Frequently Asked Questions About Institutional History
In the fall of 2017, President Dudley convened the Commission on Institutional History and Community to help the university advance its educational mission by identifying opportunities to explore, teach and present its history. The Commission delivered its report to the president in May 2018, and President Dudley issued his response to the report in August 2018. The Board of Trustees and President Dudley announced several decisions related to the recommendations of the Commission in October 2018.
The following questions and answers below offer additional context and correct many of the misapprehensions that have been circulated in response to the report and subsequent decisions made by President Dudley and the Board of Trustees.
- What is the purpose of the new Director of Institutional History and how was she identified and hired?
- Why did the Board of Trustees decide to rename Lee-Jackson House as Simpson House and Robinson Hall as Chavis Hall?
- Have buildings on campus been renamed before?
- Why name buildings for John Chavis and Pamela Simpson?
- How will we continue to recognize important figures in the university's history if we remove their names from our buildings?
- Are any other building names under consideration for change?
- Is further action expected from the Board?
- Will the Lee Chapel auditorium be converted into a museum?
- What changes will be made to Lee Chapel?
- Why were portraits of Washington and Lee in Lee Chapel changed?
- What happened to the original portraits?
- Was the Trustees' decision to remove the Lee Chapel portraits an anti-military statement as some have suggested?
- Will the annual orientation to the Honor System be held in Lee Chapel?
- 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?
- Will the university conduct research into the history of enslaved persons at Washington College? Will a genealogist be used?
- Why is this research important?
- Are additional steps planned?
Lynn Rainville was named Director of Institutional History in March 2019 and began work on July 1. Her appointment followed a national search for a respected historian with significant administrative and museum experience.
In her new role, Dr. Rainville is charged with spearheading a variety of educational initiatives, including the design, construction and operation of a new museum devoted to the history of Washington and Lee and its many connections to American history. She will collaborate with faculty, staff and students to develop and coordinate projects that engage the W&L community with our institutional history. Dr. Rainville also oversees Lee Chapel and the university's collections of art and historical objects, and will pursue partnerships with other historic sites around the region that share our goal of providing public education of the highest quality.
Why did the Board of Trustees decide to rename Lee-Jackson House as Simpson House and Robinson Hall as Chavis Hall?
Among the Commission's recommendations were changing the name of Robinson Hall and forming a committee to consider renaming Lee Chapel, Lee House, and Lee-Jackson House. The Board of Trustees, which has the authority to name campus facilities, made clear that the University, Lee Chapel, and Lee House will retain their names, but did change the names of Lee-Jackson House and Robinson Hall. The Board is not considering any additional name changes.
Naming these buildings for John Chavis and Pamela Simpson gives well-deserved recognition to the pioneering roles they played at the university.
John Robinson, a trustee who left his entire estate to Washington College, continues to be memorialized by the obelisk on the lawn that marks his remains, where signage is being added that tells his story.
Robert E. Lee's contributions to Washington College are memorialized by the name of the university, the chapel that he built, and the house in which he died. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who was connected to Washington College only indirectly through his marriage, is memorialized at VMI, where he taught, and in Lexington, where he lived and is buried.
Have buildings on campus been renamed before?
Yes. The Board of Trustees renames university buildings infrequently, and only after serious consideration. For example, Huntley Hall was originally named Carnegie Library for Andrew Carnegie, and was renamed McCormick Library in honor of Cyrus McCormick. When a new library opened in 1979, McCormick became known simply as the C-School until it was renamed in honor of President Huntley. McCormick, a significant benefactor and trustee for two decades after the Civil War, continues to be represented, and his contributions to W&L continue to be memorialized, by the statue on front campus. Signage telling McCormick's story is being added to that statue this fall.
John Chavis was one of the first African Americans known to receive a college education in the United States. Chavis completed his studies in 1799 at what was then Washington Academy. The Lexington Presbytery made him the first African American licensed 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.
Pamela Hemenway Simpson 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 and co-authored a book on the architecture of Lexington in which she described the development of the modern campus.
