History

250 Years of History

In 1749, Scotch-Irish pioneers who had migrated deep into the Valley of Virginia founded a small classical school called Augusta Academy, roughly 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, wherein 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 on the edge of campus today as a reminder of the institution's 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.

Robert E. Lee 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." Lee provided innovative educational leadership during his transformational tenure as president of Washington College from 1865 to 1870. 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. Today, Washington and Lee is nationally recognized as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States.

University Chronology

See how our institution has evolved over 250 years.