GW at a glance

  • Chartered by Congress in 1821 as the Columbian College.
  • First freshman class: 11 students taught by Ira Chase, a theology professor.
  • First Commencement ceremony is held in December 1824 in a Presbyterian church where the Willard Hotel now stands. President John Quincy Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette preside over the ceremonies.
  • The medical department opens in March 1825 in a building at 10th and E streets N.W. The first female medical student is admitted in 1884.
  • Classes are suspended from May 1827 to May 1828 because of financial difficulties.
  • In 1888, Mabel Nelson Thurston, Thurston Hall’s namesake, is the first female undergraduate admitted to Columbian College. Since 1986, female undergraduates have consistently outnumbered males.
  • In 1888, the first Ph.D. degrees are awarded.
  • The college opens one of the nation’s first schools of graduate studies in 1893. Doctorates are offered in science, mathematics and liberal arts.
  • In 1918, classes are suspended for four weeks because of a flu epidemic.
  • During the 1930s, 15 fraternities and 12 sororities dominate the GW social scene.
  • At a conference in the Hall of Government in 1939, Niels Bohr announces the fission of uranium.
  • Hatchet editor Don Balfour is the first veteran to sign up for the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1944.
  • Ingrid Bergman stars in “Joan of Lorraine” at Lisner Auditorium in 1949.
  • GW officially desegregates in 1954. However, it takes another decade for the University to aggressively reach out to black communities.
  • In 1961, the first GW student IDs are issued.
  • GW closes down for a week in the spring of 1970 when riots, strikes and protests break out during the Vietnam War.
  • Gelman Library and Ross Hall open in 1973.
  • The Smith Center opens in 1975. That year, a Hatchet article reports the drug of choice on campus is cocaine, at $60 to $90 per gram. Marijuana costs about $15 an ounce.
  • In 1981, GW’s Medical Center treats President Reagan after he is shot.
  • Stephen Joel Trachtenberg becomes the 15th president of the University in 1988.
  • In 1990, the Smith Center serves as the international press center for the Bush-Gorbachev summit.
  • In 1993, the Marvin Center is the Clinton-Gore Inaugural Press Center. It hosts 800 visiting journalists and 14 press briefings in 12 days.
  • Also in 1993, the men’s basketball team makes it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.
  • President Clinton and daughter Chelsea visit the Smith Center for a GW-Massachussets basketball game in 1995. GW upsets number one-ranked UMass, 78-75.
  • New Hall opens in 1997 as the model of residence halls for the 21st century.


    Source: From Strength to Strength: A Pictorial History of The George Washington University, 1821-1996.

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