The Historians

This site could not have been created without the important work of the early historians of George Mason University. Their research, writings, and in the case of C. Harrison Mann, Jr., recollections, have helped pave the way for future study of the history of this institution. Their knowledge and understanding of Mason's early history can be accessed in the form of archival collections, written manuscripts, and a published dissertation.


The individuals named below have studied, collected, written, and in some cases lived the history of George Mason from its early inception in 1949 to independence in 1972 and early growth as an independent institution. This site aspires to help advance the fine work done by the early historians by picking up where they left off and continuing this history to the present.


C. Harrison Mann, Jr.


Charles Harrison Mann, Jr. was born in Alabama in 1908 and received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1931. He subsequently became an attorney both in Washington, D.C. and in Arlington, Virginia where he and his wife Betty Hart Mann, maintained their home. In 1949, while serving as President of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, Mann organized an exploratory committee of local citizens to develop support for higher education in Northern Virginia. Through these efforts, the Northern Virginia Center of the University opened in October 1, 1949.


In 1953 Mann organized the Advisory Council to the Northern Virginia Center, which agreed that a two-year branch college should be established. Elected as a Democrat to the Virginia House of Delegates from 1954-1970, Mann sponsored a resolution calling for a study of educational needs for Virginia, and was instrumental in recommending the development of a college system in Virginia, particularly the establishment of a branch in Northern Virginia. Mann was responsible for creating an educational financial assistance program for Virginia college students, and was instrumental in sponsoring legislation allowing local governments to form regional boards to acquire and transfer land and buildings for educational use.


He also served as the Chairman of George Mason College's first Board of Control. He sponsored bills constituting George Mason College as a branch of the University of Virginia and later elevating it to a four year division of the University with the right to grant degrees and offer graduate program. He served on the GMU Board of Visitors from 1975 to 1977. He died in 1977.


After his death, Mann’s personal papers were donated to George Mason University Libraries. Among them is his unpublished manuscript, which he began writing in the last years of his life. The work covers the years 1949 to 1957 and details the early years of the University and its predecessor, the Northern Virginia University Center, as Mann himself experienced them.


Dr. William H. Mc Farlane


William Hugh McFarlane, educator and administrator, had worked in higher education for nearly three decades when he retired from George Mason University in 1986. Born in Chicago, McFarlane was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and then, after the war, entered the University of Virginia on the G.I. Bill. Later, while completing his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, he worked as student aid director, assistant professor of humanities, and briefly, as the director in charge of fundraising for the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1957, McFarlane accepted the position of Director of the State Council of Higher Education, in Richmond, which he held for six years. From 1964-1967 he directed the Virginia Associated Research Center where he organized and managed a university consortium administering NASA's Space Radiation Effects Laboratory at Langley Field, Virginia.


In 1968, McFarlane began his eighteen-year career at George Mason University where he was chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies from 1968-1979. After his retirement in 1986, McFarlane remained involved with the university. In 1988, he returned to the university for a year to become acting chair of his former department, and began a project to record the history of George Mason from its early days as a two-year community college through its evolution to a university.


His research materials and wrtings on the subject make up the William Hugh McFarlane George Mason University History Collection, which is held in the University Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives department. Dr McFarlane died on January 26, 2005 in South Paris, Maine.


Dr. Michael R. “Ronald” Sorrell


Dr. Michael Ronald (Ron) Sorrell was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1949, the same year the University of Virginia opened its Northern Virginia Extension Center in Arlington, Virginia. Dr. Sorrell attended the Portsmouth City Public Schools. He received his Bachelors of Science degree in Biology from Old Dominion University in 1972, a Master of Education degree in special education from the University of Virginia in 1976, and a Master of Arts degree in history from George Mason University in 1996. His passion for both history and education coalesced in his advanced graduate studies, and he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the history of education from the University of Virginia in 2002. His dissertation is based on the early history and development of George Mason University and is titled, Extending Public Higher Education into Northern Virginia: The Formative Years of George Mason University, 1949-1972.


Dr. Sorrell spent his career as a public educator in the classroom. He taught in the Portsmouth City Public Schools from 1972 to 1975. He then spent twenty-seven years with the Fairfax County Public Schools as a learning disabilities specialist and resource teacher at Groveton High School and West Springfield High School. Dr. Sorrell retired from the Fairfax County Public Schools and the Commonwealth of Virginia in June 2004 with thirty years service in secondary education. He now resides with his wife, Ginny, also a retired public educator, in Virginia Beach and Zion Crossroads, Virginia.