Historian Antoinette Wills, ’75, knows the University of Washington by heart

The author, historian, tour guide and all-around archival enthusiast tells UW Magazine about her own history.

“Before I came to the University of Washington, I did not know what a good university it was,” says Antoinette Wills, author of “University of Washington: The Campus History Series.” “I was told that Seattle was a nice place to live and go to school, so I applied.

“I came here to study history. My PhD thesis was on ‘Crime and Punishment in Revolutionary Paris.’ My interest in history goes back to elementary school. I still have the first history book I was given by my godmother, ‘A Child’s History of the United States.’

“One of my favorite places on campus is Red Square. When I give tours, I tell people it’s because it encapsulates the history of the University. The buildings represent the major growth spurts. Suzzallo Library was built after World War I, Gerberding was after World War II and Odegaard and Kane were in the 1970s.

“Before I retired, faculty and staff were offered a chance to create an endowed fund to support students for $10,000, and the money would be matched. Then the College of Arts & Sciences also made a match if my gift was for graduate students, so I created the Antoinette Wills Endowed Fund for Graduate Students. Now once a year, I get a letter from the student who benefits from my endowment. That investment is priceless.

“I had been writing about the University for donors and my supervisor knew I loved history. One day she asked me to give a campus walking tour. That was the start of me sharing my UW expertise with visitors. Later, I co-wrote a campus history with archivist John Bolcer.”