Charter Day

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The annual celebration of Charter Day at the College of William and Mary was initiated by President John Stewart Bryan on February 8, 1937. The first Charter Day was known as Founder's Day and included an academic procession with the faculty in their regalia, walking from Jefferson dormitory to Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, where Charter Day celebrations still occur. Drawing on the reference of granting the Royal Charter to a President and Six Masters, President Bryan was joined on stage at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall by six professors. The choir sang "God Save the King," one professor read excerpts from the charter, and Wesley Frank Craven, visiting professor of history from New York University, gave the principal address. President Bryan’s love of pomp and pageantry also led to the annual Yule Log Ceremony.

During the eighteenth century Transfer Day was the usual time of celebrating the birth of William and Mary by observing the anniversary of the Transfer of the Charter from the founders of the College to the President and Masters of the College on August 15, 1729.

In 1859, the 166th anniversary of the College of William and Mary was celebrated on February 19 with an address by John Tyler, former president of the United States, and a reading of St. George Tucker’s celebratory poem by the poet himself. St. George Tucker was the grandson of the man for whom Tucker Hall is named. The book is the published version of these presentations and also contains a brief history of the College and lists of its officers, faculty and alumni.

The tradition of having Charter Day Speakers of note to address the audience carried over from the nineteenth century to the present.

Charter Day Celebration Format

The main characteristics of the Charter Day exercises has changed little over the years. The following is a listing of the main aspects of the excersises in order from beginning to end:

    *The William and Mary Choir sings the William and Mary hymn and the National Anthem.
    *Introductory remarks by the College President 

Awards bestowed on Charter Day include the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership, Thomas Jefferson Award, Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy, Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, Alumni Medallion, as well as honorary degrees.

Material in the SCRC

  • Charter Day exhibit, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
  • "Charter" and "Charter Day" files, University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.

Share Your Memories

Do you want to share your memories of recent or past Charter Days? You are welcome to create an account and add your memories to this section of the SCRC Wiki page or if you prefer, contact University Archivist Amy Schindler ( or 757-221-3094). In either case, please include your name and class year. We look forward to hearing from you.

External Links


  • Godson, Susan H. et. al., The College of William and Mary: A History, King and Queen Press, Society of the Alumni, College of William and Mary, 1993, pg. 72, 643.
  • Charter Day, University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.

Need help?

To search for further material, see Finding Materials in the SCRC for an introduction to the SCRC Collections Database, card catalogs, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, etc.

Questions? Contact the SCRC at or 221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary (hours).

A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fire, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information available here is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in the SCRC's collections and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the SCRC's access tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.