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Mission, Vision and History

Roots of compassion, future of growth.

Highlights from the history of William Woods University

Our educational mission began more than 140 years ago in the aftermath of the Civil War, in the year 1870. The Christian Church of Missouri, as a work of compassion, founded a school for girls who had been orphaned by the conflict. The Female Orphan School of the Christian Church of Missouri, as it was called, eventually moved to Fulton, our present home, and grew to include other young women in addition to war orphans.

Finances were always a challenge for this labor of love. In 1900 the school was saved from insolvency by a successful Missouri entrepreneur named Dr. William Stone Woods. Together with his wife, Dr. Woods wrote a check that redeemed the school’s entire debt. In gratitude, the University has borne his name ever since.

Deeply held values

We became a college officially in 1914. Our focus for the next fifty years was on training teachers, a profession built on compassion and the personal commitment to help others grow — values that we have held onto since the beginning. You can still see these values, stronger than ever, at work among our faculty and students today. Our Education graduates continue to be outstanding teachers and leaders in the Missouri school system and beyond.

As we grew, we broadened our focus to encompass more of the liberal arts and other elements of higher education. Highlights along the way include the growth of an internationally recognized equestrian program, which offered the nation’s first baccalaureate in equestrian science in 1972. We entered intercollegiate sports in 1974, with teams in basketball, softball, track, tennis and swimming.

From College to University

1990 marked a significant milestone: the election of our first female president, Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett. Dr. Barnett’s charter was to secure a 21st-century future for William Woods.

Within two years we began offering a wide variety of graduate-level degree programs, geared toward the working adult. We went coed. And we changed the name from William Woods College to William Woods University. With generous support from alumni, foundations and other benefactors, our campus, our programs, and our student body began to look like the William Woods University you see today.

Today, our undergraduates and graduates study on campus, off-campus and online. We have earned dozens of athletic titles. We have instituted fraternities to complement our sororities. We’ve expanded our campus and facilities to meet modern learning needs for technology, science, the arts, sports and student life. We’ve added an overseas study program called “Woods Around the World,” as well as international service opportunities, to further our mission of broadening the minds of our students beyond classroom learning. Our innovative LEAD grant program, begun in 2000, brings the philosophy of extracurricular learning home, encouraging students to reach beyond their comfort zones and experience cultural, intellectual and other events they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

The best of the past guides our future

Above all, every person at William Woods University remains committed to engage, personally, by name, with each and every one of our students, meeting their needs for learning and more, as much as our resources will allow.

Because we are, as always, committed to seeing them thrive well into the future.