Sewanee: The University of the South

Sewanee: The University of the South, commonly known as Sewanee, is a private Episcopal liberal arts college in Sewanee, Tennessee. It is owned by 28 southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church and its School of Theology is an official seminary of the church. The university's School of Letters offers graduate degrees in American Literature and Creative Writing. The campus (officially called "The Domain" or, affectionately, "The Mountain") consists of 13,000 acres (53 km2)[5] of scenic mountain property atop the Cumberland Plateau, with the developed portion occupying about 1,000 acres (4.0 km2).

Sewanee: The University of the South
Latin: Universitas Meridiana
MottoEcce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum.
(Latin, from Psalm 133)
Motto in English
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity![1]
Established1857 (1857)
Religious affiliation
Episcopal Church
Endowment$411.0 million (2018)[2]
ChancellorRobert Skirving[3]
Vice-ChancellorJohn M. McCardell Jr.
Location, ,
United States
CampusRural, 13,000 acres (53 km²)
ColorsPurple and Gold
AthleticsNCAA Division IIISAA


On July 4, 1857, delegates from ten dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—were led up Monteagle Mountain by Bishop Leonidas Polk for the founding of their denominational college for the region. The goal was to create a Southern university free of Northern influences. As one of its founders, Bishop James Otey of Tennessee, put it: the new university will "materially aid the South to resist and repel a fanatical domination which seeks to rule over us."[6] John Armfield, at one time co-owner of Franklin and Armfield, "the largest and most prosperous slave trading enterprise in the entire country,"[7] was by far the most influential in bankrolling the new university.[8] His purchase of the site where the university continues to exist today and his promise of $25,000 per year far exceeded any other donations and was considered a "princely offer" by a Nashville newspaper. Today, Sewanee admits students from all backgrounds and downplays the role of this slave trader in the University's founding.[6]

The six-ton marble cornerstone, laid on October 10, 1860, and consecrated by Bishop Polk, was blown up in 1863 by Union soldiers; many of the pieces were collected and kept as keepsakes by the soldiers. A few were donated back to the university, and a large fragment was eventually installed in a wall of All Saints' Chapel. Several figures later prominent in the Confederacy, notably Bishop-General Leonidas Polk, Bishop Stephen Elliott, Jr., and Bishop James Hervey Otey, were significant founders of the university. Generals Edmund Kirby Smith, Josiah Gorgas and Francis A. Shoup were prominent in the university's postbellum revival and continuance.

Because of the damage and disruptions during the Civil War, construction came to a temporary halt. Polk died in action during the Atlanta campaign. He is remembered always through his portrait Sword Over the Gown, painted by Eliphalet F. Andrews in 1900. After the original was vandalized in 1998, a copy by Connie Erickson was unveiled on June 1, 2003.

In 1866 building was resumed, and this date is sometimes used as the re-founding of the university and the year from which it has maintained continuous operations (though official materials and anniversary celebrations still use 1857). The university's first convocation was held on September 18, 1868, with nine students and four faculty members present. Presiding was the Rt. Rev. Charles Todd Quintard, Vice Chancellor (chief academic officer) of the University, Second Bishop of Tennessee and "Chaplain of the Confederacy" (compiler of the Confederate Soldiers' Pocket Manual of Devotions, 1863). He attended the first Lambeth Conference in England (1868) and received financial support from clergy and laity of the Church of England for rebuilding the school. Quintard is known as the "Re-Founder" of the University of the South.

During World War II, the University of the South was one of 131 tertiary institutions nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, which offered students a path to a Navy commission.[9]

Schools of dentistry, engineering, law, medicine, and nursing once existed, and a secondary school was part of the institution into the second half of the 20th century. However, for financial reasons it was eventually decided to focus on the College and the School of Theology. In June 2006, Sewanee opened its School of Letters, a second graduate school. The School of Letters offers a Master of Arts in American Literature and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

2004 name change

The institution has combined its two historical names in all university publications that are not official documents and bills itself as "Sewanee: The University of the South". Version three of the university's style guide, a document reflecting the official policies of the university with respect to its public image following the name change, stated in part:

First, it must be understood that the official and legal name of this institution is "The University of the South". In the past, though, unorganized use of this official name and the university's familiar name, Sewanee, has been confusing to those unfamiliar with the institution. In addition, college guides and Web sites that have become so crucial in young people's college searches may list the institution under as many as four different entries—beginning with "The", "University", "South", or "Sewanee".

