Filed Under Schools

Johnson and Wales University

A Long Way From One Student and One Typewriter

Johnson & Wales University is a world renowned leader in experiential education, with degree programs in arts and sciences, business, culinary arts, education, hospitality, engineering and design, and more. Fittingly, the Providence campus is located in the heart of the 19th and 20th century retail hub of downtown. Though Johnson & Wales has over 16,000 students and several campuses around the country today, the school had very humble beginnings in Providence.

As professionals, both Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales had careers in banking and taught those skillsets to students at the Rhode Island Commercial School. Wanting to branch out on their own, Johnson and Wales founded the school bearing their names as a junior business college in 1914. Beginning with one student, and one typewriter, the new school started out of Johnson’s home on Hope Street on Providence’s East Side. It quickly grew. U.S. involvement in the First World War meant women were needed to fill the workplace void left by men fighting overseas, Johnson & Wales prospered as a result, providing women with an education in skillsets desperately needed by employers.

Through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Hurricane of 1938 Johnson & Wales continued to grow. Both of the founders remained actively involved until their well-earned retirement in 1947. Though the original leaders had stepped aside, the school continued to grow and has become an internationally recognized university. Beyond business and hospitality programs, today Johnson & Wales is particularly well-known for its culinary arts program; famous alumni include Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence.


Johnson & Wales Providence Campus
Johnson & Wales Providence Campus Located in what was once a thriving retail district downtown, Johnson & Wales' Providence Campus keeps the spirit of business alive by teaching students the tools of commercial trade. Source: Nicholas Millard Private Collection
Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales
Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales worked together for over thirty years. Humble beginnings blossomed into an institution with multiple campuses across the United States.


176 Weybosset St Providence, RI 02903


Amelia Golcheski, “Johnson and Wales University,” Rhode Tour, accessed May 20, 2024,