In 1954 the National University merged with The George Washington University, forming what became the National Law Center at The George Washington University. This merger is considered the precipitating event in the desegregation of GW, as National University was already open to students of color and its enrolled students became GW students at the time of the merger.
National University was incorporated by a June 1869 Act of Congress and founded by Dr. William B. Wedgewood. Five presidents of the United States - Grant, Garfield, Hayes, Arthur and Cleveland - acted as Chancellor ex-officio of the National University, an indication of the caliber of the men who directed its affairs in the formative years.
Upon the death of President Cleveland, the Board of Regents abolished the office of Chancellor ex-officio and elected Arthur McArthur (grandfather of General Douglas McArthur), then a justice on the District of Columbia Supreme Court bench, as the first Chancellor. Other Chancellors of National University included: Samuel F. Miller, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Charles S. Hatfield, Justice of the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and Leslie C. Garnett, a former Assistant Attorney General of the United States.
Although instruction was first given in several professional fields, including a Department of Medicine, the concentration as the years passed trended toward the law. Belva Lockwood, the first woman to be admitted to practice before the Supreme Court, was a graduate. Because of rapid growth and changing conditions, it was found necessary to reorganize the University in 1896. A new charter was granted by a special Act of Congress, (129 Stat. L. 194), conferring the power to grant university degrees. Law was the predominant branch of the University, but it should not be overlooked that National's School of Economics and Government also conferred the degrees of A.B., B.S., B.C.S., and M.C.S.