To avoid confusion and to honor the history and character of the institution, a consistent reference to the name of the institution is critical. So, for extended audiences unfamiliar with the institution, the naming convention "Sewanee: The University of the South" should be used on a first reference. Subsequent references may be to "Sewanee" or "the University".[10]

When this naming system was proposed in 2004, it was misinterpreted by some alumni to reflect a change in the official name of the university. A minor scandal ensued, with more conservative commentators insinuating that the change was intended to "distance" the university from its historic association with Southern culture.[11][12] "Some alumni were also angered by a report commissioned by the university last year [2004] by a marketing firm from Chicago that said that the word 'South' often had negative connotations for students around the country; the weaker the connection between the South and the university's name, the better, the consultants said."[13]

2018 Charlie Rose controversy

In the wake of several women coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment against television personality Charlie Rose[14] many educational institutions revoked honorary degrees bestowed on Rose.[15] Sewanee's Board of Regents initially declined to do so, citing a desire to "not condemn the individual."[16] However, due to particular backlash originating from student members of the Board of Trustees[17] and faculty in the University's School of Theology,[18] the Board of Regents reversed their original decision and rescinded Rose's honorary doctorate.[19]


The Sewanee campus overlooks the Tennessee Valley, consisting of 13,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau. It includes many buildings constructed of various materials faced with local stone, most done in the Gothic style. In September 2011, it was named by Travel + Leisure as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States.[20]

  • All Saints' Chapel was originally designed by Ralph Adams Cram and began construction in 1904 (replacing the smaller, wooden St. Augustine's Chapel which stood nearby), but the Panic of 1907 left the university without the funds to complete it. It was completed in 1959 to a design by Vice Chancellor Edward McCrady. McCrady was also responsible for the connection of the buildings of the original quadrangle with cloisters. During his tenure as vice chancellor, the Jessie Ball duPont Library was constructed. McCrady was determined to fill the plain windows of All Saints' Chapel with stained glass, though many remained without for several years. After his death, a new stained glass window, which includes his image, was dedicated in his memory. The final window was installed in 2004, nearly 100 years after construction began on the chapel.
  • St. Luke's Chapel, designed by the architect Charles C. Haight and built in 1904, is one of three chapels on the campus (All Saints, Chapel of The Apostles, St. Luke's). St. Luke's is located next to St. Luke's Hall which formerly housed the School of Theology. The Chapel itself is used in various capacities over the academic year, including hosting services in the Taize style of worship.
  • The Fowler Center is located on Texas Avenue and is the recreation center for the university. It houses swimming pools, basketball courts, a running track, and weight rooms and group exercise rooms. Many of the trophies from Sewanee's athletic history are also located in this building.
  • Bishop's Commons is located near the Jessie Ball duPont Library and serves as the student union building. The Sewanee Outing Program is housed there along with The Student Post office, commonly referred to as "The SPO". The Tiger Bay Pub is also located in this building.
  • The Chapel of the Apostles was designed by the Arkansas architectural firm of the late E. Fay Jones and Maurice J. Jennings for the School of Theology and was dedicated and consecrated in October 2000.[21] Primarily used as the worship center for the School of Theology, the chapel hosts services Monday through Friday during sessions. The Daily Office is prayed daily along with celebrations of the Eucharist.
  • McClurg Dining Hall is located adjacent to All Saints' Chapel and is the main dining hall on campus.
  • The School of Theology is located on Tennessee Avenue near Gorgas and Quintard residence halls and houses the School of Theology, its faculty, its classrooms, and the Beecken Center, and administrative offices for the Education for Ministry program.
  • Spencer Hall houses the chemistry, biology, and biochemistry departments, as well as components of environmental science. Its completion in late August 2008 provided an additional 49,000 square feet (4,600 m2) to the existing Woods Lab science building. Sustainable building practices and technology were incorporated into Spencer Hall.[22]
  • Snowden Hall houses the Department of Forestry and Geology and components of environmental science. A new 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) addition and remodeling of the building was completed in 2010, making this the university's first LEED Gold–certified building. 3,000 square feet (280 m2) of solar panels provide about a third of the building's electricity needs, and a bioswale filters runoff from the roof top.


University rankings
Forbes[23] 154
Times/WSJ[24] 141
Liberal arts colleges
U.S. News & World Report[25] 43
Washington Monthly[26] 99

Literary associations

The Sewanee Review, founded in 1892, is the oldest continuously-published literary magazine in the country and has published many distinguished authors.[27] Its success has helped launch the Sewanee Writers' Conference, held each summer. The School of Letters, offering an M.A. in English and M.F.A. in Creative Writing, was established in 2006. The current editor is Adam Ross (author).[28]

Sewanee and its environs have been the (temporary or full-time) residence of authors such as Allen Tate, Andrew Lytle, William Alexander Percy, Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Caroline Gordon, and Robert Lowell. In 1983 playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner Tennessee Williams left his literary rights to the University of the South. Royalties have helped build the Tennessee Williams Center, a performance venue and teaching facility, and to create the Tennessee Williams teaching fellowships, which bring well-known figures in the arts to the campus.

"Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum", the university's motto, is taken from the opening of Psalm 133: "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."

