Our History

Every day on campus and in the broader community, Roger Williams University’s own “lively experiment” in developing lifelong learners who work to improve society is inspired by the legacy of our namesake.

Historic image of Institute members
February 14, 1956, the YMCA’s Providence Institute of Engineering and Finance received a State charter to become a two-year, degree-granting institution under the name of Roger Williams Junior College.

Founder of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Roger Williams was the first major figure in colonial America to instill democracy, religious freedom, and understanding and inclusion of America’s native cultures – what he called his “lively experiment.” Through his scholarship in language, theology and law, and fearless advocacy for freedom and tolerance, Roger’s life reflected the value of learning and teaching.

At RWU, we dedicate our efforts to that spirit of love of learning and service toward the greater good. We are a private university with a public purpose, devoted to strengthening society through engaged teaching and learning. We are committed to making a great education accessible by investing in people and resources while holding the line on cost.

Here are some fast facts about where we came from:

  • With a state charter in 1956, Roger Williams Junior College became a two-year, degree-granting institution housed inside the Broad Street Providence YMCA. Soon after, the school became Roger Williams College and began conferring bachelor’s degrees, quickly outgrowing the space at the YMCA building.
  • The Bristol campus was built in 1969 on 80 acres of waterfront land that was formerly Ferrycliffe Farm, a dairy farm known for its prized Jersey cows.
  • In 1992, Roger Williams College became Roger Williams University and another 50 acres of land was added to the campus.
  • A year later, in 1993, the university established the Roger Williams University School of Law, Rhode Island’s only law school and a leader in public-interest law.
  • In 2015, RWU opened its new Providence campus at One Empire Plaza, where we are uniquely positioned in the heart of the capital city to deploy our faculty and students to lend expertise and service to the greater community.

Today Roger Williams University is a leading education institution serving over 5,400 students through our Undergraduate, Graduate, Law and University College programs.