Sweet Briar College

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Sweet Briar College
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, 3,250 acres (13.15 km2)
Colors          Pink and Green
Athletics NCAA Division III, ODAC
Nickname Vixens
Website www.sbc.edu

Sweet Briar College is a women's liberal arts college in Sweet Briar, Virginia, United States, about 12 miles (19 km) north of Lynchburg, Virginia. The college is on 3,250 acres (13,152,283 m2) 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 Institute4 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 Colleges6 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 family. Fletcher was a 19th-century teacher, businessman and mayor of Lynchburg, Virginia. His wife, Maria Crawford, is credited with naming the land Sweet Briar. By the mid-19th century, there were 80-100 slaves at Fletcher's plantation. After their emancipation in 1865, several former slaves continued to work for pay and live at Sweet Briar. At Elijah Fletcher's death, his daughter, Indiana, inherited the plantation. In 1900, Indiana died and willed the land and much of her assets to establish a college for women, in honor of her daughter, Daisy, who died at age 16.10

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".11

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.121314

Indiana Fletcher Williams' will limited the college to the education of white women, and legal action to alter the will was required to admit African-American students.15 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 1966.1516

Sweet Briar has a robust academic reputation.17 During its first decade, Sweet Briar ran a "sub-college" department to prepare students for college-level work.18192021 The original board of trustees appointed in Williams' will maintained that the college would be the academic equivalent of Smith, Wellesley and Mount Holyoke.22 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".2324 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.2526

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.27 Another possible factor presented by the board is a declining interest in the traditional women's college model.2829

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, 2015.30

Between 2011 and March 2015, Sweet Briar's endowment dropped from $96.2 to $84 million.31 Most of the college's endowment is restricted, meaning the money must serve a specifically 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.3233 Sweet Briar is burdened with about $25 million in debt owed primarily to bondholders.32 College administrators posted a FAQ explaining plans to use available funds to transfer students to other schools and pay legal obligations (like debt and pensions) and fund faculty and staff severance packages. It will request legal guidance on restricted endowment disposition(s).8343536

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".937 On March 16, 2015, 65 faculty members passed a resolution opposing the board's unilateral decision to close the college.38 A week later, the alumnae-founded group, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., published a letter from its attorneys demanding the immediate resignation of interim President James F. Jones, Jr. and the Board of Directors, citing legal violations and a lack of interest in preserving the school.39 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".4041

Alumni from the neighboring Hampden-Sydney College, a men's college, have started their own fundraising campaigns to save Sweet Briar.42

A group of faculty members and alumnae have also 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.43 The idea would require a $62 million starting investment and an entering class of 120 students. The Board has agreed to hear alternate ideas and to meet with faculty.4445

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 removal of the president and board of directors.46474849 A private attorney representing an alumna filed a private request for a similar injunction in the same court on the same day; the hearing on this preliminary injunction is expected later this week.50 On the same day the faculty of the college unanimously released a statement detailing a vote of no confidence against the Board of Directors, Sweet Briar Institute, and the interim President, calling for their resignation.5152


Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar College Historic District
Sweet Briar College is located in Virginia
Sweet Briar College
Location Sweet Briar Dr., .5 miles west of US 29, Amherst, Virginia
Coordinates 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
Area 27.2 acres (11.0 ha)
Architect Ralph Adams Cram; et al.
Architectural style Colonial Revival
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 9500024053
VLR # 005-0219
Significant dates
Added to NRHP March 30, 1995
Designated VLR January 15, 199554

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. Cram's forté was Gothic Revival, but with Sweet Briar, he took a different approach, designing the college in a Colonial Revival style using red brick buildings with white balustrades and arcades.55

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.535657

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.585960

Approximately 40% of the college’s faculty and staff live on campus in private houses and apartments.61 The college has not yet determined how the pending closure will affect campus homeowners and renters.30


The college operates on a semester system62 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 coedcitation needed and in the field of education.citation needed

  • 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.65

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.66 Past projects are listed online.67
  • 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.68
  • Student Travel Grants from the Honors Program supports academic-related travel during the academic year. 69
  • Sweet Briar College offers several scholarships available for academic travel, which may be used to attend conferences.65

Campus life

Sweet Briar is a residential campus, and nearly all students live on campus. 70 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.71

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.72


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, including hiking, fly fishing, caving, rock climbing and weekly kayaking and skiing.73


The college is known for its horseback riding program,74 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.74

Sweet Briar's accolades include 9 American National Riding Commission (ANRC) team national championship titles (1978, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1999),75 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,76 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.77 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.7879


  • In 2010, Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges" ranked Sweet Briar No. 8 for "Best Career Services", 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",citation needed 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 fourteeth 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”.80
  • 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”.81
  • 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".82
  • Sweet Briar College was selected by U.S. News & World Report as #116 of the "Best National Liberal Arts Colleges" in 201583 and #110 in 2014.84
  • 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".85 Forbes had previously ranked Sweet Briar at #252 in America's Top Colleges in 2013.citation needed

Notable people


Notable alumnae

Current faculty

Previous faculty

List of presidents94

  • James F. Jones Jr. - Interim (2014–2016) 2
  • 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)


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