Washington College is a private, independent liberal arts college located on a 112-acre (45 ha) campus in Chestertown, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore. Maryland granted Washington College its charter in 1782. George Washington supported the founding of the college by consenting to have the "College at Chester" named in his honor, through generous financial support, and through service on the college's Board of Visitors and Governors. Washington College is the 10th-oldest college in the United States and was the first college chartered after American independence. The school became coeducational in 1891.
Washington College evolved from the Kent County Free School, an institution of more than 60 years’ standing in “Chester Town,” which by the college’s founding date of 1782 had reached considerable strength and importance as a port city. George Washington consented to the fledgling college’s use of his name, pledged the sum of 50 guineas to its establishment, and extended his warm wishes for the “lasting and extensive usefulness” of the institution. He would later serve on Washington College’s Board of Visitors and Governors—his only such involvement with an institution of higher learning during his lifetime.
The college’s first president, the Reverend William Smith, was a prominent figure in colonial affairs of letters and church, and he had a wide acquaintance among the great men of colonial days including Benjamin Franklin. Joining General Washington on the Board of Visitors and Governors of the new college were such distinguished figures as U.S. Senator John Henry, Congressman Joshua Seney and his Excellency William Paca, Governor of Maryland. The Maryland legislature granted its first college charter upon Washington College in May 1782. The following spring, on May 14, 1783, the college held its first commencement.
With his election as first President of the United States, General Washington retired from the Board of Visitors and Governors and accepted the honorary degree of doctor of laws, which a delegation from Chestertown presented to him on June 24, 1789, in New York, then the seat of Congress. Since Washington’s last visit to campus, Washington College has hosted five U.S. presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush.
The original college building, opened in 1788, was destroyed by fire January 11, 1827. The oldest existing building — Middle Hall — was erected in 1844 on the site of the original college building. By 1860, Middle Hall was joined by East and West Halls. All three structures, known as the Hill Dorms, are on the Maryland Register of Historic Places.
For the 2011-2012 academic year, 56.6% of applicants were accepted to the college. Approximately 1,400 undergraduates and 100 graduate students attend Washington College, 47 percent from Maryland and the balance from 35 other states and forty foreign nations. Approximately 8 percent of the American undergraduates are minority students and approximately 8 percent are international citizens. Approximately 5 percent of the college's student body is "non-traditional" (25 years old or older). Approximately 80 percent of all students live in college residence halls; the rest commute either from off-campus housing or from home.
Tuition for the 2012-2013 year is $39,208 and total expenses per annum (including room, board, and fees) are $48,768. Approximately 85 percent of the student body receives some form of need-based financial aid or merit-based scholarship award. The cost of attendance has been rising in recent years, with the overall costs (including room and board) increasing by roughly $2,000 per year.
Washington College has had a regional reputation for excellence for some time, especially in Maryland. However, under the new president, Mitchell Reiss, greater national recognition is the goal. The fruits of this effort are visible with Washington College's recent ranking among the top liberal arts institutions in the United States according to U.S. News rankings. In the 2011 edition of U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, Washington College rose 19 positions to 93rd in the nation in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category.
Each year, Washington College awards the nation's largest undergraduate literary prize. Since 1968, the Sophie Kerr Prize has been presented to one graduating senior who demonstrates the greatest literary promise. The endowment created by Sophie Kerr, a writer who published 23 novels and dozens of short stories, has provided more than $1.4 million in prize money to young writers. At a ceremony held at the Poets House in New York City on May 17, 2011, Lisa Jones was selected as the winner of the $61,000 Sophie Kerr Prize.
In 2005, Washington College inaugurated another literary prize, the George Washington Book Prize, administered by the college's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and awarded in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington's Mount Vernon. The prize is awarded annually to the most significant new book about the founding era. At $50,000, the prize is one of the most generous book awards in the United States. Richard Beeman won the 2010 George Washington Book Prize for his work, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. 
The school has over 90 student clubs. freshmen, unless local, are required to live on-campus. On-campus housing is available for approximately 900 students. Most students (70-75 percent) stay on-campus over the weekend to participate in various social and recreational activities. Approximately 30 percent of students attend graduate school in the first year following graduation and approximately 45 percent do so within five years. Student/faculty ratio: 12/1. Average class size is 17. The school confers the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Master of Arts (in English, psychology and history).
