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George Williams College theses and dissertations

Identifier: Y.GWC.1-1


Theses and dissertations produced by students of George Williams College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for bachelors and masters degrees. Topics include religion and church history, physical education, kinesiology, recreation, social work, group work, youth work, and the YMCA and its history, among others.


  • 1895-1985


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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.


62 Cubic Feet (62 boxes)


Theses and dissertations produced by students of George Williams College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for bachelors and masters degrees.


The material is arranged chronologically.


Additional records of George Williams College are also available in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives. >> Go to the inventory

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Please note that some of the descriptive language found in this collection guide reflects and re-uses the words and ideas of the people and organizations that created the material. Historical records represent the opinions and actions of their creators and the society in which they were produced. This historical language was retained in cases where we believe it provides important context about the materials, is a Library of Congress Subject Heading, or is the official title of an item, organization, or event. As such, please be aware that this material and the guide describing it contains racial and other language and/or imagery that is outdated, offensive and/or harmful.

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Catalog Record ID number: 6393496

George Williams College:
An Inventory of Its Dissertations and Theses
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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