The generally accepted date for the founding or the William and Mary Alumni Association is July 4, 1842. An alumni organization of some sort may have been in existence before this time. However, this is the date that the Honorable Nathaniel Beverly Tucker, a judge and professor of national and municipal law and of the science of government at the College delivered the first Alumni Day oration.
Business was transacted at this meeting in 1842 and from the minutes we have this resolution:
"4. Resolved, that all members of this Society, as often as their convenience and avocations will admit, will attend the meetings on the 4th of July in each year; and that every son of William and Mary, qualified to be a member of this Society, is earnestly invited to do the same. -- Thos. R. Dew, President"
This resolution plus a notation concerning those eligible for membership ("all graduates of William and Mary College, and all persons who were students thereof before the year 1836, though not graduates, are entitled to be admitted as members of the Society of the Alumni.")
In his address, Judge Tucker does refer to what he claims a "remarkable" fact that "while Societies of Alumni have sprung up at almost every other Academic Institution, the establishment of such an Association at William and Mary should have been postponed to this late day."
It is certain that the famed Thomas Roderick Dew, a graduate of the College in the class of 1820, and President of the College from 1836 to 1846, was the first President of the Society. Just when he was elected is not known but he was President on the 4th of July, 1842, and served until his death in Paris, in 1846.
The Association was uniquely fortunate in having as its spokesman in its early days two such distinguished men as Dew and Tucker, both of whom had been recognized among the most influential Virginians of their time and both of whom were advisors to John Tyler, President of the United States.
Beyond that, historical records emphasize the importance of these two men to the College for it was Dew who became President of William and Mary at the age of thirty-four and entered upon his duties "with deep and painful solicitude sustained alone by the consciousness that I shall yield to none who have gone before me in this office in zeal, in fidelity and a love of our venerated Alma Mater." The College had almost closed due to the small number of students but during his presidency the attendance at the College was probably greater than at any time from its foundation to 1889 and in 1839 more degrees were awarded to graduates than at any time before 1920. It is almost certain that through Dew's influence and insistence the alumni were finally organized.
Dew was succeeded as president of the Association by his successor as president of the College, Robert Saunders, 1823 A.B., who served for the session 1846-47. From 1842 until the reopening of the College in 1888 the history of the Alumni Association is fragmentary in the records of the College. It is known that the Honorable Benjamin Watkins Leigh, 1802 A.B., was unanimously elected to deliver the oration on the 4th of July, 1843 and that James Lyons, Esq. (1816-18), was appointed alternate but for some reason William Wood Crump, who received his law degree in 1839 and in later years was Rector of the Board of Visitors and a bondsman for Jefferson Davis, made the address. There is no record of succeeding presidents of the Association before Robert Saunders until 1888.
While the College has acquired a great deal of historical information for this period very little applies to the Alumni Association which may be due to the minimum of its activities. In 1847 William H. Macfarland, (1815-16), was the orator and it is known that the oration on July 4, 1855 was given by Robert Tyler, 1835 A.B., 1837 L.B., a son.of President John Tyler, and that the following year it was delivered by Tiberius Gracchus Jones, 1845 A.B., and that in 1859, less than three years before he died, President John Tyler, himself, who graduated in 1807, delivered the address and at the same time was appointed Chancellor of the College, the first to be so named since the death of the first Chancellor, George Washington. Available records indicate that John Tyler was the last to deliver the oration until 1870 when Robert L. Montague, 1842 LB., 1875 D.D., spoke, In 1875 the Rev. Alfred Magill Randolph, 1855 A.B., was the orator and at the same time received an honorary degree of doctor of divinity.
If the Society lapsed at the beginning of the War Between the States, it was revived again in the seventies and since the College reopened in 1888 has been in continuous existence and while it was not until the late Henry Denison Cole, 1874, became secretary that any minutes of the annual meetings were kept; the College catalogue nevertheless listed the succeeding presidents and other officers of the Society.
As Thomas Roderick Dew doubtless gave impetus to the original organization so another great president, Julian Alvin Carroll Chandler, 1891 A.B., 1892 A.M., looked to the alumni for greater organization and support and in 1923 what was known as the Society of Alumni became a corporation under the laws of Virginia and since has been known as "The Alumni Association of the College of William and Mary in Virginia."
The first president of the corporation was Channing Moore Hall, 1908 A.B., and William Thomas Hodges, 1902 A.B., then professor of education and later dean of men, was elected secretary.
In 1929 George Willis Guy, 1921 A.B., became the first full-time executive secretary of the Alumni Association with an Alumni office, independent of any other department in the College, set up in the Brafferton. Mr. Guy, with the assistance of Dr. Chandler, Dr. Hodges and others, set out to organize alumni clubs in Virginia and elsewhere where there were a sufficient number of alumni to warrant them.
In the fall of 1932 Charles Albert Taylor, Jr., 1909 A.B., came to the campus as secretary and the office was transferred to the Brafferton Kitchen, rebuilt at the time the Brafferton was restored.
During the little more than four years of Mr. Taylor's service in the Alumni Office, though impeded by a lack of sufficient funds, much was accomplished in organization and enlargement of alumni activities. Mr. Taylor's first work was the establishment of the Alumni Gazette in June, 1933, a four-page newspaper published ten times during the year, which was mailed to all members of the Association. In 1934 the Association announced an award for loyalty and service in the form of a bronze medallion.
In 1937 Charles P. McCurdy was appointed Executive Secretary of the Alumni Association. With the appointment of Mr. McCurdy came increased support from the Administration of the College providing the Alumni office with the funds necessary to establish an adequate records system, including a master card and cross reference index on alumni going back to 1870. In October, 1938, the Alumni Gazette appeared for the first time as a magazine and was published quarterly. Under the editorship of Mr. McCurdy the Alumni Gazette attained national prominence, being recognized as one of the nation's outstanding alumni publications.
At the annual meeting of alumni on June 6, 1942, the Association voted to again adopt the name "Society of the Alumni of the College of William and Mary in Virginia."
In 1950 the Board of Directors of the Society of the Alumni established The William and Mary Fund to replace the old dues and life membership system that had been used until this date to support the Society's activities. In 1968 designated giving categories were established to recognize above average contributions to the annual campaign. In
1952 Charles P. McCurdy resigned as Alumni Secretary after fourteen years of service, interrupted only by several years leave of absence during World War II. He was succeeded by F. James Barnes, II, class of 1927 who served for two years as Alumni Secretary and Director of Public Infirmation for the College. In 1954 he resigned. He was succeeded in August 1954 by James S. Kelly, class of 1951 as Executive Secretary. In 1972 Kelly resigned and was succeeded by Gordon C. Vliet, class of 1954 who had served as Director of Alumni Affairs since 1966.
In 1971 the Board of Visitors approved the use of the former Bright House as the Alumni House.
Presidents of the William and Mary Alumni Association