The Grammar School of the College of William and Mary opened in 1694, shortly after James Blair obtained the College’s Royal Charter. It continued into the late nineteenth century, with many stops and starts. Governor Thomas Jefferson’s education reforms in Virginia closed the school in 1779. It reopened in 1791, closing a second time in 1812. In 1825, the Board of Visitors renewed the school, and renamed it the School of Ancient Languages in 1837. In 1865, the College opened the Grammar and Matty School with help from the Matty Fund. The Board of Visitors reorganized the school as the Matthew Whaley Model and Practice School in 1894, a practice school for the College’s normal school, or teacher’s college.
Colonial and Revolutionary Period
Original plans for the College included a Grammar School, a School of Philosophy, and a School of Divinity. In the College’s early years, before the Transfer of 1729, the Grammar School and the Indian School were the only schools in operation. The Grammar School met in temporary quarters until completion of the construction of the College Building, after which time students met in a classroom on the first floor. There were reportedly twenty-nine boys enrolled in 1702. After the fire of 1705, the school met in the Brafferton alongside the Indian School until the College Building was repaired.
The Grammar School closely resembled contemporary English grammar schools in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Boys eight years of age or older learned Latin and Greek and read classics in those languages. Nearly all of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Grammar School masters were ordained Anglican clergy, as religious instruction was integral to the curriculum. Once the School of Philosophy was established, boys could graduate from the Grammar School to the School of Philosophy after an oral examination in Latin and Greek. Boys also learned some arithmetic and geography, and had dancing lessons on Saturdays. Students were not permitted to leave the College grounds; they lived, ate, and studied under the close supervision of the Grammar School master and usher. Masters, too, lived at the College and were discouraged from marriage.
The American Revolution severed both administrative and financial ties between the College and England. However, this provided an opportunity to reform the institution. In 1779, during Thomas Jefferson’s term as Governor of Virginia, he introduced the “Bill for a More General Diffusion of Knowledge,” which restructured Virginia schools. With this bill, groups of counties would each have their own grammar school or academy, and students who wished to progress beyond that level of education would attend William and Mary. This effectively abolished the College’s Grammar School.
Early National and Antebellum Period
The Grammar School reopened in 1791. In 1795, between fifty and sixty boys were enrolled. The school closed again in 1812 for unclear reasons, but possibly due to lack of enrollment. It reopened once more in 1825.
The nineteenth-century curriculum of the Grammar School still included Latin and Greek, but introduced French, English grammar, composition, and public speaking. Geography and arithmetic, subjects somewhat covered during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were taken more seriously. Religious instruction continued but was less central to the boys’ education.
From 1837 on, the school was listed in the catalogue as the School of Ancient Languages. Gradually, it became less preparatory in nature, functioning instead as part of the College itself. In 1839, a distinction between enrollment in the School of Ancient Languages and the College was no longer made. The classes no longer gave rudimentary instruction in Latin and Greek, but instead taught classic works for advanced students in those languages.
The Civil War and Late Nineteenth Century
The Civil War left the College with a badly damaged campus and depleted funds. No classes were held between 1861 and the fall of 1865. In 1866, the College accepted responsibility for the Matty (or Mattey) Fund and opened a school under the name The Grammar and Matty School. The Matty Fund, established by Mary Whaley in 1741, originally funded the education of boys who could not otherwise afford one in the Bruton Parish. Whaley named the fund in honor of her son, Matthew, who died at age nine. In order to satisfy the conditions of the Fund, William and Mary’s newly opened grammar school accepted fifteen needy students each year, who studied alongside tuition-paying students. The students met in the Brafferton until the school moved to the College Hotel in 1867. It held classes there until 1883, when the Grammar and Matty School disappears from the historical record.
Separate from the Grammar and Matty School that met in the College Hotel, the College erected a schoolhouse called the Matty (or Mattey) School in 1870 on a tract of land that was the former site of the Governor’s Palace. The College leased the school to the city of Williamsburg as its public school in 1873. The College reacquired the schoolhouse in 1894. It was reorganized as a school for students in the normal school (teacher’s college) to practice teaching and named the Matthew Whaley Model and Practice School.
The Williamsburg Holding Corporation, or Colonial Williamsburg, purchased the site of the Governor’s Palace in 1929, and a new Matthew Whaley School was constructed on Scotland Street in Williamsburg, owned by both the College and the city. Beginning in the 1930s, students in the library science program also trained at Matthew Whaley as school librarians. The College deeded its share of the school to the Williamsburg School Board in September 1949, ending the joint ownership and training for teachers and librarians at the school.
- National Register of Historic Places Application Form for the Matthew Whaley School.
- Dillard, Carra Garrett. “The Grammar School of the College of William and Mary.” Master’s thesis, The College of William and Mary, 1951.
- Godson, Susan et al. The College of William and Mary: A History. Williamsburg, VA: King and Queen Press, Society of the Alumni, College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1993.
- Morpurgo, J. E. Their Majesties’ Royall Colledge: William and Mary in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Williamsburg, VA: College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1976.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Guide for conducting research related to the College of William & Mary
- 1694~"To Col. Wm Brown for repairing ye school house 45 0 0 in College Building Account to Apr 1697," in Goodwin Historical Notes, p. 55
- 1697--letter from trustees of the College to Gov. Edmund Andros, April 22, "We have founded a grammar school wch is well furnisht wth a good Schoolmaster Usher and Writing-master in wch the schollrs make great proficiency in their studies..." (Goodwin Historical Notes, p. 54)
- Circa 1705-irca 1712--Grammar school continued in a school-house near the College (Goodwin, Sketch of Main Building, 11)
To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for an overview of the Special Collections Database, W&M Digital Archive, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, card catalogs, and other tools available to help you find material of interest in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center.
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