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Office of the President records

Identifier: RG0002

Collection Scope and Content

The collection contains a mixture of personal and family papers, biographical research, and administrative records representing all but one GW President (Howard Lincoln Hodgkins, who served as president ad interim from 1921 to 1923). In addition, it contains a series of scrapbooks containing news clippings maintained by the office of the president during the early-to-mid-20th century, as well as copies of the president's annual reports (1888-1917, 1964-2007).

For the earlier presidents, the materials tend to be scarce and randomly collected, but as time progresses, the records become more standardized, organized and complete. No significant body of records from President Knapp has been included in this collection yet.

See the scope and content notes for the individual series and sub-series listed below for more details on what types of materials are included from each administration.


  • Creation: 1795-2021
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1821-2017


Restrictions on Access

Non-public materials in this collection are closed for 50 years from the date of creation. Currently, this includes portions of the Elliott, Trachtenberg, Knapp and LeBlanc series. See notes at the start of these series for assistance in identifying restricted portions of the collection.

Permission to use restricted materials may be obtained from the office of the president; please contact to facilitate permission.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical Note

Although governed by a Board of Trustees, the president of the university has always been the chief administrative officer for the institution. Since the founding of Columbian College in 1821, 19 different men have served as its president. With the exception of the period between October 1841 and October 1843, there has always been an acting, interim, or regular president.

Throughout much of the 19th century, the role of the president was envisioned primarily as that of a leader among the faculty, rather than an administrator separate from it. Though charged by the Rules of the College with the "general superintendence of the government and reputation of the College," the president was also a key member of the teaching faculty, serving as their voice to the trustees and performing other duties as assigned to him by the trustees.

In keeping with the beliefs of Columbian College's founders, early supporters, and many of its trustees, six of the institution's first seven presidents were also Baptist ministers, Welling being the first exception (Greene, who followed Welling as acting president, was the last Baptist minister to serve).

With the transition from Columbian College to Columbian University in 1873 and ultimately to the George Washington University in 1904, the role of the president also shifted. Over the course of the administrations of Welling, Whitman, and Needham, the position of president was professionalized and secularized. By the early 20th century, presidents were no longer teaching a significant proportion of the unviersity's courses, and their roles were solidified as modern administrators.

Biographical and historical notes relevant to individual presidents are included in the series and subseries descriptions below.

Presidents of George Washington University

  1. William Staughton, 1821-1827
  2. Stephen Chapin, 1828-1841
  3. Joel Smith Bacon, 1843-1854
  4. Joseph Getchell Binney, 1855-1858
  5. George Whitefield Samson, 1859-1871
  6. James Clarke Welling, 1871-1894
  7. Samuel Harrison Greene, acting, 1894-1895
  8. Benaiah L. Whitman, 1895-1900
  9. Samuel Harrison Greene, acting, 1900-1902
  10. Charles Willis Needham, 1902-1910
  11. Charles Herbert Stockton, 1910-1918
  12. William Miller Collier, 1918-1921
  13. Howard L. Hodgkins, ad interim, 1921-1923
  14. William Mather Lewis, 1923-1927
  15. Cloyd Heck Marvin, 1927-1959
  16. Oswald Symister Colclough, Acting, 1959-1961
  17. Thomas Henry Carroll, 1961-1964
  18. Oswald Symister Colclough, acting, 1964-1965
  19. Lloyd Hartman Elliott, 1965-1988
  20. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, 1988-2007
  21. Steven Knapp, 2007-2017
  22. Thomas J. LeBlanc, 2017-2021
  23. Mark S. Wrighton, 2022-2023
  24. Ellen M. Granberg, 2023-present


339 Linear Feet (205 record center cartons, 59 document boxes, 3 slim document boxes, 4 oversize volumes, 2 oversize flat files)

Language of Materials



Although governed by a Board of Trustees, the president of the university has always been the chief administrative officer for the institution. The collection contains a mixture of personal and family papers, biographical research, and administrative records representing all but one GW President (Howard Lincoln Hodgkins, who served as president ad interim from 1921 to 1923). In addition, it contains a series of scrapbooks containing news clippings maintained by the office of the president during the early-to-mid-20th century, as well as copies of the president's annual reports (1888-1917, 1964-2007).

