Past Presidents

The George Washington University has had 16 presidents since its founding. An understanding of their individual accomplishments and of the events that surrounded each of their tenures provides a “snapshot” of GW’s growth and evolution.

Rev. William Staughton, 1821-1827

In 1821, in order to assume the presidency of Columbian College, the Rev. William Staughton resigned as pastor of the Samson Street Baptist Church in Philadelphia and, at the request of the board of trustees, familiarized himself with European educational methods. His tenure as president saw the founding of the law school, the departments of classics, medicine and theology and a preparatory school. Guests at the first Columbian College commencement, held in 1824, included President James Monroe, members of his cabinet, members of the Senate, House and U.S. Supreme Court and the Marquis de Lafayette. Columbian College was then located on College Hill, a tract of land bordering Florida Avenue and 14th and 15th Streets.

Stephen Chapin, 1828-1841

Stephen Chapin, formerly a professor of theology at Waterville College (now Colby College) in Maine, arrived at Columbian College in 1828 to begin 13 years of ceaseless struggle—most of it financial rather than intellectual. Under his administration, the first Master of Arts degrees were awarded. An Act of Congress conferred on the school a federal grant of $25,000 in city lots. At the end of Chapin’s tenure, Columbian College was free of debt.

Joel Smith Bacon, 1843-1854

Joel Smith Bacon came to Columbian College from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. He oversaw the transition as the Columbian’s Department of Medicine moved to the old jail in Judiciary Square and became the National Medical College, one of the nation’s first teaching hospitals. Other innovations under his leadership included a program in natural science leading to the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, the college’s first alumni association and the awarding of the first Doctor of Laws degree.

Joseph Getchell Binney, 1855-1858

Joseph Binney’s experience as a missionary in India, where he founded a seminary for the training of ministers, resulted in a brief presidency at Columbian College. In 1855, Columbian College awarded the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and Bachelor of Philosophy. German was also added to the curriculum during Binney’s tenure. He resigned in 1858 to begin missionary work in Burma but died during the voyage and had a sea burial in the Indian Ocean.

Rev. George Whitefield Samson, 1859-1871

The Rev. George Whitefield Samson, formerly pastor of the E Street Baptist Church, had the difficult task of guiding Columbian College through the Civil War. In 1861, many students left, many to return to their homes in the South. College exercises were continued for the few remaining students. Under an executive order from President Abraham Lincoln, the government occupied the campus for war-related hospital purposes. By 1867, Samson had overseen the restoration of the school to its former status, and 419 students were in residence. The Medical College now shared the College of Law Building on 5th Street, while a new building donated by W. W. Corcoran made it possible to introduce an “Advanced Course” for a Master of Arts degree.

James Clarke Welling, 1871-1894

James Clarke Welling, previously a president of St. John’s College in Maryland and former holder of the Chair of Belles Lettres at Princeton University, was the first layman to lead the college. During his distinguished tenure at Columbian College, which became Columbian University following an Act of Congress in 1873, the school relocated from the outskirts of Washington to a midtown location. All its departments were moved to new buildings at 15th and H Streets. The board of trustees became a self-perpetuating body, the National College of Pharmacy was chartered, the Medical School became a three-year program, the Dental School was established, the National Veterinary College was organized and the Corcoran Scientific School was established. In 1888, the first female students entered Columbian University. In 1892, the School of Graduate Studies was created.

Benaiah L. Whitman, 1895-1900

Formerly the president of Colby College in Maine, Benaiah Whitman led an administration that established the University Extension Program, added library science to the curriculum, erected a new law school building and began nurses training at the university’s new hospital. The hospital’s female superintendent was also the first woman to appear on the official faculty list. President William McKinley and his cabinet attended the opening of the School of Comparative Jurisprudence and Diplomacy.

Charles Willis Needham, 1902-1910

The presidency of Charles Willis Needham, a Baptist layman and former dean of the law school, sat at the helm of the university at a time of lasting accomplishments. In 1904, Congress authorized a change in the name of the school from Columbian University to The George Washington University. (The school’s new seal and flag were displayed in 1905 at the first convocation following the change.) A new charter allowed the university to organize colleges. Thus, the National College of Pharmacy, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Engineering and Mechanical Arts became part of the university. The expansion of schools and courses, combined with the costs of construction and maintenance, created a heavy economic burden for the university.

