Admissions Blog: 5 fierce women leaders in Sweet Briar College history

Posted on March 01, 2019 by Janika Carey

WHM SBC history From left: Indiana Fletcher Williams, Mary K. Benedict, Dr. Connie Guion, Meta Glass and Harriet Rogers

Confidence, courage, grit and consequence. Since 1901, Sweet Briar women have shown a fierce commitment to each of these qualities — and what better time to celebrate our most accomplished leaders than Women’s History Month? Here’s to five amazing women in Sweet Briar history. They established, built and shaped Sweet Briar College and ensured it would thrive for generations to come.

Indiana Williams
Indiana Fletcher Williams

In a time when she could not even vote, Indiana Fletcher Williams wanted more for women. When she died in 1900, she left her estate to found an institution in memory of her daughter, Daisy, who died at the age of 16. Sweet Briar Institute, as it was then called, was to produce “useful members of society.” It still does, and every fall on Founders’ Day since 1910, students, faculty and staff honor the founding family with a walk to Monument Hill, where a service is held and daisies are laid on their graves. More recently, the Sweet Briar community also began honoring the College’s less visible founders with a morning service at the slave cemetery above Lower Lake. Fun fact: Sweet Briar’s annual March Days of Giving end on March 10 — Indiana’s birthday.

Mary K. Benedict
Mary K. Benedict (1906-1916)

When Mary K. Benedict arrived at Sweet Briar College in June 1906, there was only one student enrolled, and the College had two faculty members. The 34-year-old rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Along with the board, she launched a massive advertising campaign. By August, she had recruited eight faculty members and Sweet Briar opened with 51 students. The A.B. degree was immediately recognized by graduate programs at leading universities — and three of the College’s first five graduates went on to pursue advanced degrees. Benedict Hall is named for the fierce first president.

Connie Guion
Dr. Connie M. Guion (1908-1913)

The nation’s first woman to be promoted to full professor of clinical medicine in 1946, Dr. Connie M. Guion taught chemistry and physics at Sweet Briar from 1908 to 1913. She also helped set up the athletic program and founded the bookstore in 1909. When Guion Science Center was dedicated in 1966, it was the second building in the country to bear her name. A few years earlier, the new outpatient wing of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center was named the Connie Guion Building — a first for a living woman doctor. At Sweet Briar, Guion Science Center remains home to a thriving STEM scene, including the College’s ABET-accredited engineering program. The trailblazing physician returned to Sweet Briar often and stayed involved until her death in 1971.

Meta Glass
Meta Glass (1925-1946)

After training nurses in France during World War I, Meta Glass took over Sweet Briar College’s presidency in 1925. She steered the College through the Great Depression and even managed to raise the endowment by $1 million. She also helped establish Sweet Briar’s art collection and the Friends of Art in the 1930s, worked with architect Ralph Adams Cram on several of the College’s historic buildings and actively promoted women’s full acceptance into the U.S. Navy. She once told Lynchburg businessmen: “To make women more useful and less irksome, you should demand more of them and give them education with which to do it.” Meta Glass Hall, a residence hall, is named for this fearless president, who retired in Charlottesville after her 21-year tenure.

Harriet Rogers
Harriet Rogers (1924-1963)

Yes, you probably recognize this name. Sweet Briar’s 130-acre Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center is named for her. An expert horsewoman, Harriet Rogers retired from Sweet Briar in 1963 after 39 years of teaching. During that time, she played an instrumental role in the construction of Williams Gymnasium in 1931, the building of the first indoor riding ring at Sweet Briar, the development of our riding program and the establishment of a nationally recognized systematic program of instruction at the College. Harriet also was instrumental in establishing field hockey as a sport at Virginia colleges. In 2006, she was inducted into the Sweet Briar College Athletics Hall of Fame.

Ready to add your own fierce legacy to our long line of women leaders? Join our Sweet Briar family. Apply now.