Sustainability initiatives are branded George Goes Green and include a green pledge, recycling, composting, an annual energy reduction competition, and use of biofuels. Washington College has also joined American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment with a Campus Carbon Neutrality goal. The Center for Environment & Society oversees the Chesapeake Semester program, four interdisciplinary courses that use the College's location in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to explore environmental issues and advocacy.
Washington College is host to the Harwood Series, which includes speeches by national politicians, and media pundits. In recent years, Haley Barbour, Howard Dean, John McCain, James Carville, Cokie Roberts, Chris Matthews, Ellen Sauerbrey, Donna Shalala, Eugene McCarthy, Cornel West, Birch Bayh, Gary Hart, Richard Lugar, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Karl Rove have appeared on campus. Entertainers such as the Counting Crows, Bruce Hornsby, Eddy Arnold, Wayne Brady, Jason Mraz, DJ Kool, Guster, Nick Swardson, Jamie Kennedy, Gym Class Heroes and Larry Hagman have all appeared on campus in one capacity or another. Because of its reputation as a liberal arts school with creative writing being a strength, writers such as John Barth, Ray Bradbury, Bobbie Ann Mason, Colum McCann, Junot Diaz, and Robert Pinsky have given readings at the campus.
Greek life at Washington College comprises four men's fraternities and three women's sororities, fraternities are mainly housed on the "quad", and sororities line the "Western Shore" housing.
George Washington Birthday Ball: A college-wide dance where students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college come together to celebrate George Washington's birthday. The event usually takes place on, or around, the actual date of George Washington's birth. Formal dress is required for all in attendance.
The All Campus Picnic: A carnival held for the students and community members before the beginning of the academic year.
The Renaissance Christmas Dinner: Held before the beginning of Winter Break and features performances by the Early Music Consort and Vocal Consort of the College.
War on the Shore: The annual men's lacrosse game, held in late spring between Washington College and Salisbury University, two of Maryland's Eastern Shore's undergraduate schools. Beginning in 2004, the winner of the game has been awarded the Charles B. Clark Cup.
May Day: Started in 1968 by Professor Bennett Lamond of the English Department, who retired in 2004. He brought a class out onto the green, where they read poetry and drank wine. Later that night some of the students returned, and Washington College's May Day celebration was born. Since then, May Day has become a two-day festival on April 30 and May 1, often involving public nudity by a percentage of the student body. The event draws many students as spectators.
Notable alumni and affiliates
The college boasts of a notable list of persons who served on the original Board of visitors and governors, including:
Washington College has competed in intercollegiate athletics since the 19th century. Its oldest current varsity sports are the baseball team, which dates back to at least the early 1870s, and the men's basketball team, which plays its 100th season in 2011-12. Men's teams are known as the Shoremen; women's teams are known as the Shorewomen.
Fourteen of Washington College's 17 varsity teams compete in the Centennial Conference. The men's and women's rowing teams compete in the Mid-Atlantic Rowing Conference (MARC), while the sailing team competes in the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association (MAISA), a part of the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA). The college's 17 varsity teams are:
The college is known athletically for its men's lacrosse team. It won the 1998 NCAA Division III National Championship and a share of the 1954 USILA Laurie Cox Division National Championship. The men's lacrosse team has participated in the NCAA Division II or III Tournament 28 times since 1974 and the NCAA Division III Championship game eight times. Washington College Men's Lacrosse players have earned All-America honors 226 times.
The men's lacrosse team, along with the women's lacrosse, men's and women's soccer, and field hockey teams, competes on Kibler Field at Roy Kirby, Jr. Stadium. Completed in 2006, the stadium was named one of the top 10 venues for collegiate lacrosse by Lacrosse Magazine.
The college's men's tennis team emerged as a national power in the 1980s and won the 1994 and 1997 NCAA Division III National Championships. It has competed in 18 NCAA Division III Tournaments and won 20 conference championships since 1986. From 1985 until 2005, the team won 122 consecutive conference dual matches. Washington College men's tennis players have earned All-America honors 42 times, while their female counterparts have earned All-America honors 11 times. The women's tennis team competed in the 1992 NCAA Division III Tournament. Both tennis teams play their home matches outdoors at the Ellen Bordley Schottland Tennis Center. During inclement weather, matches are played indoors at the Johnson Lifetime Fitness Center.