Charles Herbert Stockton, 1910-1918

President Charles Stockton provided the guidance needed to weather the financial stress. He reorganized the university in 1911 to reduce expenditures and he sold property to increase revenue. Through his urging, the Department of Arts and Sciences was moved in 1912 to 2023 G Street, the area that George Washington had selected as the site for “his” university. Foggy Bottom was established as the new central location.
Stockton had served as dean of the law school and as acting president before his appointment to the presidency. But his most significant qualification for guiding the university during World War I was his status as a retired rear admiral. As the United States drew toward full involvement in the conflict, Stockton placed the university at the government’s disposal.

William Miller Collier, 1918-1921

Formerly U.S. minister to Spain, William Collier assumed the presidency when the United States was at the height of its involvement in World War I. In practical and symbolic ways, the school became part of the war effort. A unit of the Student Army Training Corps and a U.S. naval unit were established “for the duration.” In 1918, at a special convocation, the university first bestowed an honorary degree upon a foreign leader, Albert, king of Belgium. In 1921, having presided over the centennial celebration of the university, Collier resigned when President Warren G. Harding nominated him for an ambassadorship.

William Mather Lewis, 1923-1927

William Lewis, who made the transition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to The George Washington University, was known as a brilliant speaker, in demand by groups throughout the nation. During his presidency, a gymnasium was erected and the alumni elected Mrs. Joshua Evans Jr. as the first female on the board of trustees. After leaving the university, Lewis assumed the presidency of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

Cloyd Heck Marvin, 1927-1959

The 32 years of Cloyd Marvin’s presidency was the longest in GW history. By the 1930s, the university was well established in the Foggy Bottom area. Advanced degrees in professional fields became the responsibility of the professional schools. The Graduate Council was given the supervision of all work leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and an autonomous Junior College was established to administer the work of freshman and sophomores. Marvin reorganized the university administration and, with the assistance of the board of trustees, strengthened its financial structure. The School of Government was established. In 1950, the College of General Studies was founded to provide courses for special groups on and off campus.

Marvin’s vast building program included the construction of a medical laboratory building, Lisner Library, the Hall of Government, Lisner Auditorium, Tompkins Hall of Engineering, the University Hospital, James Monroe Hall, Warwick Memorial Building, Samson Hall and the Student Union. The grounds were landscaped with roses, which continue to grace the campus.

Thomas Henry Carroll, 1961-1964

Thomas Carroll served as vice president of the Ford Foundation before assuming the presidency of the university. Before his sudden death in 1964, he oversaw the beginning of work on the new wing of the University Hospital and the university’s participation in a new consortium of local universities. The consortium made the facilities of each member school available to graduate students attending the others.

Lloyd Hartman Elliott, 1965-1988

Lloyd Elliott’s 23 years at the university brought financial stability and continued growth through academic development and building programs. His proudest achievement was the building of the three libraries: the Melvin Gelman Library, the Jacob Burns Law Library and the Paul Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library. In addition, the Academic Center, (comprised of Smith, Rome and Phillips halls), Funger Hall and the National Law Center’s Theodore N. Lerner Hall were completed. The Charles E. Smith Center was put in use in 1970, the same year that Elliott opened the Cloyd Heck Marvin Student Center, a high priority because of the great need for additional space for student activities.

In 1973, GW’s medical training program was moved from downtown to the Walter G. Ross Hall. With the relocation of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the university was for the first time centralized in one area. Elliott launched the Educational Opportunity Program and created the faculty rank of “university professor.” He increased the number of endowed professorships to 20, from three. He is also credited with the tremendous growth in the university’s endowment—to $200 million in 1988 from $8 million in 1965. Following Elliott’s retirement in 1998, GW’s School of International Affairs was rededicated as the Evelyn E. and Lloyd H. Elliott School of International Affairs.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, 1988-2007

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and university professor of public service, served as GW’s 15th president. He came to GW after serving as a vice president and academic dean at Boston University and as president of the University of Hartford. He is a widely published author of books and articles on higher education and leadership. He has served in numerous bodies involved in higher education, foreign affairs and governance, and he has been the recipient of many awards, honorary degrees and accolades.

