The Church of Scotland established Queen's College in 1841 with a royal charter from Queen Victoria. The first classes, intended to prepare students for the ministry, were held 7 March 1842 with 13 students and two professors. Queen's was the first university west of the maritime provinces to admit women and to form a student government. In 1883, a women's college for medical education affiliated with Queen's University was established. In 1888, Queen's University began offering extension courses, becoming the first Canadian university to do so. In 1912, Queen's secularized and changed to its present legal name.
Queen's is a co-educational university, with more than 23,000 students, and with over 131,000 living alumni worldwide. Notable alumni include government officials, academics, business leaders and 57 Rhodes Scholars. The university was ranked 239th in the 2019 QS World University Rankings, 251–300 in the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 201–300 in the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities, and 374th in the 2018 U.S. News & World Report university rankings. Queen's varsity teams, known as the Golden Gaels, compete in the Ontario University Athletics conference of U Sports.
Queen's was a result of an outgrowth of educational initiatives planned by Presbyterians in the 1830s. A draft plan for the university was presented at a synod meeting in Kingston in 1839, with a modified bill introduced through the 13th Parliament of Upper Canada during a session in 1840. On 16 October 1841, a royal charter was issued through Queen Victoria establishing Queen's College at Kingston. Queen's resulted from years of effort by Presbyterians of Upper Canada to found a college for the education of ministers in the growing colony and to instruct youth in various branches of science and literature. They modelled the university after the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. Classes began on 7 March 1842, in a small woodframe house on the edge of the city with two professors and 15 students.
The college moved several times during its first eleven years, before settling in its present location. Prior to Canadian Confederation, the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, the Canadian government, and private citizens financially supported the college. After Confederation, the college faced ruin when the federal government withdrew its funding and the Commercial Bank of the Midland District collapsed, a disaster which cost Queen's two-thirds of its endowment. The college was rescued after Principal William Snodgrass and other officials created a fundraising campaign across Canada.
The risk of financial ruin worried the administration until the century's final decade. They considered leaving Kingston and merging with the University of Toronto as late as the 1880s. With the additional funds bequeathed from Queen's first major benefactor, Robert Sutherland, the college staved off financial failure and maintained its independence. Queen's was given university status on 17 May 1881. In 1883, Women's Medical College was founded at Queen's with a class of three. Theological Hall, completed in 1880, originally served as Queen's main building throughout the late 19th century.