The Columns

Honoring Our Namesakes

— by on January 8th, 2018

Happy New Year! Alumni Affairs has been busy working with many alumni chapters to stage Presidents’ Day events to commemorate the lasting W&L contributions of George Washington (February 22 birthday) and Robert E. Lee (January 19 birthday).

In 1796, sitting U.S. President George Washington very likely saved the struggling Liberty Hall Academy when he gave the school its first major endowment gift – about $20,000 worth of James River Canal stock — which the Virginia General Assembly had given him in gratitude for his leadership in the American Revolution. Recognizing the singular import of this generosity, the trustees changed the name of the school to Washington Academy. It was in every sense a gift which keeps on giving to W&L.

The college was hanging by a thread after the Civil War. Declining much more lucrative offers, in October of 1865, Lee took the oath as president. For the last five years of his life, Lee led an increase in enrollment from across the country, completely revamped the curriculum, began a journalism school, added what was then the Lexington School of Law, and continued laying the foundation for what would become our Honor System. After Lee’s untimely death in 1870, the trustees voted to change the name from Washington College to Washington and Lee University.

We salute our chapter leaders and volunteers who work hard to stage these important annual gatherings. Please support them, and pause to reflect on our namesakes. We promise you’ll enjoy the camaraderie, celebration, and networking opportunities. You can view a full listing of upcoming Chapter events, including the always spectacular Washington, D.C., Alumni Fancy Dress on March 3!

Beau Dudley ’74, ’79L
Executive Director of Alumni Affairs