Founded in 1693 by the royal charter of King William III and Queen Mary II of England, the College of William & Mary is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. One of the College's principal halls, the Sir Christopher Wren Building, is the oldest academic building in continuous use in America. The College of William & Mary has played an important role in the history and development of the nation and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The list of patriots who studied at William & Mary is long and distinguished and includes three American Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler, sixteen members of the Continental Congress, four signers of the Declaration of Independence, four justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, including John Marshall, and many members of Congress, cabinet members, and diplomats. Additionally, George Washington received his surveyor's license from the College and after his Presidency served as the College's Chancellor.
While Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, his influence was instrumental in a number of changes at William & Mary that resulted in important "firsts" for the College. The first law school in America was established at William & Mary; the College also adopted the nation's first honor system; and a chair of modern languages was created. In 1776, Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's first intercollegiate fraternity, was established at William & Mary. And, in 1781, by uniting the faculties of law, medicine, and the arts, the College became America's first true university.
William & Mary suspended operations during the Civil War and again in 1881 when its financial resources were depleted. President Benjamin Ewell, however, kept the College Charter alive by ringing the bell of the Wren Building to mark the opening of each term. In 1906, the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased the College, making it part of the state system of higher education, and in 1918, the College became co-educational. After a period of steady growth, the College gave birth to four new colleges, three of which have become four-year institutions in urban areas of Virginia: Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University; the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, now Old Dominion University; Christopher Newport College, now Christopher Newport University; and Richard Bland College.
Today William & Mary, still a moderate-sized university, includes five different schools. Arts and Sciences, with both undergraduate and graduate sections, offers instruction in 25 areas of concentration, as well as in 12 masters and 6 doctoral programs. The School of Education offers an undergraduate concentration in elementary education, a minor in secondary education, and graduate programs that include 4 masters, 1 educational specialist, and 2 doctoral degree programs. The School of Business Administration features both the traditional BBA and MBA degrees and also offers part-time and weekend programs for specially admitted candidates. From the Law School, both JD and LL.M. degrees are available. And finally, the School of Marine Science, located a short drive from the central campus, provides both masters and doctoral programs for students interested in the biological and physical sciences.
The College is governed by the Board of Visitors, 17 members appointed by the Governor of Virginia to supervise the operation of William & Mary and of Richard Bland College. The Board of Visitors is empowered to select a Rector of the College, a Vice-Rector, a President, a Chancellor, and Faculty as necessary.