Renaming W&L would be a mistake
With regard to the editorial concerning the possibility that Washington and Lee may drop Lee from its name, I think that would be a mistake.
Lee was all about law and order and restoring such to the entire country post-Appomattox. He accepted defeat and expressed in letters that Southerners should acquiesce to the Reconstruction Acts and attempt to change things they didn’t like through legal means…. to be patient… he never would have advocated storming the Capitol building in Washington.
When he took the job as president of Washington College, that school was up against it financially. His name made it easy for the Board of Trustees to raise money. Soon the college had representatives soliciting contributions all over the country. Lee stated his new purpose in life to his son Robert: ”I consider the proper education of [the South’s] youth one of the most important objects now to be attained and from which the greatest benefits might be expected…”
Henry Ward Beecher, renowned Northern abolitionist, agreed that Washington College with Lee at its head should be supported. Douglas Southall Freeman paraphrases a speech Beecher made to a group of wealthy influential Northerners considering the solicitation efforts of the Washington College representative: ”Whatever his error in war, Lee now devoted himself to the sacred cause of education. Did men ask if Lee might not now pervert the minds of youth? No! Lee would not fail to instill patriotism and love of country in the minds of his students.” Beecher would later donate $1,000 to Washington College.
All over the country, the vast majority recognized the character of Lee and were willing to forgive his rebellion as he had chosen a life out of the public eye supporting education of Southern youth. Many would go to their bank accounts to support his effort at Washington College. We wouldn’t be having this conversation about dropping his name if he hadn’t taken the position of president of the school because in all probability it would have ceased to exist.