College History and Architecture

Sweet Briar College was founded in 1901, through the estate of Indiana Fletcher Williams, in memory of her deceased daughter, Daisy. Sweet Briar opened in 1906 with 51 students.


Elijah Fletcher

A Vermont schoolteacher, Elijah Fletcher (1789-1858) traveled to New Glasgow, Va. (located a few miles north of Amherst) in order to take a teaching position. While teaching in this area, he became acquainted with the Crawford family of Tusculum and in 1813 married Maria Antoinette Crawford. Within a few years they moved to nearby Lynchburg. There, Fletcher developed a number of business interests, served as mayor for two terms in the early 1830s, served on the Lynchburg Auxilliary Society, published a Lynchburg newspaper called The Virginian, and was a founding member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Elijah’s parents were also leaders in their New England community, in Ludlow, Vt. Their family farm has served as a social service and art education campus for more than 80 years: Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts. Elijah’s younger brother, Calvin Fletcher, was a well-known Indianapolis lawyer and banker who helped found the State Bank of Indiana.

Maria Antoinette Crawford

Maria Antoinette Crawford Fletcher (1792-1853) was the mother of Indiana Fletcher Williams and wife of Elijah Fletcher. She was raised at Tusculum, a few miles north of present-day Amherst. Elijah Fletcher purchased the Sweet Briar property, then called Locust Ridge, in 1830 from Maria Antoinette’s aunt and uncle, Sarah Penn Crews and Thomas Crews. Elijah is said to have renamed the plantation Sweet Briar (originally spelled “Sweetbrier”) after her favorite flower, a small pink rose (Rosa eglanteria) that bloomed here in abundance. She and her husband had four surviving children: Sidney, Lucian, Indiana (named for the home of her uncle, Calvin Fletcher) and Elizabeth.

Indiana Fletcher Williams

Indiana Fletcher Williams (1828-1900) directed in her will that, aside from a few legacies to family and friends, her estate be used to establish a school for young women in memory of her daughter, Daisy. Her father, Elijah Fletcher, had spent his early adulthood as a schoolteacher and believed strongly in the importance of a fine education. He sent his children away to school and also sent Indiana, her sister Elizabeth and her brother Sidney on a Grand Tour of Europe and the Holy Land to finish their education. Born and raised in Lynchburg, Indiana attended the school of Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington, D.C. (now Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School). She subsequently attended St. Mary’s Hall (now Doane Academy) in Burlington, N.J., and later toured Europe with her sister and one of her brothers. During her married life, especially during her daughter’s lifetime, the family split their year between New York and Sweet Briar. She left an estate worth more than $1 million and encompassing over 8,000 acres. Despite legal challenges from some family members, her bequest launched Sweet Briar College in 1901.

Maria Georgiana “Daisy” Williams

Maria Georgiana “Daisy” Williams, the only child of Indiana Fletcher and James Henry Williams, was born Sept. 10, 1867. She passed away on Jan. 22, 1884, from an inherited condition thought to have been Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (the result of which can be symptoms similar to those of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or to cirrhosis of the liver), from which her father also suffered. She is buried with her parents and her grandfather Elijah Fletcher on the Sweet Briar College campus at Monument Hill.

Read more about Sweet Briar’s history here