Friday, July 14, 2006

Let's start at the very beginning

Hey SRCers-
I'm going to try to find some of W&L's basic historic info and lesser-known oddball stuff to post over the summer. If you're stuck in not-so-exciting office jobs or bored on rainy days, take a look at the posts and learn more about the school. Some of the stories can be good "filler" for when groups are less chatty, others may come in handy if people ask questions, and the rest can just be good to know.

To start us off, some more detail about the very beginning. A synopsis: Washington's way popular after being president, and he's got too much money than he knows what to do with. He wants to fund education, but more specifically, a school near the James River. Liberty Hall Academy beats out Hampton-Sydney and other area schools for the grant. And as it turns out, W&L shares history with Princeton... both began as Presbyterian institutions.

Read on... story excerpts from alum Glenn Allen Scott (The Virginian-Pilot, July 1997).

"Washington's 1796 gift (valued at $ 20,000) to Liberty Hall Academy in Rockbridge County caused the overseers of the little Presbyterian institution, whose primary mission was to train clergy, changed the school's name to Washington College.

Nearing the close of his presidency, Washington was eager to depart public life. 'Public adulation added to his problems. He was in demand for everything, receiving unending visits, honors, letters, and gifts. Pressing him also was the question of how he could turn away, without offense, valuable gifts, which he had declined as a matter of policy.' The Virginia General Assembly voted in 1785 to give Washington 100 shares of James River Company stock and 50 shares of another canal-building enterprise, the Potomac Company.

A decade later, Washington accepted the legislature's gifts, on the condition that he could use them for worthwhile public purposes. In his mind, he had earmarked the windfall for education. Thomas Jefferson proposed that Washington use the gifts to import faculty from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. The suggestion fell flat. Washington wanted to give the James River Company stock to a college near the headwaters of the James.

In addition to Liberty Hall Academy, those seeking Washington's favor included Hampden-Sydney College in Prince Edward County, New London Academy in Campbell County and the towns of Staunton, Fincastle, Lynchburg and Charlottesville. The finalists were Staunton and Liberty Hall Academy. That the latter was Presbyterian didn't count against it. As Rouse reports, Washington had sent his stepgrandson, George Washington Parke Custis, to Presbyterian College of New Jersey, later Princeton University. "

By the way, not all the entries will be this long. Thanks for reading!


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