A Brief History

Washington and Lee is a small, private, liberal arts university nestled between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains in Lexington, Va. It is the ninth oldest institution of higher learning in the nation.

In 1749, Scotch-Irish pioneers who had migrated deep into the Valley of Virginia founded a small classical school called Augusta Academy, some 20 miles north of what is now Lexington. In 1776, the trustees, fired by patriotism, changed the name of the school to Liberty Hall.

Four years later the school was moved to the vicinity of Lexington, where in 1782 it was chartered as Liberty Hall Academy by the Virginia legislature and empowered to grant degrees. A limestone building, erected in 1793 on the crest of a ridge overlooking Lexington, burned in 1803, though its ruins are preserved today as a symbol of the institution's honored past.

In 1796, George Washington saved the struggling Liberty Hall Academy when he gave the school its first major endowment--$20,000 worth of James River Canal stock. The trustees promptly changed the name of the school to Washington Academy as an expression of their gratitude.

In 1813, the name of the academy was changed to Washington College. By then, the college was established on its present grounds in Lexington.

General Robert E. Lee reluctantly accepted the position of president of the College in 1865. Because of his leadership of the Confederate army, Lee worried he "might draw upon the College a feeling of hostility," but also added that "I think it the duty of every citizen in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony."

After Lee's death in 1870, the trustees voted to change the name from Washington College to Washington and Lee University. Once an all-male institution, Washington and Lee first admitted women to its law school in 1972. The first undergraduate women matriculated in 1985. Since then, Washington and Lee has flourished.

Washington and Lee University observed its 250th Anniversary with a year-long, national celebration during the 1998-99 academic year.