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  • History & Traditions

History & Traditions

The principles and philosophies carried throughout the University date back to our namesake, Roger Williams. Founder of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Roger Williams was the first major figure in colonial America to forcefully argue the need for democracy, religious freedom and understanding of America's native cultures.

The University’s roots date to 1919, when Northeastern University opened a branch campus at the Broad Street Providence YMCA. In 1940, the YMCA Board of Directors took over the school, and after closing it briefly during World War II, the YMCA Institute granted its first associate’s degrees in 1948.

In February 1956, the Institute received a state charter to become a two-year, degree-granting institution under the name of Roger Williams Junior College. During the 1960s, the school, then called Roger Williams College, began granting bachelor’s degrees and quickly outgrew the YMCA building. The College purchased 80 acres of waterfront land in Bristol and, in 1969, completed the initial construction of its new campus. In 1992, Roger Williams College became Roger Williams University, and the University celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006.

The University has dedicated itself to the ideals advocated by Roger Williams himself: education, freedom and tolerance. Through his scholarship in language, theology and law, Williams’ life reflected the value of learning and teaching. The University honors his legacy by modeling a community in which diverse people and diverse ideas are valued, intellectual achievement is celebrated and civic responsibility is expected.

Building on its current strength and supported by its unique history, Roger Williams University is poised to expand its tradition of achievement and excellence as we move forward into the 21st century.