As JWU nears the century mark, share in our enthusiasm and pride as we recount the key moments and people that make up our university’s rich and vibrant history.
The Founding Mothers of JWUWe begin by celebrating our founders. When most people hear the words “Johnson & Wales” they seldom stop to think who Johnson and Wales were — two strong, independent women who paid little heed to the myriad obstacles in their path, and created a business school primarily for women. Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales met at a Pennsylvania teaching college in the 1890s when they were just 17 and 19 years old. Although their paths separated for 20 years after graduation, “divine Providence” brought them together when they taught at Bryant & Stratton, now Bryant University, in 1913. There they decided to launch a school of their own. Thus, the Johnson & Wales School of Business was born in 1914 — in Gertrude’s home with one student and one typewriter.Role Models for the EraThey were of the “New Women” era of the early 1900s — women who chose careers over marriage, refusing to squander their educations, and working to empower other women. They didn’t even have the right to vote, yet they established a business that prevailed through two world wars, the Great Depression, even the Hurricane of 1938. Their mission — “to teach a thing not for its own sake but for what lies beyond” is still in line with JWU’s current mission.
Marian Gagnon’s acclaimed documentary trilogy about JWU’s history includes a segment dedicated to “the ladies” (as they were known). All three films have screened as part of “Rhode Island Stories,” RI PBS’s collection of independent films with a distinctly Rhode Island flavor.