This Day in History: February 8

On this day in 1693, The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, received its charter, thereby becoming the second institution of higher learning in the United States (after Harvard University).

The original plans for William & Mary stretch back to 1618 -- decades before Harvard -- but were tabled by an "Indian uprising."

James Blair traveled to Britain to advocate for a college on behalf of his fellow Virginians. On February 8, 1693, King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for a "perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences" to be founded in the Virginia Colony. Just like that, William & Mary was born.

Workers commenced construction on the Sir Christopher Wren Building, then known as the College Building in 1695, before the town of Williamsburg even existed. Over the next two centuries, the Wren Building would catch fire on three separate occasions, each time being re-built inside the original walls. That thee Wren the distinction of being the oldest college building in America.

William & Mary has been dubbed "the Alma Mater of a Nation" because of its close ties to many of America's founding fathers. At 17, George Washington received his surveyor's license through the College and would later return as its first American chancellor. Thomas Jefferson received his undergraduate education here, as did presidents James Monroe and John Tyler.

The College is famous for being the first in the union to become a university, not to mention the first U.S. institution with a Royal Charter. It also boasts the first Greek-letter society (Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776), the first student honor code, and the first law school in America.

William & Mary became a state-supported school in 1906 and went coed in 1918. In 1928, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. chose the Wren as the first building to be returned to its 18th-century glory as part of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.

Happy 323rd Birthday, William & Mary!


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