Professor William N. Hamlet came to campus in 1911 for a job interview as one of the first members of the faculty at the new State Normal School in Fredericksburg. Later, he recalled that he did not actually plan to take the job, but, “when I looked upon this beautiful hill, I saw in perspective what glorious things might be accomplished.”
Professor Hamlet attended high school in Lynchburg, graduated from Virginia Military Institute with a degree in chemical engineering, and took courses at the University of Virginia and Cornell. He had several years of educational experience serving as assistant principal, principal, and head of the science department at high schools in Virginia and Arkansas. At the time of his historic job interview, he held a position as the director of analytical chemistry in the medical department of what was then known as the Medical College.
Professor Hamlet accepted the teaching position at what is now the University of Mary Washington and taught science and math during those first few years. As members of the faculty increased, he focused on math and educating future teachers to teach arithmetic to elementary and high school students. He continued to do so until his retirement 31 years later.
In the History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972, Dean Edward Alvey Jr. said that Professor Hamlet was a conscientious and beloved teacher, but a quiet man. “Even with his long years of service to the college, he rarely ventured an opinion in faculty meetings, and he habitually walked about the campus with his head down. A student once remarked, with affectionate exaggeration, that the only way Mr. Hamlet knew his students was by their shoes.”
The students did appreciate Professor Hamlet’s gentle guidance and his love of dogs and nature. After his death in 1941, a tribute published in the summer edition of The Epaulet stated, “He saw life as an opportunity to serve others, to share what he possessed with others, and to teach his students the various facts and intricacies of mathematical procedures and how to apply them to their life activities. His philosophy of life was wholesome, inspirational, and sound. He was a philosopher, an adviser, and a loyal friend to all who knew him.”
An obituary published in The Bullet referenced the house on College Avenue that the Hamlets sold to the school in 1937. “Mr. Hamlet will not be forgotten by present students or by those who ever attend this college, because they had the privilege of knowing his fine character. He will be known to future students as part of the background and tradition of the college. His former home, which we will know as Hamlet House, will keep his name always alive on our campus.”
Through his estate plans, Professor Hamlet bequeathed to the college a farm in Spotsylvania County to be used as a recreational area and a bird sanctuary. This thoughtful gift made him one of the first members of the Heritage Society.