The George Washington University (GW) is a private, coeducational, non-sectarian university located in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1821 as The Columbian College on land provided by former President George Washington, the University has since developed into a leading educational and research institution. The 43-acre campus, located in the city’s historic Foggy Bottom neighborhood, is situated a few blocks from the White House and the National Mall.
In addition to 4,500 staff members, The George Washington University enrolls an even balance of undergraduate and graduate students; approximately 11,000 of the former and 12,500 of the latter.
The George Washington University, which celebrated its 185th anniversary in 2006, grew out of the desire of our Nation’s first President to establish a national institution of higher learning. When GW opened its doors in 1821 as The Columbian College in the District of Columbia, it boasted three faculty members, one tutor, and 30 students.
In 1904, the name of the institution was changed to The George Washington University. Today, the University’s enrollment totals more than 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students in nine schools. With its location in the Nation’s Capital, the University has played host to numerous national and international dignitaries. In recent years, former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, and both former President Clinton and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton have lectured or spoken at GW.
The debt of the University to George Washington is intangible, but clear. Both as president and private citizen, Washington believed the fledgling country urgently needed a national university where “youth from all parts of the United States” might go to be educated in the arts and sciences, and to study “the principles of politics and good government.” Washington believed the capital city, which at the time was centrally located, was the logical site for such an institution. To help cover its cost, Washington left a bequest of 50 shares of stock in the Potomac Company, a canal building enterprise. Unfortunately, the Potomac Company passed out of existence before the bequest could be realized. The effort was carried forward, however, by the Reverend Luther Rice and three friends. A tireless individual, Rice traveled from Tennessee to New England soliciting support for his idea. President James Monroe himself contributed to the cause, along with 32 members of Congress.
On February 9, 1821, President Monroe signed the Act of Congress creating Columbian College, a non-sectarian institution. In 1904, the institution was given its current name, and in 1912, it began the move to its present location in Foggy Bottom, the area George Washington had envisioned for his national university.
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