It all started in a donut shop, sketched out on a napkin. And while the vision for Williams-Mystic materialized over a cup of coffee near Williams College in Massachusetts, the program’s roots go back much further.
In 1955, Philip R. Mallory, a descendant of the great shipbuilding Mallory family of Mystic, encouraged his sister, Cora Mallory Munson, to endow the Frank C. Munson Institute, named for her late husband. The Institute was to function as a summer program in maritime history at Mystic Seaport; fifty years later, the Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies has earned a reputation as a distinguished summer teaching program. In the mid-1970s, Mallory gave further funds to the Munson Endowment for the establishment of the undergraduate program that would later become Williams-Mystic.
Professor Benjamin W. Labaree of Williams College, a member of the faculty of the Munson Institute since 1966, conceived the notion of a one-semester program in maritime studies after several winters spent bringing a group of Williams students to Mystic Seaport for the January academic term. Professor Labaree and his students sketched the original plan for a full semester at the Seaport on a napkin in a Dunkin’ Donuts, where they had paused for a snack on their ride back to Williamstown.
After several years of planning with Waldo Jonhston, then Director of the Mystic Seaport Museum, Professor Labaree founded the Williams-Mystic Program in 1977.
Four decades later, the Williams-Mystic Program is thriving with an alumni body of over 1,700. Williams-Mystic is the only undergraduate program that offers interdisciplinary semester-long courses in maritime history, literature, policy, and science. It is a member of the Twelve-College Exchange and is supported by a consortium of twenty liberal arts colleges, with students from many other colleges and universities participating as well.