Williams College was established in 1793 with funds bequeathed by Colonel Ephraim Williams, the college is private, residential, and liberal arts, with graduate programs in the history of art and in development economics. The undergraduate enrollment is approximately 2,100 students.
Colonel Williams had not intended to found a college. En route with his regiment of Massachusetts militia to join the battle with the French and Indians at Lake George, the Colonel had tarried long enough in Albany to write his last will and testament on July 22, 1755. In it he bequeathed his residuary estate for the founding and support of a free school in West Township, where for some years he had commanded a detachment of militia at Fort Massachusetts, farthest outpost of the province.
The will stipulated that West Township, then in dispute between Massachusetts and New York, must fall within Massachusetts and that the name of the township must be changed to Williamstown, if the free school was to be established at all.
On September 8, 1755, Colonel Williams was killed at the Battle of Lake George. On October 26, 1791, after many delays, fifteen scholars were admitted to the free school in Williamstown. Within a year the trustees, not content with the original modest design of the founder, were captivated by the idea of creating a college where, as they put it, "young gentlemen from every part of the Union" might resort for instruction "in all the branches of useful and polite literature." The proposal was extremely ambitious, to be sure, but ambition was a common American ailment.
England did not develop a third university until the nineteenth century; Williams was the twenty-first institution of higher learning to flower in onetime British colonies, the second in Massachusetts, the sixth in New England. On June 22, 1793, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts granted a charter to Williams College.
The bold decision to plant a college in the wilderness betrayed the intentions of Colonel Williams: yet the new vision had been fed by the same sort of dreams that had led Ephraim Williams to see a school and a comfortable community where only a military outpost had stood. The early trustees and the legislature of the Commonwealth were to be remembered for their foresight, but in the decades after 1793 they had reason to acknowledge that the soil they had chosen was stubbornly uncongenial -- so uncongenial, in fact, that for many years the trustees of Williams spent more time and energy in trying to close the College than in trying to keep it open.
In 1819 they petitioned to move the college to Northampton, MA, and in 1821, having been spurned by the legislature, President Zephaniah Swift Moore took matters into his own hands. Convinced that almost everything about Williams was impossible -- its location, its funds, its enrollment -- he led a group of students over the mountains into the Connecticut Valley. There he became their president once again, at the struggling new college known as Amherst.
The founding of Amherst from the President of Williams, staff, faculty and students from Williams kicked off the purest rivalry in American sports and earned Amherst the moniker of “The Defectors” at Williams.
With Williams College on the verge of extinction what saved the College in 1821 was the willingness of the Reverend Edward Dorr Griffin to take the job of president and the determination with which he drew upon the College's reputation for religious conservatism to collect much-needed funds. The first college alumni society in the world was established at Williams in 1821.
Today Williams and Amherst compete for students, staff, faculty, and in 26 intercollegiate sports.
Both the men's and women's athletic teams at Williams are referred to as Ephs in honor of Colonel Ephraim Williams. Only Ephs (rhymes with "chiefs) is used to refer to the WIlliams teams and not Lady Ephs for the women's teams. Purple Cows is also a term that is used to refer to tEph teams, but Ephs is the more commonly used reference.
"Early in the summer of 1865 the Williams baseball team was about to leave Williamstown to play the final game of the series against Harvard, and just before our departure two young ladies -- my sister and my cousin* -- who were very much interested in the result of the game, learned that while Harvard had adopted magenta as its College color, Williams was without any. They hurriedly purchased some royal purple ribbon and made small rosettes out of it, and pinning one on each member of the team,” said Eugene M. Jerome (Class of 1867). “Let this royal purple be the Williams color, and may it bring you the victory over Harvard."
"The royal purple joyfully floated from the mast-head that next day, for the game was handsomely won. This victory gave Williams the championship in the intercollegiate contests between Princeton, Harvard and Williams, and the royal purple has ever since been the banner under which Williams has won so many brilliant victories."
Eugene M. Jerome (Williams Class of 1867) in The Williams alumni review, Apr. 1910.
*Eugene's cousin was Jennie Jerome who would later become Lady Randolph Spencer Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill.
Williams uses PMS 267 for print, and #512698 for the web. Technically, Williams has only one college color, but it is often paired with a gold or yellow to differentiate Williams publications and uniforms from those with Amherst's colors of purple and white.
Why Purple Cows?
In 1907 in a vote by the student body on a name for a mascot for the College’s sports teams Purple Cows was selected. At that time on campus there was a popular student humor magazine known as the The Purple Cow, which was thought to favor the vote toward the Ephs having a purple cow as a mascot.
In the summer of 2010 the purple cow was seen along with the mascots from UPenn, Texas Tech, Ohio State, Oregon, and Florida in an ESPN College Football GameDay commercial, marking the first time a Division III mascot appeared in an ESPN College Football GameDay commercial. Fitting, as the Ephs were the first Division III school to host ESPN College Football GameDay on November 10, 2010.
The purple cow as has since appeared in numerous ESPN Collge Football GameDay commercials and can be seen in the "The History of Lee Corso's Head Gear," a tribute to College Football GameDay analyst Lee Corso (2o13).