Sweet Briar College was founded in 1901, the legacy of Indiana Fletcher Williams, who left her entire estate to found an institution in memory of her only daughter, Daisy, who died at the age of 16 in 1884. At the time of Mrs. Williams' death in 1900, her estate consisted of more than a million dollars, and over 8,000 acres of land, including the Sweet Briar Plantation. The first board of directors determined that the College should be free from denominational control and that it should maintain the highest academic standards. Sweet Briar would unite classical and modern ideals of education and, in the words of its founder, prepare young women "to be useful members of society."
Sweet Briar College opened formally in September 1906 with 51 students, including 15 day students. Its A.B. degree, granted for the first time in 1910, was immediately recognized by graduate programs at leading universities, with three of its first five graduates pursuing advanced degrees.
By 1921, Sweet Briar held membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the American Association of University Women and the American Council on Education, and was approved by the Association of American Universities. Its chapter of Phi Beta Kappa authorized in 1950, the Theta of Virginia, is one of fewer than 276 chapters nationwide. In 1952, Sweet Briar became a charter member of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.
An early leader in international study, Sweet Briar in 1932 established an exchange program with the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and in 1948 began its renowned Junior Year in France program, to be followed in 1984 by a Junior Year in Spain program in Seville.
In 1978, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts opened to fellows. The center is affiliated with Sweet Briar and located at Mount San Angelo, a nearby estate belonging to the College. Today the VCCA is one of the foremost working retreats for artists in the world, and the only one with direct ties to a college or university.
Twenty-one of the College's buildings were listed in 1995 on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic District.
Sweet Briar College celebrated its Centennial in 2001, and moved vigorously into its second century both in terms of its physical facilities and educational programs. In 2002, the College completed a new quad around a Student Commons, a "green village" that links residence halls with student services, dining facilities, a book shop and cafe, post office and student organizations. The new facility visually exemplifies Sweet Briar's commitment to an educational environment that is integrated, intentional and rooted.
In 2000, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which measures effectiveness of student learning, named Sweet Briar one of only four colleges in the nation scoring in the top 20 percent on all five national benchmarks. Subsequent NSSE surveys, including 2010's, continue to rank Sweet Briar among the nation's best in student engagement.
Sweet Briar's leadership in student engagement is reflected in a new mission statement, adopted in 2004, refocusing the College on its first principles, but recognizing that in the 21st century, students who will become "useful members of society" must, as liberally educated women, be well equipped to move into professional life. In 2004 the College inaugurated its first graduate programs, a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Education, and became one of two women's colleges in the nation to offer a degree program in engineering.
Sweet Briar College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Education. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Sweet Briar College.
List of Presidents
Jo Ellen Parker
Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld (President emerita)
Barbara A. Hill
Nenah Elinor Fry
Harold B. Whiteman, Jr.
Anne Gary Pannell
Martha B. Lucas
Emilie Watts McVea
Mary K. Benedict