Williams firsts

The world’s first society of alumni was founded here in 1821 to save the college after its president, Zephaniah Swift Moore, and several faculty and students left to launch another college, which turned out to be Amherst College, to this day Williams’ arch rival. The system in this country by which alumni support their alma maters financially and otherwise is virtually unique to the U.S., is vital to our country’s system of higher education, and has its roots at Williams. The college remains well known for the uncommon loyalty of its alumni. A recent study showed that over a three-year period some 80 percent of Williams graduates contributed financially to the college.

The American Foreign Mission Movement traces its roots to Williams. In 1806 a group of students during one of their regular prayer meetings took shelter from the rain beside a haystack. It was there that they felt inspired to take the gospel message abroad.

The first college catalog was published at Williams in 1795 and the first alma mater song written by an undergraduate, “The Mountains,” was penned by Washington Gladden, Class of 1859.

Williams was the first American college or university to sponsor a scientific expedition, in 1835.

The Hopkins Observatory at Williams, dating from 1838, is the oldest astronomical observatory in the U.S. still in use.

The first game of intercollegiate baseball was played between Williams and Amherst in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1859. Actually it was a doubleheader — a baseball game and chess match.

The first students in America to wear caps and gowns at graduation were Williams Class of 1887. The growing discrepancy in the extravagance of garb worn by rich and poor students prompted the college to transplant from Oxford University the tradition of wearing academic dress.

The first seminar course taught on two continents was conducted in 1992 between Williams and the University of Helsinki. The latest video and telecommunications technology enabled Prof. Mark Taylor and his ten Williams students to meet each week with Prof. Esa Saarinen and his ten Helsinki students, and electronic mail enabled pairs of Williams and Helsinki students to collaborate between classes on their projects. The subject of the course — the influence of communications technology on contemporary culture.