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George Williams College records

Identifier: Y.GWC.1


Records documenting the operations, administration, and academic output of George Williams College, an institution started by the YMCA as a training school, from its origins in the 1880s as a summer school and institute, to its eventual merger with Aurora University in the mid-1980s. The collection includes administrative records such as correspondence, minutes and reports, as well as course catalogs, yearbooks, and records of the college's accreditation review process, student organizations and athletic activities, and a 1977-78 self-study. A significant portion of the collection consists of a comprehensive set of theses and dissertations written by students. Extensive files also document the construction of the Downer's Grove campus in the 1960s. Additional highlights include records of the college alumni association, material related to its relationship with the YMCA, and a series of printed material from the library collection.


  • 1856-1987
  • Majority of material found within ( 1880-1985)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


The origins of George Williams College date back to the 1880s, when the YMCA established a series of week-long institutes to train men going into YMCA work. By that time Robert Weidensall, a YMCA leader who had been commissioned to develop the YMCA movement in the western sector of the United States had for several years been pressing for the idea of a permanent training institute that he envisioned would one day play the same role for YMCA professionals that law school played for those entering the profession of law and medical school for those desiring to practice medicine. Land was purchased on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, on Williams Bay, a quiet area suitable for retreat, reflection, visioning, and planning. Known as the "Western Secretarial Institute," programs included special institutes for physical educators, run by Luther Gulick from the only other institution dedicated to the purpose of training YMCA workers, Springfield College in Massachusetts. There were also very popular student conferences, where college students who were tied to the YMCA (or YWCA) on their campuses would come for a week. Then, in 1890, when full-time YMCA work was becoming professional, requiring more intensive training, a year-round "Training School" was established under the same leadership. The new school was located in Chicago, Illinois and was greatly influenced in its human service mission by the social and educational changes going on in that rapidly growing, industrial city. While evangelism and "Christian work" was clearly at the heart of both the YMCA and the training school, the work of the association was never dissociated from a social service purpose. The service mission was one of sensitivity to problematic social situations young men faced as they migrated from the rural families and communities to an urban industrial environment.

Known at first as the Training School of the YMCA (1890-1896) and subsequently as the Secretarial Institute and Training School (SITS) (1896-1903), the Institute and Training School of the YMCA (ITS) (1903-1913), and the YMCA College or Association College (1913-1933), it was finally named George Williams College in 1933 in honor of the man who founded the YMCA movement in 1844. It continued to maintain the Williams Bay campus in the Lake Geneva area, which was used for its educational purposes as well as for outside groups. By the 1930s, the college was a national center for the development of group work as a profession. It was also an early pioneer in the idea of holistic health, with the integration of body, mind and spirit that was key concept within the YMCA movement.

In the late 1960s, the college moved to a western suburb of Chicago, Downer's Grove. The move from inner city to the mostly white suburbs brought racial tensions, already heightened nation-wide during this period, to the fore. Local residents were suspicious and hostile to the appearance of so many Black college-age students in their neighborhood, and fault lines emerged within the school, which by the late 1960s was about 20% African American, over issues such as curriculum and the racial balance of the faculty and staff. The radically different environment also influenced the culture of the college. With the change in location came a change in experiential learning, characterized by a shift from a societal focus to an introspective, personal focus.

George Williams College, as an independent college in Downers Grove, closed in 1985 for financial reasons. Two of its programs, social work and recreation, both strongly tied to the human services mission of the college, continued under the auspices of Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois. In 1992 a formal affiliation agreement was established between the two institutions so the name and legacy of George Williams College could continue on and alumni would have a "home." It was not until 2000 that George Williams College fully merged the programs at both the Aurora campus and the historic Williams Bay campus with Aurora University.

Historical information was quoted in large part from Strong Roots: A Group Memoir of George Williams College(Williams Bay, WI: George Williams College Press, 2007) by Sandra Alcorn.


140 Cubic Feet (140 boxes)


Records documenting the operations, administration, and academic output of George Williams College from its origins in the 1880s to its eventual merger with Aurora University in the mid-1980s, especially including dissertations and theses.


A finding aid including a detailed list of theses, including title, author, and date is also available. >> Go to the inventory

Processing Information:

Catalog Record ID number: 6393495

George Williams College:
An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area