George Washington had long argued for the creation of a
university in the District of Columbia, and in his will, even bequeathed fifty shares of the Potomac Company to it. "I give and
bequeath in perpetuity the fifty shares which I hold in the Potomac Company (under the aforesaid Acts of the Legislature of
Virginia) towards the endowment of a UNIVERSITY to be established within the limits of the District of Columbia, under the
auspices of the General Government, if that Government should incline to extend a fostering hand towards it."
The Congress never
acted on this bequest, though.Aware of Washington's wishes, a group of men, led by Luther Rice, a Baptist minister, later raised funds to purchase a site
for a college to educate missionaries and the clergy. A large building was constructed on what is now Meridian Hill and on
February 9, 1821, President James Monroe approved the Congressional charter creating The Columbian College.
President James Monroe, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, the Marquis de Lafayette
and other dignitaries attended the College's first commencement exercises in 1824.The name of the institution was changed to Columbian University in 1873 and to The
George Washington University in 1904. The university became one of the first institutions
in the United States to grant a Ph.D. in 1888.Since the 1970s, GWU, under the leadership of presidents Lloyd Hartman Elliott and
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, has became a major undergraduate and graduate institution. It has grown immensely in recent years, and
is at present the largest private landowner in the District of Columbia, and second largest overall (behind the federal government).In June 1999, the university purchased the Mount
Vernon College for Women near Georgetown, and it became the George Washington University Mount Vernon Campus.