I give and bequeath in perpetuity the fifty shares which I hold in the Potomac Company (under the aforesaid Acts of the Legislature of Virginia) towards the endowment of a University to be established within the limits of the District of Columbia, under the auspices of the General Government, if that Government should incline to extend a fostering hand towards it." The shares turned out to not be worth very much, but Washington's idea for a university continued. Aware of Washington's wishes, Baptist missionaries and leader minister Luther Rice raised funds to purchase a site for a college to educate citizens in Washington, D.C. A large building was constructed on College Hill, which is now known as Meridian Hill, and on February 9, 1821, President James Monroe approved the congressional charter creating the non-denominational Columbian College in the District of Columbia. The first commencement exercises in 1824 were considered an important event for new Washington, D.C.. They were attended by President Monroe, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Marquis de Lafayette, and other dignitaries. During the Civil War, most students left to join the Confederacy and the college's buildings were used as a hospital and barracks. Walt Whitman was among many of the volunteers to work on the campus. After the Civil War in 1873, the Columbian College became the Columbian University and the university moved to its present location. In 1904, the Columbian University became The George Washington University in an agreement with the George Washington Memorial Association.

The George Washington University, like much of Washington, D.C., traces many of its origins back to the Freemasons. The Bible that the presidents of the university use to swear an oath on upon inauguration is the Bible of Freemason George Washington. Freemasonry symbols have blatantly been located all throughout campus including the foundation stones of many of the university buildings. The Freemasons feel a special bond in helping the school throughout its history financially.


The majority of the present infrastructure and financial stability at GW is due to the tenures of Presidents Cloyd Heck Marvin, Lloyd Hartman Elliott, and Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. In the 1930s, the university was the center for theoretical physics. In one of the most important moments in the 20th century, Niels Bohr announced that Otto Hahn had successfully split the atom on January 26, 1939 at the Fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics in the Hall of Government. During the Vietnam War era, Thurston Hall, an undergraduate dormitory housing 875 students was (according to campus folklore) a staging ground for Student Anti-War Demonstrations (at 1900 F Street NW, the building is 3 blocks from the White House). In 1996, the university purchased the Mount Vernon College for Women in the city's Foxhall neighborhood that became the school's coeducational Mount Vernon Campus. The campus was first utilized in 1997 for women only, but became co-educational in a matter of years. The Mount Vernon campus is now totally integrated into the GW community, serving as a complement to the Foggy Bottom campus. In December 2006, the university named Johns Hopkins University provost Steven Knapp its next president. He began his presidency on August 1, 2007.


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