Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Commission Report and Response

Questions Regarding the Board of Trustees' Oct. 9 Announcement

Why did the Board of Trustees decide to rename Lee-Jackson House and Robinson Hall?
In August 2017, President Dudley empaneled the Commission on Institutional History and Community to lead W&L students, faculty, staff and alumni in an examination of how our history — and the ways that we teach, discuss and represent it — shapes our community. The Commission recommended changing the name of Robinson Hall, which is named for "Jockey" John Robinson, the benefactor whose bequest to Washington College included 73 enslaved men, women and children. The Commission also recommended that consideration be given to renaming Lee House, Lee Chapel and Lee-Jackson House — all of which are named at least in part for Robert E. Lee, who served as Washington College president for five years after his service as the leader of the Confederate Army. The Board of Trustees, which is responsible for naming campus buildings, reviewed these recommendations and elected to change the names of Robinson Hall and Lee-Jackson House, but to retain the names of Lee House and Lee Chapel.

The decision reflects the Trustees' considered response to the commission's recommendations to make W&L's campus more inclusive and welcoming to people from all backgrounds by drawing attention to the legacies of a wider array of individuals.

How will Lee and Robinson be recognized at W&L in the future?
Lee's name remains on the university, as well as on the house and the chapel that he built. Robinson is memorialized by the obelisk that marks his grave on the Front Lawn, where signage is being added to contextualize his role in the institution's history. The stories of Lee and Robinson will figure prominently, along with those of many others who have shaped W&L, in a new museum to be constructed as part of the university's strategic plan.

Why is John Chavis being recognized?
In renaming Robinson Hall, the Board of Trustees chose to honor the historic accomplishments of John Chavis, one of the first African Americans known to receive a college education in the United States. Chavis was born in 1763 in Granville County, N.C., to free black North Carolinians and was raised near Mecklenburg, Virginia. At age 29, he began studying for the ministry under John Witherspoon at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). On Witherspoon's death in 1795, Chavis moved to Virginia and enrolled at Liberty Hall Academy. He completed his studies in 1799 at what was then Washington Academy. The Lexington Presbytery licensed him to minister in the church, and he enjoyed a successful career as minister and teacher in North Carolina. In Raleigh, he established the John Chavis School, which educated both black and white students, although in separate classes taught at different times of the day.

Why is Pamela Simpson being recognized?
Pamela Hemenway Simpson, who died in 2011, was the first woman to become a tenured faculty member at the university. Appointed assistant dean of the College in 1981, she was also the first woman to become a dean at W&L. She played a critical role in the University's transition to co-education in the mid-1980s, chairing the Co-Education Steering Committee from 1984 to 1986. A highly decorated teacher during her 38 years at W&L, Simpson co-authored a book on the architecture of Lexington in which she described the development of the modern campus. Lee-Jackson House, named for both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who once lived there, was built as a residence and was used in that capacity until five years ago when it was converted to the Office of the Dean of the College.

Are any other building names under consideration for change?

Is further action expected from the Board?

Why did the Board of Trustees elect to change the portraits of Lee and Washington in Lee Chapel?
Previously, both Lee and Washington were portrayed in military uniform in Lee Chapel. Neither man was in the military when he made his transformative contribution to the institution. The 1904 Theodore Pine portrait of Lee in Confederate uniform has been replaced by the 1866 J. Reid portrait that was painted during Lee's presidency of Washington College. It is one of only a few portraits of Lee from his five years in Lexington. The Charles Wilson Peale portrait of Washington in the uniform of a colonel in the Virginia militia was replaced by an original portrait of Washington as President of the United States, which is the office he held when he made his gift to Liberty Hall Academy. The portrait, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796 during the second term of Washington's presidency—and the same year in which Washington made his transformative gift to Liberty Hall Academy—is the artist's own replica of his iconic original portrait known as the "Athenaeum" version. It is arguably the most publicly recognized image of Washington because it appears on the U.S. $1 bill.

The Peale and Pine portraits are historically and artistically important. The original Peale portrait is currently on temporary loan to Mount Vernon, where it will hang in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center for the next two years. The original Pine portrait is on display in the Lee Chapel Museum, where it will remain along with a copy of the Peale portrait as part of an exhibit on the history of the two paintings. The original paintings will eventually be displayed in the new university museum, where even more people may view them.

Was the Trustees' decision to remove the Lee Chapel portraits an anti-military statement?
No. The change reflects the fact that Washington and Lee made their respective contributions to the institution once they had left military service, making portraits of the two men in civilian clothing more historically accurate representations of their connection to the university.

Why will the doors in front of the recumbent statue of Lee be closed during university events?
As President Dudley stated in his response to the Commission report, it is important that the university recapture Lee's original vision of the chapel as a gathering space appropriate for the entire community. The doors will be closed during university events because the prominence of the sculpture of Lee in uniform causes many people to experience the chapel as a Confederate memorial, which is incompatible with the space being universally welcoming. The doors will be open when Lee Chapel is not in use for university events, so that visitors may view the statue, which is historically and artistically significant.