Trachtenberg’s years were marked by an unmatched growth in GW’s profile and prestige. He helped define the main campus in Foggy Bottom as a discrete unit within the city, while leading efforts to organize the GW medical center, acquire the Mount Vernon and Ashburn, Va., campuses and nurture school spirit and traditions. GW opened or renovated nearly a dozen buildings during his tenure, among them the Media and Public Affairs Building and Duquès Hall, home to the School of Business. Trachtenberg also brought aesthetic improvements to campus, including the Mid-Campus Quad and Kogan Plaza, as well as campus icons such as the GW hippo, the Professors Gate and the Tempietto. The Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholars program started by the university in 1989 has provided more than 85 academically talented D.C. Public High School seniors with full four-year scholarships covering tuition, room and board, books and fees.


The George Washington University grew out of President George Washington’s desire to establish a national institution of higher learning. Washington believed the nation’s capital was the logical site for such an institution. He left a bequest toward that objective.

Founded by an Act of Congress

Washington died before his vision was carried out. The Rev. Luther Rice and three friends took up the effort; President James Monroe and 32 members of the U.S. Congress also became involved. On Feb. 9, 1821, Monroe signed the Act of Congress that created the Columbian College in the District of Columbia, a private, nonsectarian institution.

GW opened its doors in 1821 with three faculty members, one tutor and 30 students in a single building. At that time, Columbian College was located between 14th and 15th Streets, about a 30-minute walk from the Capitol. Its curriculum included English, Latin and Greek, as well as mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, reading, writing, navigation and political law. The first graduates received degrees in December 1824. Shortly after, Columbian College added a medical school and a law school.

A Great University in a Great City

The Civil War transformed Washington, D.C., into a growing urban center. During war, most students left to join the Confederacy, and the college’s buildings were used as a hospital and barracks. Walt Whitman was among the war volunteers on the campus.

In 1873, Columbian College changed its name to Columbian University and moved to a location at 15th and L Streets. It began offering doctoral degrees and admitted its first women. Columbian University became The George Washington University in 1904 under an agreement with the George Washington Memorial Association. In 1912, the university began the move to its present location in Foggy Bottom.

A Tradition of Innovation

The university was a center for theoretical physics in the 1930s. Renowned cosmologist George Gamow produced critical work on the Big Bang Theory at GW. And one of the most important moments in the 20th century was revealed at a conference on the GW campus: On Jan. 26, 1939, Niels Bohr announced that Otto Hahn had successfully split the atom.

The university underwent a building boom in 1930s through the 1960s, adding Lisner Auditorium on 21st Street, a hospital near Washington Circle and numerous other structures. During this period, GW initiated a program of annual alumni gifts, creating an important source of revenue that continues to this day.

In 1991, GW opened the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, in Ashburn, devoted to graduate study and cutting-edge research. Five years later, the University purchased the Mount Vernon College for Women in the city’s Foxhall neighborhood. The coeducational Mount Vernon Campus is fully integrated into the GW community and complements the Foggy Bottom Campus.

GW Spirit Program Tryouts

Are you interested in becoming a member of the GW Cheer Team, Dance Team or Mascot Squad? Learn about tryouts.

GW Club Sports

Sport Clubs provide opportunities for students, faculty and staff who desire a more in-depth sports experience than is provided in intramural sports or informal recreation.

Strategic Plan for Department of Athletics and Recreation

GW released a five-year strategic plan for the Department of Athletics and Recreation to strengthen and expand commitment to the university’s athletics, health and wellness initiatives.

Green Living

“Green living” brings the vital issue of sustainability into students’ daily lives. At GW, we take seriously our commitment to the ecosystem and to our community. The university’s day-to-day operations not only reflect that commitment, but they also offer leadership by example. We embrace “green” building standards, energy efficiency, recycling and sustainable transportation.

