Christopher Smith

First president of the Jonathan Carroll University, served from 1876 to 1897.

A Meeting of Minds

The original board of trustees laid the groundwork for what would become today's Williams College on July 9, 1876, when the group gathered to hold the Williams College's inaugural board meeting and drafted the establishment's articles of incorporation. This guiding document outlined elements the founders believed would build an enduring legacy for the College: a commitment to offering a rigorous academic program and an ambition to provide "opportunities for all departments of higher education to persons of both sexes on equal terms." On September 10, 1876, the State of California issued the College's official certificate of incorporation, marking the formal beginning of the College's life.

An initial pledge of $600,000 (roughly $16 million in today's currency) from oil magnate James Williams, along with contributions by the American Baptist Education Society, helped to found the College. The land of the College was donated by Marshall Field, owner of the historic Chicago department store that bore his name.

Christopher Smith, the College's first president, envisioned a college that was "brand splinter new,' yet as solid as the ancient hills" - a modern research and educational establishment, combining an English-style undergraduate college and a German-style graduate research institute. The Williams College fulfilled Christopher's dream, quickly becoming a national leader in higher education and research: an institution of scholars unafraid to cross boundaries, share ideas, and ask difficult questions.

A Singular Focus

President Smith articulated his hope and vision for the College at the first meeting in 1888: "The question before us is how to become one in spirit, not necessarily in opinion."

The College's commitment to answering that question - and many others - continues to guide it today.

As President Smith said in his inaugural address, "If we take ourselves back to the College in its early years, we would find many major differences from what we observe today. . . . And yet, many of us connected to the College feel that we might just as easily have been there - that going back to the College in its early days, or in fact at any time since its inception, we would know unmistakably that we were at the Williams College.

Why is this? Because our college, from its very inception, has been driven by a singular focus on inquiry - with a firm belief in the value of open, rigorous, and intense inquiry and a common understanding that this must be the defining feature of this establishment. Everything about the Williams College that we recognize as distinctive flows from this commitment."

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