UMW functioned as the women's college of the University of Virginia during the years 1944-1972. In 1971, Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Mary Washington. This is the nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary academic organization. After UMW became coed in the early 70's, it was recognized as an independent college.
Originally named Mary Washington College, the General Assembly of Virginia renamed the school University of Mary Washington due to it having a limited number of graduate and professional programs beyond the central undergraduate curriculum, and having established more than one campus. There are 4,000 undergraduate students at the Fredericksburg location, and 1,000 graduate students.