GW student organizations and administrative departments have collaborated in developing and implementing environmentally oriented initiatives in the residence halls. These initiatives include:

The Eco-Challenge

This friendly competition among residence halls challenges students to see which hall can conserve the most water and electricity, as measured by gallons per person and kilowatt hours. The challenge runs for a full academic year and relies on students making behavioral changes to become more green in their daily lives.

For more information, visit the Eco-Challenge website.

Campus Recycling

GW recycles many items on campus, including bottles and cans, mixed paper, electronics, and batteries.

To learn more about recycling at GW, students should visit the Campus Recycling website, and faculty and staff should visit the Facilities Services website.

Green Roof Initiative

The building at 1957/1959 E St., NW, has been retrofitted with a “green roof” that carries many eco-friendly benefits. When growth medium and succulent plants like sedum are installed on traditional roofs, they transform them into green environments. On this GW roof, the sedum absorbs rainwater – preventing the water from going directly into storm sewers – and acts as an insulator for both temperature and sound. That reduces the energy needed for heating and cooling the building. The green roof also provides a welcoming habitat for insects and butterflies. And, finally, like all plants, the sedum on the green roof converts carbon dioxide into oxygen.

For more information, read about the Green Roof Initiative on GW Today.


This friendly competition among U.S. colleges and universities unfolds over a 10-week period. Schools compete to see which collects the most recyclables per capita, which reclaims the largest amount of total recyclables and which generates the least amount of trash per capita or has the highest recycling rate. Participating schools are required to report results on a weekly basis. The goal of RecycleMania is to raise student awareness of campus recycling and slash waste generation by reducing, reusing and recycling.

For more information, visit the RecycleMania website.

Green Move-In

Information campaigns help educate students about GW’s commitment to sustainability. One campaign encourages “green” behavior even before students begin classes. Green Move-In suggests eco-actions students can take as they arrive on campus. They include:

    Packing in reusable containers
    Buying “green” when purchasing items for your room
    Minimizing paper handouts and printouts of move-related information
    Recycling shipping boxes or retaining them for reuse
    Taking part in GW’s robust recycling program
    Learning the water and power conservation tips aimed at GW residents

For more information, visit the Green Move-In website.

Green Move-Out

Involvement with GW’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t have to end when classes do. Students can continue embracing “green” actions even as they depart campus. Those move-out actions include:

    A massive effort to gather donations of usable clothing and household items that otherwise would have been discarded
    An initiative to assemble donations – for community redistribution – of departing students’ non-perishable food items
    A two-campus “e-cycling” drive to collect old batteries, ink cartridges, cell phones and computer monitors and parts so they can be disposed of in an environmentally responsible way

For more information, visit the Green Move-Out website.

Student Self Check-In/Check-Out

GW Housing and the Residential Life Service Cluster support and encourage a virtually paperless process for checking-in and checking-out of residence hall rooms.

At the beginning of the fall and spring terms, students are encouraged to log into the GW Housing student Web portal to complete electronic self check-in and provide up-to-date emergency contact information. At the conclusion of each term, students are encouraged to revisit the portal to complete self-checkout.

For more information, visit the Student Self Check-In website.

Self Guided Green Tour of South Hall

Learn more about GW's first LEED residence hall by taking this self-guided tour. You'll learn about the building's energy efficiency, water conservation, the green materials used during construction, and more! 

Fans & Supporters

GW #RaiseHigh


Students can attend all GW Athletics events for free by showing a valid GWorld Card.  Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so make sure to arrive early!  If you want to take your fan-status up a notch, join the Colonial Army – GW's most devoted (and loudest) fan group.  Colonial Army members enjoy benefits such as lower-level, court side seating, an official season t-shirt, pre-game tailgates and the chance to participate in game day promotions. 

Season and individual tickets are available for Men's and Women's Basketball, Volleyball, Gymnastics and Baseball for all Colonial fans.  Season tickets can be purchased by calling the Smith Center box office at 202-994-7325.  All other sporting events, including fall and spring sports played at the Mount Vernon Athletics Fields are free and open to all Colonial fans.

