Historically, McMaster University is the outgrowth of educational work initiated by Baptists in central Canada as early as the 1830's. Named after Senator William McMaster (1811-1887), who bequeathed substantial funds to endow "a Christian school of learning", the University was incorporated under the terms of an act of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1887. The new University (housed in McMaster Hall in Toronto) offered courses in arts and theology. Degree programs began in 1890, with degrees first being conferred in 1894.
In 1930 the University moved from Toronto to Hamilton, the forty-first academic session opening on the present site. The University's lands and new buildings were secured through gifts from graduates, members of the churches of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, and citizens of Hamilton.
Until 1957, the Governors of the University were elected by the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec. In that year, the University became a non-denominational private institution. The historic Baptist connection was continued through the separate incorporation and affiliation of a theological school, McMaster Divinity College.
By the McMaster Act of 1968-69, McMaster Divinity College continued under its existing arrangement, but the rest of the University was organized into the Divisions of Arts, Science, and Health Sciences each headed by a vice-president (academic).
In 1974 the divisional structure of the University was dissolved and the vice-presidents replaced by a single Vice-President (Academic), now called Provost and Vice-President (Academic). The Faculties of Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Humanities, Science, and Social Sciences were retained, each under the leadership of a dean.
The University corporation consists of up to thirty-seven governors. Academic work is under the direction of the University Senate, which is made up of representatives of the teaching and administrative staff, Governors, student body, and Alumni. The University is financed by means of endowment income, gifts, fees, and annual grants from the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton-Wentworth Region, The Province of Ontario, and the Government of Canada.