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Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar College
File:Sweet Briar College Seal.png
Motto Rosam quae meruit ferat (Latin)
Motto in English
She who has earned the rose may bear it.
Established 1901
Type Private women's college
Endowment $94.0 million (2014)[1]
President James F. Jones (interim)[2]
Academic staff
110 (2015)[3]
Students 530 (2015)[3]
Location Sweet Briar, Virginia, United States
Campus Rural, Script error: No such module "convert".
Colors          Pink and Green
Athletics NCAA Division III, ODAC
Nickname Template:If empty

Sweet Briar College is a women's liberal arts college in Sweet Briar, Virginia, United States, about Script error: No such module "convert". north of Lynchburg, Virginia. The college is on Script error: No such module "convert". in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the former estate of the college's founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams. Sweet Briar was established in 1901 as the Sweet Briar Institute[4] and opened its doors in 1906.[5] Known as Sweet Briar College, the school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges[6] to award the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education.[7]

On March 3, 2015, the college announced that it would be closing at the end of the summer session, citing "insurmountable financial challenges".[8] In response, a group of concerned alumnae and friends of Sweet Briar College formed an unofficial online fundraising website, Saving Sweet Briar, geared toward reversing the board's decision.[9]


The college is named after the former plantation of Elijah Fletcher and his descendants. Fletcher was a 19th-century teacher, businessman and mayor of Lynchburg, Virginia. He married Maria Antoinette Crawford in 1813, and purchased the Sweet Briar plantation property from her aunt and uncle. The plantation was initially known as Locust Ridge, but Crawford supposedly renamed it "Sweet Briar," after the roses which grew on the land. Their daughter, Indiana Fletcher was born in 1828 in Lynchburg. She attended the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, Doane Academy, and later toured Europe. She met James Henry Williams, a student at Union Theological Seminary (New York City) in 1858, and after reuniting in Virginia, they were married in 1865. Their daughter, Maria Georgiana "Daisy" Williams, was born in 1867. At Elijah Fletcher's death, Indiana inherited the plantation. James Williams gave up his initial career as a clergyman to maintain the property and died in 1889, leaving the entire estate to his wife. Daisy Williams died at the age of 16 in 1884. Both James and Indiana Fletcher-Williams were devastated at her death, and James expressed a wish in his own will that a school might be established in honor of Daisy. Indiana died in 1900, bequeathing Sweet Briar plantation to become a school for young women.[10][11]

By his death in 1858, Elijah Fletcher owned over 110 slaves.[12] After their emancipation in 1865, several former slaves and descendants of slaves continued to work for pay and live at Sweet Briar, including Martha Penn Taylor, who worked for three generations of the Fletcher-Williams family, and Signora Hollins.[13][14] Some descendants of the slaves owned by the family still work at the college, and others hold family reunions on campus.[15]

In 1901, Sweet Briar was chartered as Sweet Briar Institute as indicated in the will of Indiana Fletcher Williams, who stated that the land of Sweet Briar plantation must be used as a "school or seminary to be known as the 'Sweet Briar institute,' for the education of white girls and young women. It shall be the general scope and object of the school to impart to its students such education in sound learning, and such physical, moral and religious training as shall, in the judgment of the directors, best fit them to be useful members of society".[16]

In 1906, Sweet Briar College officially opened with 51 students and granted its first AB degrees in 1910. In 1932, Sweet Briar's study abroad exchange program with the University of St. Andrews, Scotland was established. In 1948, the renowned Junior Year in France (JYF) program was launched, followed by a number of other study abroad programs.[17][18][19]

Legal action to alter Indiana Fletcher Williams' will was required to admit African-American students, as it limited the purpose of the college to the education of solely white women.[20] On August 17, 1964, wishing to eliminate "white" from the charter and comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sweet Briar filed a bill of complaint with the Amherst County Circuit Court. The request was initially denied at the state level, with the Commonwealth's Attorney General stating that the will was "plain, unambiguous, conclusive, and binding". After several years of unsuccessful state litigation, the college filed a complaint with the federal U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. On April 25, 1966, Judge Thomas J. Michie issued a temporary restraining order that prevented enforcement of the racial restriction. On July 17, 1967, a three-judge Charlottesville court confirmed permanence of the restraining order. The first African-American student was admitted to the college in September 1966.[20][21]

