1949-1954: The Idea
Charles Harrison Mann, Jr., a founder and early historian of George Mason University noted that its development was unlike many other institutions in that it did not spring from the idea or efforts of just one person. Instead, it was the end result of the labor of a group of people all with the same goal; to bring higher education into the rapidly growing Northern Virginia region. Mann, in his unpublished historical manuscript detailing the birth of George Mason University, insisted that Mason was not built by one man’s hands, but instead “was birthed with the help of several midwives,” each playing a critical role in the creation of the University.
A short list of these key persons would include University of Virginia President Colgate W. Darden, Jr.; Mann himself, an Arlington lawyer and University of Virginia alumnus; University of Virginia Extension Division chief George B. Zehmer; Head of the University of Virginia’s Northern Virginia University Center, John Norville Gibson Finley; civil servant and Northern Virginian, Clarence A. Steele; and Mayor of the Town of Fairfax, John C. Wood, among many other dedicated men and women. All played important roles in the establishment of George Mason University. Finally, the citizens of the Northern Virginia area deserve credit for their unflagging support for George Mason University and its ancestors from the very beginning. Without the participation of these pioneers in Northern Virginia higher education, the resulting institution would most likely have turned out very different, or perhaps, might not have even existed.