At the conclusion of World War I, a proposal was made on 15 July 1919 to Williams President Harry A. Garfield and the Williams trustees:
“The war record of both graduates and undergraduates of our college is one of which all Williams men are justly proud and has, wherever it has been made known, brought deserved prestige to the college as standing for the highest traits of American manhood. We think it would be a fitting and gracious thing if the college were to show its gratitude to its soldier and sailor sons and its pride in their achievements by some public corporate act. We suggest that a Peace Celebration be arranged for some time in October, at which there shall be one or more addresses commemorating the achievements of Williams men in the war, and that the Trustees should, at that time, confer honorary degrees on such Williams men, whether graduate or undergraduate, as have won special distinction in the service; or, in lieu of academic degrees, should award a commemorative medal which could be struck for the occasion, and which might be known as the ‘Williams Loyalty Medal.'”
This proposal resulted in the Victory Celebration and the Williams Medal. The celebration was the first commemoration of its kind at an American college, and was covered in news publications outside of the Berkshires such as the Boston Transcript.
With speakers Major General Leonard Wood, a 1902 Williams honorary degree recipient, and Bliss Perry, a graduate of 1891 and professor of English at Harvard University, the Victory Celebration was held 1 October 1919. It was an occasion infused with gravitas. At ten in the morning, students gathered in the Berkshire Quadrangle and marched to Hopkins Hall where faculty members joined the procession. The larger group then proceeded to march to Grace Hall (now Chapin Hall) for the ceremony where those who had served were duly recognized. Men were asked to wear their uniforms to the ceremony, and Doring’s Band of Troy played.
The medal itself is cast in bronze, and was designed by James E. Fraser of New York. Fraser is also known as the designer of the Victory Medal given by the U.S. Congress to members of the American military, and the buffalo nickel. On the obverse, or front, of the medal is depicted a line of doughboys, or infantrymen in the U.S. Army, going over the top, the inscription “For Humanity, 1918” behind them. On the reverse, the College’s legend, “E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, 1793” [Through the generosity of E. Williams, soldier] and the text “The Williams medal” flank a representation of Colonel Ephraim Williams in continental uniform on horseback. The recipient’s name and his rank at discharge were engraved on the medal’s edge.
The medal was awarded to those alumni and undergraduates who had served in the war, and was deemed a fitting and proper recognition of the “Williams Warriors” of World War I, the “dream sons” of Ephraim Williams, who himself was a soldier.
The medal proved to be in high demand. The manufacturer, while making medals to be mailed to those men who had been unable to make the ceremony, was backordered. Requests came in from various unaffiliated institutions, such as the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and such nationally known repositories as the Smithsonian Institution and the Mint of the United States.
“Alumni plan great victory celebration: Maj.-Gen. Wood to speak,” The Williams Record, 29 Sept. 1919.
Massachusetts Historical Society. Letter to President Garfield, 1919. Harry A. Garfield Papers, Williams College Archives.
Smithsonian Institution, United States National Museum. Letter to President Garfield, 11 August 1920. Harry A. Garfield Papers, Williams College Archives.
The award of the Williams medal; Williams College victory celebration. [New York, DeVinne Press] 1919
Treasury Department, Mint of the United States. Letter to President Garfield, 24 April 1922. Harry A. Garfield Papers, Williams College Archives.
Western Reserve Historical Society. Letter to President Garfield, 11 Dec. 1919. Harry A. Garfield Papers, Williams College Archives.
Williams College in the World War, ed. By Frederic R. Wood. [Williamstown, Mass.] President and Trustees of Williams College, 1926.