Sweet Briar has a robust academic reputation.[22] During its first decade, Sweet Briar ran a "sub-college" department to prepare students for college-level work.[23][24][25][26] The original board of trustees appointed in Williams' will maintained that the college would be the academic equivalent of Smith, Wellesley and Mount Holyoke.[27] The difference in Sweet Briar's curriculum was the inclusion of "hands-on" or "practical" courses, as well as physical education, in accordance with Williams' directive that the school produce "useful members of society".[28][29] This forward-thinking approach evolved into the college's current core mission, where students have direct access to their disciplines while gaining real-world and classroom learning experience. During the first few years of the college, this concept quickly gave way to a more traditional liberal arts curriculum.[30][31]

Pending closure

On March 3, 2015, the college's board of directors, following a unanimous vote on February 28, 2015, announced the college would close on August 25, 2015, due to "insurmountable financial challenges". They cited declining enrollment and an endowment insufficient to cover potentially large-scale changes needed to boost enrollment, like coeducation.[32] Another possible factor presented by the board is a declining interest in the traditional women's college model.[33][34]

Academic activity is expected to cease as of August 25, 2015, the college’s pending closing date. Some professors have received termination notices stating their last day of work will be May 30, 2015.[35]

Between 2011 and March 2015, Sweet Briar's endowment dropped from $96.2 to $84 million.[36] Most of the college's endowment is restricted, meaning the money must serve designated purposes, such as scholarships or faculty chairs. According to Standard & Poor’s (S&P), which rates the college’s bond debt, only $19 million was unrestricted; $18 million temporarily restricted and $53 million permanently restricted.[37][38] Sweet Briar is burdened with about $25 million in debt owed primarily to bondholders, and the college faced the possibility of default and an accelerated lump-sum payment of the entire amount.[39]

College administrators posted a FAQ explaining plans to use available funds to transfer students to other schools and pay legal obligations (including debt) and fund faculty and staff severance packages, and that the college would request legal guidance on restricted endowment disposition(s).[40][41] College Board representatives explained in subsequent editorials that with insolvency inevitable—even though the college was still technically solvent—the Board felt the responsible course was to close.[42] That would let current students transfer at the beginning of a new academic year and prevent an entering first-year class from having to transfer after only one semester. It would also allow the college to honor financial obligations and provide severance to faculty and staff.[43]

Efforts to forestall closing

A group of Sweet Briar alumnae, students, faculty, and supporters have united in an attempt to save the college through legal action, social media and a fundraising campaign, "Saving Sweet Briar".[44] Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. asserts that the financial decline cited as the reason for closing is overstated or illusory, and has sought the resignation of interim President James F. Jones, Jr. and the Board of Directors.[45][46] In a return statement, the President and the Board declined resignation, saying that doing so would "further destabilize an already fragile situation", and that allegations against them were "wrong and unfair".[47][48]

A majority of Sweet Briar faculty members passed a resolution opposing the Board's decision to close the college; subsequently a faculty majority issued a vote of no confidence in the school's Board and its President. The faculty later filed a motion to support the pending lawsuit against the Board, and indicated that they would also file suit separately to challenge the closing.[49][50] A group of faculty members and alumnae have proposed an alternate plan for the future of the college – shifting the focus of the school to accelerated STEM fields programs, while still maintaining a liberal arts basis.[51] The idea would require a $62 million starting investment and an entering class of 120 students. The Board agreed to meet with faculty to discuss alternatives to closing.[52][53]

On March 30, 2015 the Amherst County attorney filed a suit on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia seeking an injunction to block the closing of Sweet Briar College and to force the removal and replacement of the president and board of directors.[54] Following an amicus curiae brief released by Virginia attorney general Mark Herring, which argued that the Amherst county attorney did not have the standing to seek an injunction,[55] a Bedford county judge ruled that the county attorney held standing under Virginia's charitable solicitation law, but not under its trust law.[56]

At a hearing on April 15, 2015, the judge granted a 60-day injunction to prevent the college from shifting endowment money solicited for its continued operation, to its closing.[57] The judge did not halt the closing, and declined to remove the president and the board, to require the college to continue operations, or to appoint a special fiduciary to review college finances.[58] The college's attorney said the college would continue the process of closing, using unrestricted funds.[57] The Amherst County attorney filed an appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court, and the Court will hold a hearing to discuss the injunction on June 4.[59][60]