The decision to add their names to campus buildings 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 a wider array of individuals whose legacies are important to the university.
As stated above, the Board of Trustees renames university buildings infrequently, and only after serious consideration. No other name changes are anticipated. On the rare occasions when building names have been changed, the university has sought to recognize the contributions of the previous namesake in other ways. For example, when the new library opened in 1979, the university removed Cyrus McCormick's name from what is now Huntley Hall. But McCormick, a significant benefactor and trustee for two decades after the Civil War, continues to be memorialized by the statue of him on front campus, where new signage is being added this fall to tell the story of his legacy at W&L.
The story of John Robinson will be told in the same way, through new signage to be added this fall at the Robinson Obelisk on the front campus.
Robert E. Lee remains prominently memorialized in the names of the University, Lee Chapel, and Lee House. Stonewall Jackson had no connection to Washington College, other than marrying President Junkin's daughter. Jackson is memorialized at VMI, where he taught, and in Lexington, where he lived and is buried.
The new university museum will provide additional opportunities to recognize those individuals whose legacies have had a profound impact on Washington and Lee.
What changes will be made to Lee Chapel?
We are committed to honoring Lee's original vision for the chapel as a space for distinguished university events, rather than a memorial to Lee or to the Confederacy, which Lee expressly opposed. We intend to preserve the historical integrity of both the chapel's original auditorium and its 1883 addition, while visually separating the auditorium space and the statue chamber. The recumbent Lee statue is accessible for viewing every day that Lee Chapel is open. We recently installed a modern security system that protects the statue while allowing visitors to view this significant artwork at close range. The doors to the statue chamber are closed only during university events, which allows the focus to remain on the speakers and programs in progress.
Why were portraits of Washington and Lee in Lee Chapel changed?
The portraits now hanging in the chapel show George Washington and Robert E. Lee in their direct connection to the school. The 1866 J. Reid portrait of Lee is one of a very few painted during Lee's presidency of Washington College. The Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington was painted in 1796-the same year in which he made his gift to Liberty Hall Academy. It is arguably the most publicly recognized image of Washington because it appears on the U.S. $1 bill.
We continue to own and to recognize the significance of the portraits that previously hung in the chapel. The Charles Wilson Peale portrait of Washington in the uniform of a colonel in the Virginia militia is on temporary loan to Mount Vernon, where it will be viewed by up to one million visitors per year. The portrait will return to W&L to be proudly displayed in the new museum once that facility is complete. The Pine portrait of Lee in his Confederate uniform is on display in the Lee Chapel Museum, along with a replica of the Peale portrait, as part of an exhibit on the history of the two paintings. The Pine portrait will also be displayed in our museum.
No. The change reflects a desire to represent our namesakes at the time when they made their respective contributions to the institution: George Washington as President of the United States, and Robert E. Lee as President of Washington College.
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. It has been held in Lee Chapel in the years since the Commission issued its report.
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 university conduct research into the history of enslaved persons at Washington College? 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, will continue its work and will, along with Director of Institutional History Lynn Rainville, determine how we can most effectively advance our research on the enslaved men, women, and children and their descendants.
Why is this research important?
W&L's lengthy history parallels that of the nation, which creates opportunities to engage our students in many different research projects that are both educational and beneficial to the public, in a variety of academic disciplines and across four centuries. These projects include research into the descendants of the enslaved families who were owned and sold by Washington College, which may help to identify and connect people whose family histories were lost to them as a result of that sale. Research will also be conducted on other topics and eras, including W&L's 18th century founders, student involvement in World War I, and the first African American students to integrate the university in the mid-20th century. Such projects will contribute to future exhibitions in the museum and the creation of an app-based tour of campus history.
Are additional steps planned?
No. The university is fully committed to honoring the legacies of our namesakes, George Washington and Robert E. Lee. The Board and President Dudley have repeatedly affirmed that the university will not change its name. Washington Hall, Lee Chapel, and Lee House will retain their names and 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.