Williams College, an institution of learning at Williamstown, Berkshire co., Mass. It owes its origin to the bequest of Col. Ephraim Williams, whose will (1755) directed "that the remainder of his lands should be sold, at the discretion of his executors, within five years after an established peace; and that the interest of the moneys arising from the sale, and also the interest of his notes and bonds, should be applied to the support of a free school in a township west of Fort Massachusetts; provided that said township fall within the limits of Massachusetts, after running the line between Massachusetts and New York; and provided the said township when incorporated be called Williamstown." The property was sold, and the funds were allowed to accumulate till 1785, when a free school was incorporated by the legislature, nine trustees were appointed, and a lottery was granted for raising funds to erect a school house; about $3,500 was thus obtained, the inhabitants of the town raised about $2,000 more, and in 1790 a brick building (now the West college), 82 ft. long, 42 ft. broad, and four stories high, was completed. The free school was opened Oct. 20, 1791, the Rev. Ebenezer Fitch being the first principal.
In 1793 the institution was incorporated as a college under the name of Williams hall; the property vested in the free school was transferred to the college, and a grant of $4,000 was made from the state treasury to purchase a library and apparatus. Mr. Fitch was appointed president, and entered upon his duties in October, 1793. The academy was continued till 1806. The first commencement of the college was held Sept. 2, 1795, when four students graduated. A catalogue was published in 1795, said to have been the first college catalogue ever printed in this country; the college had then 77 students. In 1815 the Rev. Zephaniah Swift Moore, became president. Under his administration strong efforts were made to remove the college to Northampton, but the legislature refused its sanction, and in 1821 Dr. Moore resigned, and became president of Amherst college. He was succeeded by the Rev. Edward Dorr Griffin. The Berkshire medical institution was placed under the supervision of the college in 1823, and this relation was maintained till 1832. During President Griffin's administration a large building was erected, containing a chapel and other rooms, which is now known as Griffin hall.
In 1836 he resigned, and was succeeded by the Rev. Mark Hopkins, whose reputation as a metaphysician gave a distinctive character to the college. Dr. Hopkins resigned in 1872, and was succeeded by the Hon. Paul Ansel Chadbourne, the present incumbent (1876). In 1836 an astronomical observatory was built, mainly through the instrumentality of Prof. Albert Hopkins, who also erected and presented to the college a magnetic observatory. In 1841 the building known as East college was destroyed by fire, and in 1842 two new buildings, East and South colleges, were erected. In 1846 a library building was erected and named Lawrence hall. Kellogg hall was built in 1847; Jackson hall, for the museum of natural history, in 1855; Alumni hall, containing a new chapel, in 1860; and Goodrich hall, containing the gymnasium and chemical lecture room, in 1865. Near the college buildings is the "Mills park," on the site of and commemorating the prayer meeting of students in which originated American foreign missions. In 1796 the legislature granted the college two townships, which were sold for $10,000, and in 1805 and 1809 two other townships, sold for $10,000 more.
About 1820 residents of Berkshire county gave $17,500 to prevent the removal of the college to Northampton. In 1868 the legislature of Massachusetts gave the college $75,000 on condition that $75,000 more should be secured by voluntary donation. The productive funds of the college now exceed $300,000, and its funds for the benefit of needy students amount to $90,000. Prizes amounting to $425 are distributed annually. There are geological, botanical, and zoological collections, and the college library contains 17,000 volumes. All the instruction is given directly by full professors. In 1875-'6 there were 11 professors and 170 students. The number of graduates is 1,541.