On April 20, following the decision on the injunction, a group of Sweet Briar students, parents, and alumnae filed a separate suit on the grounds that the Board decision to close the school is a breach of contract. Rather than monetary damages, the suit requests injunctions to prevent the college from taking more steps to shut down or sell assets, and a permanent injunction requiring Sweet Briar to continue operating.[61] The college's spokeswoman contested the allegations.[61] Over 50 tenured and untenured Sweet Briar faculty members have additionally filed a complaint against the college, seeking $42 million in damages, reinstatement of employment, and injunctions to prevent the closure of the college and termination of its faculty.[62][63] Following a hearing on April 29, the same Bedford County judge ruled that the college could not sell any of its assets for six months, although he did not enjoin the closing.[64]

The College asked for the ability to transfer certain assets despite the court ruling - the Junior Year in France and Spain programs to Hollins University, its 54 horses, faculty computers, and hazardous chemicals.[65] The parties negotiated an agreement to transfer the chemicals, to sell the computers, and to keep Sweet Briar's study abroad program functioning.[66] In adopting the agreed order, the judge declined to allow the transfer of the college's horses. And on his own, he added to the injunction for the first time, a restriction that the college shall "engage in no such act during the period of this injunction that has as its goals facilitating the closing of the college unless such act is authorized by further order of this court.”[66]


Sweet Briar College Historic District
Location Sweet Briar Dr., .5 miles west of US 29, Amherst, Virginia

37°33′20″N 79°4′50″W / 37.55556°N 79.08056°W / 37.55556; -79.08056Coordinates: 37°33′20″N 79°4′50″W / 37.55556°N 79.08056°W / 37.55556; -79.08056{{#coordinates:37|33|20|N|79|4|50|W|region:US-VA_type:edu |primary |name=

Area Script error: No such module "convert".
Architect Ralph Adams Cram; et al.
Architectural style Colonial Revival
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 95000240[67]
VLR # 005-0219
Significant dates
Added to NRHP March 30, 1995
Designated VLR January 15, 1995[68]

The college's architecture is dominated by the work of Ralph Adams Cram, who also lent his architectural expertise to the campuses of Princeton University and West Point, among others. Although Cram's forte was Gothic Revival, he designed Sweet Briar in the Colonial Revival style, using red brick buildings with white balustrades and arcades.[69]

Twenty-one of the thirty campus buildings were designated as the "Sweet Briar College Historic District" by the National Register of Historic Places. Sweet Briar House, which traditionally houses the college president, is among these buildings.[67][70][71]

The campus property includes the Sweet Briar plantation burial ground (known as the slave cemetery), where upwards of 60 slaves are buried. Archaeologists have uncovered many slave artifacts on campus. A 170-year-old slave cabin, which also was used for early college employees, is currently installed behind Sweet Briar House.[72][73][74]

Approximately 40% of the college’s faculty and staff live on campus in private houses and apartments.[75] The college has not yet determined how the pending closure will affect campus homeowners and renters.[76]


The college operates on a semester system[77] and operates 50 undergraduate courses of study, three preprofessional programs (pre-law, pre-medicine and pre-veterinary), and two graduate degrees. Both graduate programs are coed and in the field of education.[78]

  • Sweet Briar College offers several study abroad programs, most with a focus on foreign language. The two most established programs are Junior Year in France (JYF) and Junior Year in Spain (JYS). Other programs include the Japanese Studies Program at Doshisha Women’s College, Wake Forest/SASASAAS Program in China-Beijing, Intercollegiate Center of Classical Studies in Rome, the American School of Classical Studies Summer Program at Athens, the National Security Education Program (NSEP) in multiple countries, and other programs in different locations. With approval, students earn credit for international internships.[81]

Academic fellowships and grants

  • Sweet Briar College's Honors Program offers fellowships to students to support independent research projects under the supervision of faculty mentors. Projects may be interdisciplinary and include multiple mentors.[82] Past projects are listed online.[83]
  • The Student Research and Creative Endeavors Grants provide up to $500 to offset costs associated with student research or creative projects. Grant applications may be from individual students or teams of students.[84]
  • Student Travel Grants from the Honors Program supports academic-related travel during the academic year.[85]
  • Sweet Briar College offers several scholarships available for academic travel, which may be used to attend conferences.[81]

Campus life

Sweet Briar is a residential campus, and nearly all students live on campus. [86] There are seven standard dormitories and additional living options for upperclasswomen in the Green Village and Patterson House. The college has over 50 clubs and organizations.