Collection Organization

Organized in 10 series: 1 containing materials for all presidents prior to 1927, 1 each for records from the Marvin, Colclough/Carroll, Elliott, Trachtenberg, Knapp, LeBlanc presidencies, 1 containing scrapbooks created by the office of the president, and 1 containing copies of the annual reports of the president, 1 containing websites.

Within the first series, the materials are organized in one sub-series for each president. Within the series for individual presidents, the materials are organized in sub-series that represent sets of files as they were transferred to the archives.

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Acquisition Information

Much of this collection was transferred to the library directly from the office of the president, while other portions were gathered together by librarians, archivists, curators and university historians who were charged with tending the university's historical record throughout the 20th century. Whenever the immediate source of aquisition for a set of records is known, it is annotated at the series or sub-series level.

Related Materials

Photographs of the presidents and photographs of their painted portraits, as well as a set of photo files from the Elliott administration may be found in the University Photographs Collection. Gifts and awards given to presidents Elliott and Trachtenberg may be found in the University Artifacts and Memorabilia collection. Oral histories conducted with Presidents Elliot and Trachtenberg, as well as interviews with people including Elmer Louis Kayser about the Marvin administration may be found in the Oral History collection.

Collection note

No boxes 97-99, 137, or 254-256. 257-260 are unboxed oversize volumes.

Processing Information

The Office of the President records were reprocessed into their current arrangement and description in Fall 2016. This was largely an effort to consolidate item-level accessions into series, to bring all description online, and to provide better contextual background and description for the records.

The first efforts to organize these materials into a collection occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s, as described in the following statement, written around 1981:

"Because of the way in which our archival collection was obtained, there are some problems in knowing where to look for particular materials. When the dept. was started in 1969, we had nothing in the way of file cabinet materials, altho some of them were in the library (in a vault) at the time. As material was received, we tried to put like materials together under the name of the issuing office. After the appointment of our curator in 1975, we began to set up an archival arrangement primarily by subject since at that time it was unlikely that we would ever obtain really official records of the University. Between 1976 and about 1978 many other materials were turned over to us by the University Historian. These arrived already set up under subject headings in two metal cabinets. The nature of their arrangement was, however, entirely different than ours and not at all consistent. We have since then been trying to absorb the collection into our library archival arrangement, setting up new finding aids when there were none. This work has been about 3/4 completed. At the same time, a great deal of archival material was sent to us by other offices, the largest amount being that from the President's Office. The Curator felt that we would be likely to get numerous calls from the President's Office for those items asking for them by the same subjects and names that they had assigned to them. Therefore, he thought it more expedient to retain the President's Archives intact in separate metal cabinets and to make finding aids corresponding exactly with the listing sent to us by that office. (See binder, "President's Archives.") The reason that those finding aids were combined with ours (even tho they were inconsistent with ours and housed in entirely different cabinets) was so that we could find them, as well as our own materials at the same time. In addition, we were able to add "SEE ALSO's" to existing cards should new items on the same subjects arrive. This should explain the inconsistency and confusion present in our finding aid file."

Although the materials transferred directly from the office of the president were rehoused in archival folders and boxes at some point in the 1980s or 1990s, each transfer continued to be understood, organized and accessed as an individual accession with its own finding aid. This practice continued through the 1990s, until by the end of the Trachtenberg era there were over 50 individual accessions attributed to the office of the president.

Around 2005, coinciding with the implementation of the library's first collection management software, all of the accessions from the office of the president were grouped together for the first time under a single collection, RG0002. However, the accessions were in fairly random order and no additional effort at arrangement or description was made at that time. This order was maintained through migrations into two additional collection management systems, and by 2016 RG0002 consisted of 53 or so series with minimal contextual or descriptive information, and over 300 boxes of unprocessed and largely unaccounted-for content.

The current round of processing was begun in an effort to improve understanding of and access to these materials. These activities consisted of identifying, arranging and re-numbering the boxes for entire series and subseries of records whenever possible. It also resulted in the removal of non-records materials to more appropriate collections, such as the university photographs collection, the university memorabilia collection, and the historical materials collection. One set of records related to the national celebration of the bicentennial of George Washington's birth was made into its own manuscript collection.

During the 2016 processing, the following accessions could not be located and were removed from the collection description: ACC#630 (Two copies of a Scottish Rite publication mentioning GW), ACC# 780 (one large ornament and stand with the lettering "SJT, 15th President").

Guide to the Office of the President records, 1795-2007
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

George Washington University Gelman Library
2130 H Street NW
Washington DC 20052 United States of America