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  • History of Washington & Jefferson College


Founded in 1781 and located about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Washington & Jefferson College is one of the nation’s oldest and most distinguished co-ed, four-year liberal arts colleges for undergraduate students.

Want to learn more? Check out Four Important Moments in the History of Washington & Jefferson College.

1780Washington & Jefferson College traces its origins to three log cabin colleges established by frontier clergymen John McMillian, Thaddeus Dod, and Joseph Smith.

During the Whiskey Rebellion portions of David Bradford’s militia camped on the hillside that would later become home to the unified Washington & Jefferson College.

1802Canonsburg Academy was reconstituted as Jefferson College, with John McMillan serving as the first President of the Board of Trustees.
1806Matthew Brown petitioned the Pennsylvania General Assembly to grant Washington Academy a charter, allowing it to be re-christened as Washington College.
1865Following the Civil War, both colleges were short on students and on funds, causing them to join together as Washington & Jefferson College.

On April 4th, Jonathan Edwards, a pastor for Baltimore who had been president of Hanover College was elected the first president of the unified Washington & Jefferson College.

1869Before the merger could be completed, Canonsburg Residents and Jefferson College partisans filed a lawsuit known as the Pennsylvania College Cases sought to overturn the consolidation plan.
1871The United States Congress Supreme Court upheld the consolidation, allowing the newly configured college to proceed.
1881James D. Moffat led a period of growth where the college constructed the Old Gym, Hays Hall, Thompson Memorial Library, and Thistle Physics Building, also purchased was the land known as the ‘old fairground.’
1912James D. Moffat personally paid for the renovations of McMillan Hall.

James Herbert Case, Jr., who was president from 1946 to 1950, constructed several new dormitories to handle the influx of veterans under the G.I. Bill.

1950Boyd Crumrine Patterson assumed the presidency and oversaw curriculum revisions and the construction of a number of buildings, including the Henry Memorial Center, 10 Greek housing units in the center of campus, the U. Grant Miller Library, the Student Center, the Commons, and two new dormitories. His fundraising abilities grew the college's endowment expanded from $2.3 million to nearly $11 million. Patterson retired in 1970, the same year that the trustees authorized the admission of women as undergraduate students

The Trustees authorized the admission of women as undergraduate students.

1970Howard J. Burnett took office as president and hired the college’s first female faculty members and the first female dean. The college also adopted a new academic calendar to include intersession and expanded its academic programs to include the Entrepreneurial Studies Program, the Freshman Forum, and several cooperative international education programs.
1998Howard Burnett retired as president in 1998.
1998Brian C. Mitchell, who served as president from 1998 to 2004, the college experienced a growth in construction and an effort to improve relations with the neighboring communities.
1998In 1998, student enrollment grew from 830 in 1970 to 1,100.

The Burnett Center was opened and named after Howard J. Burnett which houses the Departments of Economics and Business, Modern Languages, and Education.


Dr. Tori Haring-Smith became the first woman to serve as president of Washington & Jefferson College.

2010John A. Swanson Science Center was opened, dedicated to the physical sciences, including Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Bioinformatics.