As JWU nears the century mark, share in our pride as we recount the key moments and people that make up our university’s rich and vibrant history. We begin by celebrating our founders, Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales.
The Founding Mothers of JWUWhen 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 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.
Produced by JWU Arts & Sciences faculty member Marian Gagnon PhD, the acclaimed documentary trilogy about JWU’s history includes a segment dedicated to “the ladies” (as they were known). All 3 films have screened as part of “Rhode Island Stories,” RI PBS’s collection of independent films with a distinctly RI flavor. Watch them on YouTube.
From Business School to Junior College
“Inexhaustible team” leads J&W to new heights — and national accreditation.
‘Students Come First’
Student life and athletics expand along with academics.
Changing Times, Changing J&W
The 1970s bring 4-year degrees and a focus on accessibility.
Culinary Arts and Career Services
Two fledgling programs quickly become JWU signatures.
New Programs for a Thriving Campus
Increasing enrollment fuels campus expansion and academic growth.
Unique Education with Global Reputation
JWU becomes a university and expands beyond Providence.