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Cool Facts

Lots of firsts and some other interesting tidbits.

  • Harvard may have opened first, but William & Mary was already planned. Original 1619 plans for W&M called for a campus at Henrico.
  • Only American institution of higher education to receive its charter from the Crown under the Seal of the Privy Council in 1693. Hence it was known as "their majesties" Royal College of William & Mary. We were also the first and only American institution of higher education to receive a coat of arms from the College of Heralds (1694).
  • First institution of higher education in the country to boast a full faculty, consisting of a president, six professors, usher and writing master (1729).
  • First institution of higher education to confer medallic prizes, which were gold medals donated by Lord Botetourt in 1771.
  • First intercollegiate fraternity in the country, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded here in 1776.
  • First institution of higher education to have the Elective System of study and an Honor System (1779).
  • First institution of higher education to have a law school, which made us the first college in the country to become a university (1779). Thomas Jefferson had the idea. His mentor, George Wythe, was hired in 1779 as William & Mary's first "professor of law and police," and the great Chief Justice John Marshall was among the first lawyers Wythe taught.
  • First university to offer programs in modern languages (1779), political economy (1784) and modern history (1803).
  • Three U.S. presidents were educated at William & Mary: Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler. Four if we count George Washington's surveyor's license.
  • Although William & Mary retains its traditional title of "College," it’s really a cutting-edge research university where students can choose from more than 30 graduate and professional degree programs and 14 graduate certificate programs.
  • William & Mary is one of only eight U.S. universities designated a "Public Ivy." A public ivy is a state-assisted institution that offers a superior education at a cost far below that of Ivy League schools.
  • William & Mary's 13-to-1 student-faculty ratio is the lowest among top public universities, a factor that helps strengthen W&M's traditional commitment to teaching. Eighty two percent of William & Mary's classes have fewer than 40 students — nearly half have fewer than 20 students.
  • Founded in 1842, the William & Mary Alumni Association is the sixth oldest such group in the U.S.
  • The Wren Building is the oldest college building still standing in the U.S., and classes are still taught there. Named for its presumed architect, the iconic building was completed in 1699 and provided classrooms, library, dining hall and a chapel for generations of William & Mary students.
  • William & Mary chancellors have included presidents George Washington and John Tyler, Chief Justice Warren Burger, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In 2012, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates '65, L.H.D. '98 was installed as William & Mary's 24th Chancellor and he was re-invested in 2019.
  • In 2020, William & Mary was named a top producer of Peace Corps volunteers for the 12th consecutive year, with 46 alumni serving.