Sweet Briar College is a 114-year-old liberal arts woman’s college located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge a little north of Lynchburg, Virginia.
Although Sweet Briar was always a small school, it was, back during my pre-coeducation freshman year, socially well-connected enough to participate in mixers with elite New England schools like Yale. My memory is that Sweet Briar’s echt-Southern girls dressed better, had livelier personalities, and were typically more friendly and conversable than the representatives of Vassar, Smith, and Holyoke whom we previously had entertained, and we were decidedly impressed that Sweet Briar girls managed to be so soignÃ© on their arrival in New Haven after a God-only-knows-how-many-hours-long bus ride from deep in nethermost Virginia.
Sweet Briar girls seemed to us representatives of Yankeedom like exotic specimens imported from a distant, more tropical habitat. But, though they were obviously the offspring of wealthier and more socially prominent families than most of ours, they were also clearly the products of a rural culture, and were more interested in talking about their horses and sport than in calculatingly sizing you up, in the manner of Vassar, as a potential husband and breadwinner. I remember having more fun at the Sweet Briar mixer than at any of the others I attended that year.
Sweet Briar takes its name from a 3250-acre plantation, left along with an endowment to create a woman’s college by one Indiana Fletcher in 1901.
One reads today in the Washington Post the sad news that the Sweet Briar board has voted to close the school down next August, being apparently unable in a time of declining enrollment when fewer women desire single-sex education to make end’s meet. I think that is a shame. There ought to be a place like Sweet Briar where young ladies can major in horsemanship along with the liberal arts in preparation for an adult life spent hunting three days a week somewhere in Virginia.