A Student of History

June 23, 2006

Gods and Generals

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 7:07 pm

In the Chronicle of Higher Education is a great article, "Rebel General, College President, Gentleman," which is about Washington and Lee University (pictured above) and its two great namesakes: George Washington and Robert E. Lee. (If you can get a hold of the paper version of the Chronicle, its Vol. 52, Issue 42, Page A-56.) It starts out like this:

By the time Robert E. Lee reluctantly became its president, five months after surrendering at Appomattox, the institution then known as Washington College had a long history and a striking campus. It traced its origins, somewhat uncertainly, to a Presbyterian boys' school founded about 1749, and with more assurance to a school that existed in a different location by 1773. The pleasing row of colonnaded college buildings that greeted Lee in September 1865 had been finished in the 1840s, complete with a statue of the college's famous benefactor, George Washington, that stood atop the cupola of the center building. Flanking the row were four handsome Greek Revival houses, one of which had been promised to Lee.

Most of the article is about Lee, not Washington, although it does mention that Washington donated 100 shares of James River Company stock that was worth tens of thousands of dollars. That was really GW's only involvement, as he was not a visitor to the school and never served as a president or trustee.  His money did have an impact, however. Lee's influence is much more present there, as the college still abides by many of his rules–including the famous honor system, which simply states that one does not lie, cheat, or steal.

I graduated from W&L in 1987 with a BA in history, and manage to get back there about once a year. It is the 7th oldest college in the U.S. The full article is here.


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