For the Media

Lexington, Virginia 24450-2116
News Office: 540-458-8235

Media Alert
January 8, 2007

Robert E. Lee The Educator
200th Birthday Commemoration on January19th

Robert E. Lee helped to change the face of higher education in America.

When Lee created the first university journalism program in the U.S. in 1869, the New York Evening Post labeled it “Absurd.” Many referred to his vision of practical training for students as “revolutionary.”

Yet Lee prevailed in taking a small undistinguished school and turning it into an innovating institution that was decades ahead of its time, and whose influence can be seen in higher education today.

Washington and Lee University  (then Washington College) was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1865, and Judge John Brockenbrough had to borrow a suit and $100 to travel to meet Lee. When he accepted the presidency, everyone expected Lee to be a mere figurehead.  But for the next five years, until his death, this brilliant commander and strategist pursued an innovative plan for a liberal arts education that incorporated training in law, medicine, journalism, business, science, modern languages and agriculture. 

In addition to creating the first journalism program in America, he proposed a school of commerce twelve years before the Wharton School was created.  He abandoned the classical system, predominant at that time, that studied the philosophers and Greek and Latin. In its place he instituted a more practical education that included skills he saw as necessary to re-build the South.

And he did it all with the support of a number of prominent northern philanthropists, benefiting many students from the North along the way.

Lee also placed great emphasis on individual honor. "We have but one rule,” he said, “and it is that every student is a gentleman." The W&L Honor System, which Lee made more rigorous, remains one of the strictest in the country.

Lee is buried beneath Lee Chapel and Museum, where his office has been preserved much as he left it for the last time.  His faithful horse “Traveller” is interred outside the chapel.

Resources For The Media
Commemorations of Lee The Educator will continue throughout the year. See the complete schedule of events on this site.

Talk to our experts on Lee the conciliator and college president: 
Taylor  I. Sanders II, university historian
Holt J. Merchant Jr., professor of 19th Century American history
Patricia Hobbs, Director of the Lee Chapel and Museum

Please contact Sarah Tschiggfrie, Interim News Director, at stschiggfrie@wlu.edu or phone (540) 458-8235 or (540) 480-4888 (cell).

High-resolution, print-quality photographs of Robert E. Lee, Lee House and Lee Chapel are also available for download.

Cradled between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains in Lexington, Virginia, Washington and Lee University, since 1749, has produced not only superb scholars but also principled leaders with a commitment to civility, service and honor. One of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges and finest law schools, W&L offers a unique convergence of arts and sciences, law, journalism and commerce.


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