With the adoption by the Missouri Legislature of the charter in 1853, Washington University (at that time known as Eliot Seminary) has been guided by its charter, along with its subsequent bylaws, policies, and procedures.  

Our Name and History

University co-founder William Greenleaf Eliot served as the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and originally, the school was named “Eliot Seminary” in his honor. He did not approve of this, so his first “order of business” was to change the name of the university. At the first meeting in 1854, the Board appointed a subcommittee charged with finding a suitable name for the institution. The committee recommended the name “Washington Institute in St. Louis”, and the trustees approved this recommendation. Soon afterward, an act of the Missouri Legislature changed the university’s charter to reflect the new name. In February of 1856, the trustees recommended another name change, this time to “Washington University.” The university’s charter was modified to read “Washington University” in 1857. The words “in St. Louis” were added to the University’s name by trustee action in 1976, in order to better distinguish our institution in the national media. 

Our History & Traditions

Over the last 150 years, Washington University in St. Louis has grown from a local college to an internationally known research university.

portrait of William Greenleaf Eliot


“The Board of Trustees may prescribe the course of instruction in said seminary, and organize the institution under such regulations, and provide in such way as they may deem proper for the appointment of its professors, teachers and other officers, and may make such bylaws and rules as they may deem necessary for the management of the institution.”

Governance Policies

Washington University in St. Louis is committed to integrity and ethical behavior. All community members are expected to carry out their duties accordingly.

University Seal

The university seal was developed in 1896 by Holmes Smith, professor of drawing and history of art, using elements from the coat of arms of George Washington (after whom the university is named) and fleurs-de-lis, the symbol of King Louis IX, patron and namesake of St. Louis. The seal was officially adopted by the Board of Trustees in March 1897. The current version of the official university seal was created in 2000.

For more information about the history of Washington University, read “Beginning a Great Work: Washington University in St. Louis,” by Candace O’Connor, available through the Campus Bookstore or the Olin Library.