Institutional History

Research Projects

  • Hired a genealogist to begin researching African American employees who worked at W&L in the early 20th century and obtain a better picture of multi-generational contributions to the university.
  • Through a partnership with director of Institutional History and community historians, advanced research on the lives of the men, women, and children who were enslaved by John Robinson at Hart's Bottom Plantation and bequeathed to Washington College in 1826.
  • Procured funding to support the preservation of the ruins at Liberty Hall, which includes continued research by W&L's archaeologists into the enslaved community that lived at the site for decades after 1803, when the buildings were converted for use as part of a plantation.
  • Working with the Native American Cohort to research Native communities in Rockbridge prior to the founding of Augusta Academy and the growth and attacks on these communities from the 18th century to the present.
  • Guided student research on topics including:
    • The integrated Army School on W&L's campus during World War II;
    • The Lost Cause;
    • African American students at W&L.


Developing a series of online exhibits in partnership with student researchers, Special Collections staff, and faculty on topics including:

  • The role of Washington and Lee in crafting and promulgating the Lost Cause;
  • The history of African Americans at W&L between the 1790s and today.


  • Developing partnerships in Richmond (including the Valentine Museum and the American Civil War Museum) and at historic sites (including Stratford Hall) to study our shared histories connected to Robert E. Lee, Reconstruction, and the Lost Cause.

Lectures, Talks and Tours

  • "African Americans at the Heart of Institutional History:" Presentation by Director of Institutional History Lynn Rainville and Dean Lena Hill, sponsored by the Alumni Engagement Office (Feb 2021)
  • "A W&L Institutional History Conversation: The Indian World of George Washington:" Presentation moderated by Lynn Rainville in partnership with the Native American Cohort (Oct. 2020)
  • "White Activists and Black Freedom:" Panel discussion with Assistant Professors of History Nneka Dennie and Henryatta Ballah and Lynn Rainville, sponsored by the Africana Studies Program (part of the year-long Activism and Black Life Series, Sept. 2020)
  • Untold Stories of Founders, Leaders and Other Visionaries at W&L: Founders Day address by Lynn Rainville (January 2020)
  • At Home with the Presidents: An Ethno-Historic Study of Everyday Life at Lee House: Presentation by Lynn Rainville (October 2019)
  • Partnered with the Office of Inclusion and Engagement and Admissions to talk with prospective and current students about Native and African American history.
  • Led campus history tours incorporating Native and African American history.
  • Taught a course on W&L history during Spring Term (Artifacts, Maps, and Archives) which included a discussion of generations of African American families at W&L, and guest lectured in courses on institutional history topics.

Buildings and Memorials

  • Renamed Robinson Hall for John Chavis.
  • Renamed Lee-Jackson House for Pamela Simpson.
  • Replaced portraits in Lee Chapel with portraits of Washington and Lee at the time of their direct connection to the university.
  • Closed doors to statue chamber during university events.
  • Installed a historical marker honoring individuals enslaved at Washington College.
  • Installed interpretive markers at the McCormick and Robinson statues including the contributions of African Americans.
  • Installed a tribute display to the first class of women law students, who graduated as part of the Law Class of 1975.
  • Established a tribute display to honor Leslie Smith, the first Black graduate of the School of Law.