James Blair (1655–1743) - American EducationScottish-born churchman who, in 1693, founded and was first president of the College of William and Mary, the second college in the American colonies and the first outside New England. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, Blair was ordained in the Church of England and, after a rectorship in Scotland and three years in London, he went to Virginia as a missionary.
In 1689, the bishop of London, whose diocese included Virginia, appointed Blair his commissary, or deputy, with authority to supervise the clergy. At a clerical conference, Blair called for “the better encouragement of learning by the founding [of] a college in this country [Virginia],” which would include a grammar school, a philosophy school and a divinity school. He returned to London to present the proposal to the head of the church and to King William and Queen Mary, all of whom approved the project. On February 8, 1693, a charter was granted for the new college, and Blair was named president for life.
Fearing that the college would tempt planters away from their fields and reduce the colony’s tobacco revenues, various Virginia governors interfered with construction, and the first building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was finally completed in 1695—only to burn down in a disastrous fire in 1705. It was rebuilt, and by the time of Blair’s death, there were three buildings at what was, by then, a well-established institution.
Blair imposed a Scottish university curriculum at William and Mary, requiring two years for a bachelor’s degree and four for a master’s degree. As in Scotland, he allowed students to live off-campus to save costs. He also banned the English university practice of professors’ accepting fees from students.