Like other women's colleges in the United States, Sweet Briar College has many traditions.[87] The most prominent is the annual Founder's Day, when students, faculty and staff walk to Monument Hill to place daisies at Daisy Williams's grave site and memorial.[88]


Sports teams are known as the Vixens. Sweet Briar is a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC).

Sweet Briar has seven varsity sports' teams: field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, and tennis. Fencing is a Sweet Briar club sport.

Students also participate in recreational sports through the Sweet Briar Outdoor Program (SWEBOP), which organizes a number of trips throughout the year. These include hiking, fly fishing, caving, rock climbing and weekly kayaking and skiing.[89]


The college is known for its horseback riding program,[90] which focuses on show and field hunters, hunt seat equitation, and show jumping. The school has seven riding teams. These include a jumper team, hunter show team, JV hunter show team, American National Riding Commission (ANRC) team, field team and Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team. As part of its program, students can study for an Equine Studies Certificate with a focus in training or equine management.[90] Sweet Briar hosted the 37th Annual ANRC Intercollegiate Equitation Championship judged by George H. Morris in 2014.[91]

Sweet Briar's accolades include 3 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) titles (1987, 2012, 2015),[92] 9 American National Riding Commission (ANRC) team national championship titles (1978, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1999),[93] and 10 ANRC team reserve national championships titles (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005). Sweet Briar students have been individual national champions nine times,[94] and individual reserve ANRC national champions seven times. In 2006, Sweet Briar's Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team won their region (Zone 4, Region 1) and placed second at Zones, qualifying the team for the Nationals Competition.[95] The team placed third overall In 2008, Sweet Briar IHSA again won their region and proceeded to the Nationals, where team members collected individual ribbons.[96][97]


  • In 2010, Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges" ranked Sweet Briar a "Best Buy" private college[98] and a "Top 50 Best Value College",[citation needed] No. 8 for "Best Career Services",[99] No 11 for "Class Discussions Encouraged", No. 6 for "Most Beautiful Campus", No. 4 for "Professors Get High Marks", No. 3 for "Most Accessible Professors", and No. 8 for "Best Classroom Experience", making Sweet Briar the only college in the nation to appear on all four academic top-20 lists.[citation needed]
  • The 2012 Princeton Review ranked Sweet Briar College in five of the Princeton Review’s top-20 lists. Of 376 colleges, the college was ranked seventh for “Most Accessible Professors”, eighth for “Best Classroom Experience”, eleventh for “Class Discussions Encouraged” and fourteenth for “Professors Get High Marks”, as well as sixth for "Most Beautiful Campus". The College made one more top-20 list in the 2012 guidebook, coming in at No. 13 for “Dorms Like Palaces”.[100]
  • In 2012, the Washington Post listed Sweet Briar College as one of "Five colleges where students study". The National Survey of Student Engagement found average weekly total study hours for a college student since the 1960s "has dipped from 24 to about 15". Sweet Briar students reported 19 hours a week.[101]
  • The 2013 Princeton Review ranked Sweet Briar College in five of the Princeton Review’s top-20 lists. Of 377 colleges, the college was ranked eighteenth for “Class Discussions Encouraged”, third for "Most Beautiful Campus, seventh for “Most Accessible Professors”, and nineteenth for “Best College Dorms" and twentieth for “Nobody Plays Intramural Sports”.[102]
  • The 2014 Princeton Review ranked Sweet Briar College in four of the Princeton Review’s top-20 lists. Of 378 colleges, Sweet Briar ranked sixteenth for “Most Accessible Professors”, tenth for “Best Career Services”, sixth “Most Beautiful Campus”, and thirteenth for “Best College Dorms".[103]
  • Forbes currently lists Sweet Briar College for the following, based on 2013 datasets: "#245 Overall", "#180 in Private Colleges", "#49 in the South", "Forbes Financial Grade: A".[106] Forbes has ranked Sweet Briar at #245 in America's Top Colleges in 2014.[107]

Notable people



Current faculty

Previous faculty

List of presidents

  • James F. Jones Jr. (Interim President, 2014–present)[2][116]
  • Jo Ellen Parker (2009–2014)
  • Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld - President emerita (1996–2009)
  • Barbara A. Hill (1990–1996)
  • Nenah Elinor Fry (1983–1990)
  • Harold B. Whiteman, Jr. (1971–1983)
  • Anne Gary Pannell (1950–1971)
  • Martha B. Lucas (1946–1950)
  • Meta Glass (1925–1946)
  • Emilie Watts McVea (1916–1925)
  • Mary K. Benedict (1906–1916)[117]


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External links