Origins and Location
Founded in 1749, Washington and Lee University is named for two of the most influential men in American history: George Washington, whose generous endowment of $20,000 in 1796 helped the fledgling school (then known as Liberty Hall Academy) survive, and Robert E. Lee, whose presidency and innovative leadership brought the University back into the national limelight.
The University is located in the historic city of Lexington (population 7,106) in the Great Shenandoah Valley of Virginia about three hours southwest of Washington, D.C. W&L’s 35 principal buildings include the picturesque Washington College group forming the Colonnade facing Lee Chapel, where Robert E. Lee is buried. The Colonnade and Lee Chapel are National Historic Landmarks. New or recently renovated buildings include the John W. Elrod University Commons, the journalism department’s Reid Hall, the Doremus fitness center, Wilson Hall, and the Lenfest center for the fine arts.
Washington and Lee is composed of two undergraduate divisions, the College and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, and a graduate School of Law. The undergraduate institution offers 36 majors, 33 minors, and more than 1,240 courses—an enviable curriculum for a school of only 1,827 undergraduate students. W&L also features the only fully-accredited business school and fully-accredited journalism program among the nation’s top-tier liberal arts colleges.
The School of Law, one of the smallest nationally recognized legal programs in the country at about 400 students, has its own dean and faculty. It offers the Juris Doctor degree and, for international law graduates, the Master of Laws degree in United States Law.
Faculty and Students
As one of the nation’s best teaching colleges, W&L places a high priority on recruiting and retaining a top-notch faculty. Virtually all of the University’s professors hold the Ph.D. degree or an equivalent earned doctoral degree, and all faculty members are active in continuing self-development as scholars and teachers. The average class size is 16 students, and nearly one-fourth of all classes have no more than 10 students. The student-to-faculty ratio is 8:1.
W&L is also noted for its national and international student body. W&L’s students hail from 48 states and the District of Columbia and hold citizenship in 52 countries. About 15 percent of the undergraduates come from Virginia, in addition to large contingents of students from Maryland, Texas, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and California.
Once on campus, W&L students are extremely involved in student government, athletics, and student activities. The University fields 24 NCAA Division III sports, including the reigning national champions in women’s tennis. Students can also participate in over 150 clubs and organizations, including three student newspapers, a broadcast radio station, and cable television station.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the University is its student run Honor System, and the environment that it creates on campus and in Lexington. Students at W&L enjoy unparalleled academic and social freedom. Undergraduates typically schedule their own final examinations, all students take their exams unsupervised, personal property is generally safe on campus, most University buildings remain open twenty-four hours per day, and a student’s word is accepted and respected both on campus and in the community.
Since its inception, the Honor System has fostered a sense of community and trust that continues to enhance the lives of Washington and Lee students, during enrollment at Washington and Lee and later in their personal and professional lives.