Washington College's women's rowing team qualified for the 2008 and 2009 NCAA Division III Championships as an at-large eight, while the men's rowing team won the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Rowing Conference Championship. The sailing team competed in the ICSA Co-Ed National Semifinals in 2008, 2009, and 2010 and advanced to the ICSA Co-Ed National Championship Finals in 2009. The rowing and sailing teams host regattas on the Chester River and call the college's Truslow Boat House and Lelia Hynson Boating Park home.
The swim teams have enjoyed a history of success sending individual swimmers to the NCAA Division III Championships. Female swimmers have earned All-America honors 21 times, while male swimmers have achieved that feat three times. Home swim meets are held inside Casey Swim Center.
Eight baseball players who played at Washington College have gone on to play in the Major Leagues, including two-time National League home run leader and four-time All-Star "Swish" Nicholson. Athey Baseball Park, renovated in 2009, is the home of the baseball team.
The men's basketball team has made four appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament, most recently in 1990, when it advanced to the national semifinals. It also posted a perfect 20-0 record during the 1924-25 season. The men's and women's basketball teams and the women's volleyball team play their home games inside Cain Athletic Center.
The field hockey team advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament in 1996 and 1997, while the men's soccer team played in the NCAA College Division Tournament in 1973.
While men have been playing varsity sports at Washington College for well over a century, varsity opportunities for women have been a more recent development. The first varsity sports for women – rowing, tennis, and volleyball – were added in the mid-1970s and were followed by the additions of softball, lacrosse, field hockey, and swimming by the mid-1980s. Varsity women's basketball began play during the 1993-94 season, while co-ed sailing was elevated to varsity status four years later. The women's soccer team is the college's newest varsity sport; it began play during the fall of 1998.
Washington College fielded a varsity football team through 1950, a men's track and field team through 1982, and a men's cross country team through 1989. The college has also previously sponsored varsity men's golf and varsity wrestling during its history.
A number of famous athletes and coaches have spoken at Washington College, including Super Bowl-winning head coach Brian Billick, Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, and former Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver.
Recent club sports offerings at Washington College have included:
Club sports are student-run and funded by the Student Government Association.
Among Washington College's most successful club sports is its equestrian team. Founded in 2002, the team has been represented at collegiate national championships in both hunt seat and western riding competitions.
The Men's Rugby Club has also enjoyed a recent surge of success and has gained national attention in both 15's and 7's play.
The athletic department also offers a variety of intramural sports, open to the student body, faculty, and staff. Recent intramural sports have included co-ed soccer, co-ed dodgeball, co-ed flag football, co-ed basketball, co-ed volleyball, co-ed kickball, and co-ed ultimate.
Recreation trips are sponsored by the athletic department and student affairs and have included white water rafting, skiing, rock-fishing, rock climbing, crabbing, camping, cycling, and water skiing and wakeboarding.
Despite the economic downturn, Washington College recently invested $70 million in its physical plant. In Fall 2009, the College opened two major new facilities: The Gibson Center for the Arts and the Hodson Hall Commons.
After undergoing a $24 million renovation and expansion of the original structure, the Gibson Center for the Arts now accommodates a recital hall, an art gallery, a mainstage theatre and a small experimental theatre in addition to classrooms, practice rooms and faculty offices.
Hodson Hall Commons, another renovation/expansion project, reflects the historic features of adjoining Hodson Hall while accommodating the interests of today’s students. The Commons' first floor offers a central entertainment and performance space alongside café-style dining options and the Hodson Student Center. The main dining hall is located on the Common's second floor, providing scenic views of the surrounding campus.
Middle, East and West Halls stand on the crest of a low hill (the terrace) at the center of campus. Middle Hall (built 1844) and East and West Halls (built 1854) hold a special place in the history of Washington College in that they are the oldest surviving campus buildings. They serve as monuments to the original Common Building (completed in 1789), whose site they occupy. They are all three story buildings constructed of brick.
They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
They now function as follows:
Other residence halls include: