History & Traditions FAQ

What is the FANCY DRESS BALL?

I've heard W&L has a super SECRET SOCIETY called the Cadavers. Is this true?


Are there any SUPERSTITIONS at W&L?

What are the LIBERTY HALL RUINS?

What is MOCK CONVENTION?

What is the EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE?

What is the SPEAKING TRADITION?

How does W&L's HONOR SYSTEM WORK?

What does W&L's MOTTO, non incautus futuri, mean?

Why is W&L NAMED after George Washington and Robert E. Lee?


What is the Fancy Dress Ball?

Think that other school down the road has a cool librarian? Think again! Fancy Dress is W&L's annual black tie ball that was started over 105 years ago by the campus librarian, Annie. (The library card catalog system is also named after this hip librarian!) Over the years we've seen everything from Colonial balls to 2010′s "Moulin Rouge." And with a budget rumored to total $80,000 it's no wonder party goers forget they're still in Lexington. Regardless of the theme, one thing is for sure, Fancy Dress is W&L's favorite social event!

I've heard W&L has a super secret society called the Cadavers. Is this true?

No comment.

Are there any superstitions at W&L?

Plenty. For instance, when going to or from Graham-Lees residence hall on the Washington Street side, students know not to pass through the center of the portico. Legend has it that to do so means certain failure on your next exam. Instead, walk between the columns with the worn down stone step, in the literal footsteps of generations of superstitious W&L students.
When Robert E. Lee was president of Washington College, he had the stable for his trusty horse Traveler built right next to his house. Lee was known to leave the doors of the stable open all the time so Traveler could come and go as he pleased. Today, residents of the Lee House (always W&L's current president and family) continue leaving the door open so that Traveler's ghost will have free reign about campus. Traveler's remains are buried beside Lee Chapel, where he rests faithfully beside his master.

And then there are the ghosts of W&L. Disembodied footsteps in Robinson Hall. Cape-wearing specters in Payne Hall and in the old Troubadour Theater. Our buildings are nearing two centuries old - plenty of time to acquire a few restless spirits! Stonewall Jackson's ghost is said to pine for his first wife, Ellie, who preceded him in death. Numerous guests in the Lee-Jackson House have been awakened by the form of a man leaning over them at exactly 2:13 a.m. And don't forget the Lee House. Traveler's is not the only ghost lurking around. Occupants of the house have experienced inexplicable gusts of wind moving through the house, from the front of the house to the spot where Robert E. Lee laid on his deathbed. Perhaps Mary Custis Lee's ghost rushing to her husband's side? And some claim to have heard the ghost of Mrs. Lee rocking in her favorite chair on the porch, back and forth, back and forth, even when no one is there.

What are the Liberty Hall Ruins?

The Ruins, as they're called by W&L folks, connect us with our past. They are the remains of the oldest building of Liberty Hall Academy, W&L's first incarnation at our present site in Lexington, Virginia. Dating from 1793, the Ruins are on W&L's back campus, overlooking the IM fields and Watt Field. The view of the mountains from here is outstanding, and the area around the Ruins is popular for concerts, receptions, or just hanging out with friends playing Frisbee golf. Learn more about our anthropology students' archaeological excavations of the Liberty Hall Ruins here.

What is Mock Convention?

Since 1908, W&L students have gathered every four years and conducted a mock political nominating convention - just like the Republican or Democratic National Conventions you've seen on TV - with the goal of predicting who the non-incumbent political party will choose as its nominee for President of the United States.

The pundits can only marvel at W&L students' record of accuracy - they have made correct predictions an astonishing 18 of 24 times, and they've only missed twice since 1948! Sadly, one of those misses was in 2008, when they predicted that Hillary Clinton would receive the Democratic nomination. Nonetheless, the Washington Post and CSPAN, among others, want to know what W&L thinks!

In all, over 95% of the W&L student body gets involved in planning and conducting Mock Con. Not interested in politics? That's okay. At your Mock Con, you can help raise or manage the funds needed to pay for the convention. Or how about playing host to the the powerful and famous guest speakers? Over the years, luminaries such as Jimmy Carter, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Bill Clinton, Geraldine Ferraro, and Jesse Jackson have spoken at Mock Con. Maybe you'd rather be in charge of the Presidential Gala (black tie ball) or the Mock Con parade. There's something for everyone to do to ensure the convention's success! Click here to learn more about Mock Convention and its fascinating history.

What is the Executive Committee?

The Executive Committee of the Student Body (EC) is the main arm of W&L's student government. The EC's main charges are The Honor System, and oversight and budgetary control of W&L's student organizations, clubs, and activities.
Visit the EC Site, or the Student Body Constitution for more information about Student Government at W&L.

What is the Speaking Tradition?

It's really pretty simple. W&L tradition suggests you should say "hi" to people you pass around campus. It's another manifestation of Lee's insistence that civility should prevail in our community. Don't worry, between classes and at other busy times you don't have to say "hi" 150 times on your way from one place to another. But at other times, participating in the Speaking Tradition is one of the little things that makes W&L your home away from home.

How does W&L's honor system work?

W&L's honor system is one of the main reasons that students come to this school. It's not a cumbersome code; instead we all simply act like gentlemen and gentlewomen. Its beauty and functionality lie in simplicity.

It's important to keep in mind, though, which people are bound to adhere to this tenet. Of course students, professors, administration, and staff all hold the honor system near and dear to their hearts as fellow generals. Unfortunately, W&L is not a closed campus: not everyone who comes to visit W&L holds the honor system in the same light. So while students do enjoy special privileges with other members of W&L, we must not be unmindful of the fact that we do not enjoy these privileges with everyone.

The honor system gives a student the ability to take an unproctored exam; it does not give a person the ability to leave their door unlocked and expect that nothing bad will happen. The honor system gives students 24-hour access to Wilson Hall's rehearsal rooms; it does not allow for students to leave their valuables unattended in the library. The honor system, in short, builds the foundation for the network of trust that exists between members of the W&L community, not with society at large.

What does W&L's motto, non incautus futuri, mean?

When you've been around for 260 years, it might be tempting to dwell in the past. But at W&L our future is looking pretty bright! Washington and Lee's motto, "non incautus futuri," was taken from Horace's Satires and is translated to mean "not unmindful of the future." The motto was printed on the Lee family's crest and, as W&L's own crest is a blend of both Washington's and Lee's family crests, we adopted the phrase as our school motto. It reminds us that, though much of our strength comes from our history and important traditions, we should always be forward-thinking as we prepare our students for life beyond W&L.

Why is W&L named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee?

Founded in 1749, Washington and Lee University is named for two of the most influential men in American history: George Washington, whose generous endowment gift of $20,000 in 1796 helped the fledgling school (then known as Liberty Hall Academy) survive, and Robert E. Lee, whose presidency and innovative leadership brought the University into the national limelight. Under Lee's leadership, then-Washington College instituted curricula in commerce, engineering, and journalism, distinguishing itself from other liberal arts institutions of the time because of its remarkable curricular breadth. This is a distinction Washington and Lee University still enjoys today. Click here to learn more about W&L's history.