Sir George Williams, for whom George Williams College is named, described his younger self as a "careless, thoughtless, Godless, swearing young fellow" — a far cry from the man who would later go on to found the Young Men's Christian Association, better known as the YMCA.
Williams founded the YMCA in London, England, in 1844 in an effort to create a space for young men to put Christian principals into practice by developing a healthy body, mind, and spirit (represented by the three angles on the iconic YMCA triangle). By 1851, the YMCA movement had spread across Europe to the United States and Canada.
On the Shores of Lake Geneva
George Williams College was the vision of I. E. Brown, William Lewis, and Robert Weidensall, YMCA leaders commissioned to develop the movement in the western United States. Sitting before a campfire on the shores of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the three men conceived of a permanent, professional YMCA training school.
Lake Geneva — rugged and pristine — was an ideal setting for the program's mission. Land was purchased in Williams Bay, and in 1886 the training camp, which would become George Williams College, was founded. The campus thrived as YMCA workers from across the country gathered for physical activity, spiritual reflection and service learning.
Service in the City
The training camp grew fast, and in 1890 it moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and became an institution of higher learning for students entering human service professions such as parks and recreation, education, and social work. The Lake Geneva campus served as a "college camp" used for retreats.
Then as now, George Williams was distinguished by its educational emphasis on social and humanitarian service. As the Class of 1913 motto states: "We are born not for ourselves, but for the whole world."
George Williams College continues to flourish today as a close-knit community of faculty and staff members, students, friends, and neighbors dedicated to the betterment of society through education, innovation, integrity, and hope.
Accordant with its history, the college specializes in service-related degrees and programs. It offers five undergraduate majors: human ecology; outdoor recreation leadership and management; psychology; social work; and sustainability and environmental management. Experiential learning, integrated coursework, and working in the field distinguish the undergraduate curriculum.
You may wonder: What became of George Williams, uncivilized youth turned YMCA founder and GWC namesake? Well he lives on — in spirit.
In 1894 Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria, and after his death in 1905, he was commemorated with a stained-glass window in the nave of Westminster Abbey and buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.
Incidentally, the George Williams Memorial Room, located in the Beasley Campus Center, is an exact replica of the room where Williams originally organized the YMCA in London. (That room, at 72 St. Paul"s Churchyard, London, was preserved as an international YMCA shrine until it was destroyed by World War II bombings in 1944.)
The George Williams Memorial Room goes so far as to duplicate the original room's unevenness of floor and ceiling, the sag in door and window, the varied paneling, the stencil design, and the pattern of the fireplace. Identical room furnishings, including the table, chairs, and fireplace grating were custom built in England.