Founded in 1693 by the royal charter of King William III and Queen Mary II of England, William & Mary is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. One of the university's principal halls, the Sir Christopher Wren Building, is the oldest college building still in use in America. 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 William & Mary and after his Presidency served as William & Mary'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 university. The first law school in America was established at William & Mary. W&M adopted the nation's first honor system and created a chair of modern languages. 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, William & Mary 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 William & Mary's 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 university, making it part of the state system of higher education, and in 1918, W&M became co-educational. After a period of steady growth, the university 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 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 & 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 university 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, a Vice-Rector, a President, a Chancellor, and Faculty as necessary.