I was excited when I drew Virginia for my “50 States, 50 Colleges” post. When I was looking at colleges, my mom and I drove through the beautiful state and stopped to check out a few of the colleges along our route. We have lots of fun memories of that trip! The school that I ended up choosing to write about, Washington and Lee University, was not one of our stops. After doing my research, I kind of wish it was!
College in the Spotlight: Washington and Lee University
Location: Lexington, VA
Enrollment: 2,200 students
Washington and Lee has two very famous namesakes – George Washington and Robert E. Lee – who had major impacts on the school. The school was struggling financially and on the brink of closure when Washington gifted it with 150 shares of James River and Potomac Canal Company stock. His gift continues to contribute to the University’s operating budget. In thanks, the school (then known as Liberty Academy) was renamed Washington Academy, then Washington College. Lee’s influence comes in immediately after the Civil War. A few months after the end of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee accepted the position of President of Washington College. Under his leadership, the school added journalism classes, a business school, and a law school. When Lee died in 1870, the trustees almost immediately added his name to the college.
Washington and Lee’s website refers to the campus as a “living museum.” The Lee Chapel houses Robert E. Lee’s office, preserved just as he left it. It also contains Lee’s tomb and his family crypt. His favorite horse, Traveller, is buried just outside the chapel. Visitors often leave apples, pennies, and sugar cubes on Traveller’s grave for good luck. With all the history of the place it comes as no surprise that there are quite a few ghost stories told on campus!
One of Washington and Lee University’s more unique programs is The Shepherd Program, which strives to educate students about poverty and help them seek productive solutions to the problem. Students can supplement their major with coursework on poverty and service in an area that interests them (such as business, education, health, etc.). Nearly 20% of WLU students participate in a Shepherd Program course during their time at the school. Students can even minor in Poverty and Human Capability Studies.
The Outing Club takes advantage of the gorgeous natural setting of the Lexington area. The surrounding mountains and rivers provide ample opportunities for biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, rafting, backpacking and caving (that’s right – caving). The Outing Club sponsors trips both in Lexington and afar. One year a group from the Club summited Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Like some of the other schools we’ve profiled, W&L has a “spring term.” After the first two traditional terms are completed, students take one unique course over a four-week period. The school invites faculty members to think of a “dream course” – one they’ve always wanted to teach – and lets them create that class. Here are a few spring term classes being offered this year: Casino Accounting (which includes a one week trip to Las Vegas); Photography and the City (taught entirely in Paris); The Freedom Ride (an intensive study of the Civil Rights Movement); and Field Methods in Archeology (where students get to participate in ongoing archeological projects).
To learn more about Washington and Lee University, visit http://www.wlu.edu