View a full list of sports schedules at

The Buff & Blue Fund

The Buff & Blue Fund strives to support 450 student-athletes and advance the intercollegiate athletics program at the George Washington University by providing student-athletes the opportunity to achieve academic, personal and athletic excellence through its fundraising efforts. Your philanthropic support will help to educate tomorrow's leaders through the combination of academic rigor, demands of elite training and competition, and committed service to our local, national and global communities. You will be a proud supporter of our GW student-athletes - active stewards, responsible citizens and active contributors to the larger good of the community. When you support the Buff & Blue Fund, you ensure the ongoing success and continued tradition of excellence for GW Athletics. Your support is crucial in offering a world class academic and athletic environment for our student-athletes.

Stay Connected

Have all of the latest and greatest news about GW Athletics and Recreation emailed to you weekly by signing up for our newsletter.

Fans can also watch live events, highlights and video features on GW All-Access.

Club & Intramural Sports

Staff Softball

Many GW students want to stay active while in college, but without the commitment to participation in a varsity sport. Club and intramural sports enable students to reap the health and wellness benefits of athletic competition (not to mention the fun), while remaining focused on academics and other aspects of life at GW.

Club Sports

Clubs Sports provide opportunities for students, faculty and staff who desire a more in-depth sports experience than is provided in intramural sports or informal recreation. The more intense focus of the club sports program blends the benefits of learning new skills, practicing regularly with club members and competing against other clubs. A number of GW’s club teams compete regionally and nationally. Club sports teams include:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Cricket
  • Cycling
  • Equestrian
  • Fencing
  • Field Hockey
  • Ice Hockey
  • JKA Karate
  • Kendo
  • Lacrosse
  • Racquetball
  • Cross Country
  • Rugby
  • Shotokan Karate of America
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Swimming
  • Taekwondo
  • Tennis
  • Triathlon
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Volleyball
  • Waterpolo
  • Weightlifting

Intramural Sports

Intramurals at GW range from a wide array of team sports (including basketball, floor hockey, football, kickball, soccer, volleyball) to individual sports (including racquetball, table tennis, Turkey Trot 5K, Battle Boat Passage Race).

GWorld Card

GWorld Card

You can eat, socialize, spend and study with the convenient GWorld Card.

The GWorld Card, Colonial Cash and our Dining Program give students broad choices in their purchases and great flexibility in meeting lifestyle needs.

The GWorld Card is the official identification card of The George Washington University. It provides access to campus buildings and facilities, among them residence halls, academic buildings, libraries and The Lerner Health and Wellness Center. They also offer access to campus events. Students are expected to carry their GWorld Cards with them at all times.

Your GWorld Card also accesses your Colonial Cash account.

Colonial Cash

Colonial Cash is a flexible and individualized declining-balance spending program. It can be used toward dining and retail options, both on campus and in the neighborhood.

Colonial Cash purchasing power can be applied to a number of university services: the GW Bookstore, campus laundry facilities, vending machines, parking services, Student Health Service and photocopy and mail services. It is accepted at a host of neighborhood eateries, dry cleaners, pharmacies, convenience stores and other retail locations.

The GWorld Card is not only convenient but it provides an exemption from Washington, D.C.’s 10 percent sales tax when used at J Street Cafe, Simply To Go and West Hall dining options.

Colonial Cash is accessible only through your GWorld Card. You can use the GWorld Card Office or GWorld Online Card Office at any time to make quick and convenient deposits directly to your Colonial Cash account. Or you can visit any of the nine self-service Value Transfer Stations (VTS) around campus.

Debit Dollars

Debit Dollars is a useful, pre-paid declining balance privilege associated with the GWorld Card. Debit Dollars allow GW faculty, staff and employees to make cashless purchases at dining and retail locations on and off campus. Debit Dollars can be used at participating GWorld Card Partners, including all on-campus food venues, the GW Bookstore, dry cleaners, a host of neighborhood eateries, cafes and restaurants and other retail locations.

Why use Debit Dollars? Debit Dollar transactions are faster, safer and more convenient than purchases made by cash, check or credit card. As an extra benefit, Debit Dollars are good for a 10 percent discount on all food purchased from J Street Cafe, Simply To Go and West Hall dining options.