When are these changes taking effect?
Both portraits, the 1796 Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington, painted in the year that he made his transformational gift to Liberty Hall Academy, and the 1866 J. Reid portrait of Lee that was painted during his presidency of Washington College, are already in place in Lee Chapel. A modern security system has been installed to protect the Recumbent Lee statue while allowing visitors to view this significant artwork at close range. The statue chamber is closed during university events, so that attention is focused fully on the speakers and programs in progress, but open at all other times that Lee Chapel is open. Chavis Hall and Simpson House were dedicated on March 9 and May 4, respectively. 

Are additional steps planned?
Nothing beyond the decisions that have been announced is planned. Lynn Rainville, W&L's new Director of Institutional History, will lead the development of a museum to explore the University's history and will be charged with developing dynamic educational programming for the campus community and the public. 

How will the university continue to honor the legacies of George Washington and Robert E. Lee?
The university is fully committed to honoring the legacies of our namesakes, George Washington and Robert E. Lee. As the Commission recommended and both the Board and President Dudley affirmed, the university will not change its name. Washington Hall, Lee Chapel, and Lee House remain among the most prominent spaces on campus. The new university museum will enable us to tell all of W&L's important stories, including those of Washington's gift and Lee's presidency.

Questions Regarding President Dudley's Response to the Commission Report

A primary element of President Dudley's response to the report by the Commission on Institutional History and Community is the plan to appoint a Director of Institutional History. How will this individual be identified and hired?
A committee began a national search for the Director of Institutional History in September 2018. Composed of faculty and senior administrators, the committee partnered with an established search firm to identify a pool of respected historians with significant administrative experience and presented a slate of finalists to President Dudley, who made the final hiring decision. Lynn Rainville was named to this role in March 2019 and will begin work on July 1.

Will the Director of Institutional History have the authority to revisit or enact any of the other recommendations from the Commission Report?
The Commission made its report to President Dudley, and he has issued his response, which included plans to hire a Director of Institutional History who will be charged with spearheading the educational initiatives proposed in the Commission report. These include: leading the design, construction and operation of a new, modern museum devoted to the history of Washington and Lee and its many connections to American history; overseeing Lee Chapel, University Collections of Art and History, and all of our historical galleries and sites; and partnering with faculty, staff and students across campus to develop and coordinate projects that will engage the W&L community with our institutional history. The director will also pursue partnerships with other historical sites around the region that share our goal of providing public education of the highest quality and can help us realize the full potential of W&L's campus, buildings, and collections.

Who will oversee research into the history of enslaved persons at the university? Will a genealogist be used?
The Working Group on the History of African Americans at W&L, which was established in 2013, has conducted research on the enslaved men and women who were owned and then sold by Washington College in the mid-19th century. That group, which is being led by Michael Hill, professor of Africana Studies, and Barton Myers, associate professor of history, will continue its work while the search for the Director of Institutional History proceeds during the 2017-18 academic year. The Director of Institutional History will determine how we can most effectively advance our research on the enslaved persons and their descendants.

Why is this research important?
W&L's lengthy history parallels that of the nation, which creates exciting opportunities to engage our students in research projects that are both educational and beneficial to the public, in a variety of academic disciplines. These projects include research into the descendants of the enslaved men and women who were owned and sold by Washington College, which may help to identify and connect families whose histories were lost to them as a result of that sale, research into the first African American students to integrate the university in the mid-20th century, and other topics of educational interest.

How will the university use Lee Chapel in the future?
Policy regarding the use of Lee Chapel has not changed. University organizations are welcome to use Lee Chapel if they deem it to be the most suitable venue for their events. Lee Chapel will be the site of the Founders Day Convocation, the annual commemorative occasion established in the bylaws of the university. In addition, the chapel will continue to be available to eligible individuals for wedding and memorial services.

Will the annual orientation to the Honor System be held in Lee Chapel?
The Executive Committee of the student body, in keeping with W&L's fundamental commitment to student self-governance, retains the authority to determine the location of its annual honor orientation.

Will Lee Chapel be converted into a museum?
No. Lee Chapel will continue to be used for university events. In the coming years, we will restore the building to Lee's vision for it: a place of assembly that is welcoming to all members of our community. We intend to preserve the historical integrity of both the chapel's original auditorium and its 1883 addition, while physically and visually separating the auditorium space and the statue chamber. The Director of Institutional History will make recommendations on how to do so after consultation with appropriate architectural and historical experts, the president and the Board of Trustees. Once the separation is complete, visitors to the building will be able to access the Recumbent Lee statue and the Lee family crypt without entering the auditorium, and the statue will not be visible during events in the auditorium space. In the interim, the doors to the statue chamber will remain closed during university events.

The university's new strategic plan includes the development of a modern museum where we will tell the university's history from its founding through present day.

Will a new community-convening space be built on campus as an alternative to the chapel? Will Evans Hall or another space on campus be converted to be used for first-year orientation or other mandatory events?
There are no plans to build a new space with a capacity similar to Lee Chapel (approximately 500 seats). Nor are there are plans to create alternative spaces for first-year orientation, which already takes place in multiple venues across campus, or other mandatory events. Evans Hall will continue to be used for events that are suited for that space.

Will the Lee Chapel Museum Shop be closed?
There are no plans to close the museum shop. The Director of Institutional History will assess the best uses for the lower-level museum space in the chapel building, including the shop, especially as they relate to the new University Museum.