Founded in 1749, Washington and Lee University is named for two of the most influential men in American history: George Washington, whose generous endowment 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.
The University is located in the historic city of Lexington (population 7,000) in the Great Valley of Virginia about three hours southwest of Washington, D.C. W&L’s 35 principal buildings include the picturesque Washington College group forming the Colonnade facing Lee Chapel, where Robert E. Lee is buried. The Colonnade and Lee Chapel are National Historic Landmarks. New or recently renovated buildings include the John W. Elrod University Commons, the journalism department's Reid Hall, the Doremus fitness center and Wilson Hall, the fine arts and music center.
Washington and Lee is composed of two undergraduate divisions, the College and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics; and a graduate School of Law. The undergraduate institution offers 40 majors, 20 minors and more than 1,100 courses—an enviable curriculum for a school of only 1,770 undergraduate students. W&L also features the only fully-accredited business school and fully-accredited journalism program among the nation's top-tier liberal arts colleges.
The School of Law, one of the smallest nationally recognized legal programs in the country at about 400 students, has its own dean and faculty. It offers the Juris Doctor degree and, for international law graduates, the Master of Laws degree in United States Law.
As one of the nation's best teaching colleges, W&L places a high priority on recruiting and retaining a top-notch faculty. Virtually all of the University's professors hold the Ph.D. degree or equivalent earned doctoral degree, and all faculty members are active in continuing self-development as scholars and teachers. There are no teaching assistants. The average class size is 16 students, and nearly one-fourth of all classes have no more than 10 students. The student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1.
W&L is also notable for its national and international student body. W&L's students live in 48 states and the District of Columbia and hold citizenships in 47 other countries. About 14 percent of undergraduates come from Virginia, with large numbers of students arriving from Maryland, Texas, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and California.
Once on campus, W&L students are highly involved in student government, athletics and student activities. The University fields 24 NCAA Division III sports, including the 2007 national champions in women's tennis. Students can also participate in over 125 clubs and organizations, including a student newspaper, a broadcast radio station, and cable television station.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the University is its student run Honor System, and the environment that it creates on campus and in Lexington. Students at W&L enjoy unparalleled academic and social freedom. Undergraduates typically schedule their own final examinations, all students take their exams unsupervised, personal property is generally safe on campus, most University buildings remain open twenty-four hours per day, and a student’s word is accepted and respected both on campus and in the community.
Since its inception, the Honor System has fostered a sense of community and trust that continues to enhance the lives of Washington and Lee students, during enrollment at Washington and Lee and in their later personal and professional lives.