Environmental sustainability

Since Fall 2008, the university has held an annual Sustainability Week, which featured speakers, feasts of local foods, and environmentally themed documentaries. The campus is also home to an environmental sustainability house, The Green House, and residence halls have environmental sustainability representatives. In 2007, the university became a signatory to the President's Climate Commitment. As of 2011, the university received a "B" on the College Sustainability Report Card.[29]

Institutional traditions

The school is rich in distinctive traditions, many of which are tied to Southern culture. For example, male students have historically worn coats and ties to classes—this tradition has generally been continued, though the coat and tie are often combined with casual pants and sometimes shorts. However, this tradition is currently in decline. Faculty and student members of the primary honor society and main branch of student government, the Order of Gown (changed after controversy surrounding the exclusivity of the title "order of the gownsmen), may wear academic gowns to teach or attend class—one of the last vestiges of this historically English practice in North America.[11] Furthermore, the Order is charged with the maintenance of this and other traditions of the university.[30] Similarly, both genders enjoy drinking societies and secret societies and the ribbon societies continue to thrive. At major events, members of the former two groups display their distinctive ceremonial garb, kilts and capes. There are the Red Ribbon and Green Ribbon Societies for men (including membership in the faculty) and the Pink Ribbon and White Ribbon for women. While most drinking societies will accept sophomores, the Ribbons are for juniors and seniors. In addition to the more established societies, there are numerous drinking societies and secret societies that exist in the college. The vice-chancellor on formal occasions assumes the cappa clausa cope as the vice-chancellor at Cambridge University still does.

The University Honor Code is one of the most cherished traditions since the university's inception. The Honor Code states that "I will not lie, cheat, or steal" along with a number of amended premises such as a toleration clause for academic offenses (it is a violation of the Honor Code to not report cheating), and other specifics meant to guide the student body. Each new student entering the university must sign the Honor Code at a formal service in All Saints Chapel. The Honor Code and System is administered by a student-run, student-elected Honor Council. Only the Vice-Chancellor (President of the University) may overturn a decision through an appeals process. Although the Honor Council was once governed by the Order of Gown, the Honor Council is now an independent body, whose procedures and rules are the sole governance. The Associate Dean of the College is the faculty adviser to the Council as well as the University's General Counsel.

In the early 2000s, some alumni and students expressed a concern that the school was trying to downplay the university's traditions, particularly its historical and cultural ties with Southern culture.[11][12] As a result, some traditions came under special scrutiny.

Greek life

The University saw the installation of its first fraternity in 1877 with the founding of the Tennessee Omega chapter of Alpha Tau Omega. In 1880, that chapter became the first of any fraternity in the South to have its own chapter house or lodge, which still stands today.[31] Around 80% of students are pledged to one of the 11 fraternities or 9 sororities on campus.[32]

Mace controversy

The university mace, an unsolicited gift dedicated to early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, which prominently featured a Confederate battle flag, has been a point of interest in the debate over the university's identity, because of its association with Forrest and its implications for attitudes toward African Americans. Forrest had no connection with the university;[11] the mace had been commissioned in 1964 by Louise Claiborne-Armstrong, whose brother attended the university. (A portrait of her by Amanda Brewster Sewell is in the University Art Gallery.)

It was given to the university in 1965 and was carried by the President of the Order of Gownsmen at academic processions until it disappeared in 1997. Upon its rediscovery, various alumni offered to pay for the mace's repair but the university declined their offer.[11]

Festival of Lessons and Carols

Each year around the second week of Advent on the church calendar, the University Choir, along with other members of the Sewanee community, holds the Festival of Lessons and Carols in All Saints' Chapel. Based on a service originally offered at King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England in 1918, the service combines readings about the Christmas story from prophecy of a messiah to the fulfillment of the prophecy in the gospel texts. The service is also punctuated with traditional Anglican hymns and music. Sewanee has been holding this event for over 50 years.


Sewanee was a charter member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1894. The Sewanee Tigers were pioneers in American intercollegiate athletics and possessed the Deep South's preeminent football program in the 1890s. The 1899 football team had perhaps the best season in college football history, winning all 12 of their games, 11 by shutout, and outscoring their opponents 322-10. Five of those wins, all shutouts, came in a six-day period while on a 2,500-mile (4,000 km) trip by train.[33] In 2012, the College Football Hall of Fame held a vote of the greatest historic teams of all time, where the 1899 Iron Men beat the 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide as the greatest team of all time.[34]

Sewanee was also a charter member of the Southeastern Conference upon its formation in 1932. By this time, however, its athletic program had declined precipitously and Sewanee never won a conference football game in the eight years it was an SEC member. The Tigers were shut out 26 times in their 37 SEC games, and were outscored by a combined total of 1163–84.[33]

When vice chancellor Benjamin Ficklin Finney, who had reportedly objected to Sewanee joining the SEC, left his position in 1938, the leading candidate was Alexander Guerry, a former president of the University of Chattanooga. According to a university historian, Guerry agreed to come to Sewanee only if the school stopped awarding athletic scholarships. In 1940, two years after Guerry's arrival, Sewanee withdrew from the SEC and subsequently deemphasized varsity athletics. Guerry's stance is sometimes credited as an early step toward the 1973 creation of NCAA Division III, which prohibits athletic scholarships.[33]

Sewanee went on to become a charter member of the College Athletic Conference in 1962. The conference, now the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC), consists of small, academically-focused private schools such as Sewanee.[35]

Sewanee is now a member of the Southern Athletic Association (SAA),[36] offering 11 varsity sports for men and 13 for women. As is the case for all of its previous conferences, Sewanee is a charter member of its current conference—it was one of the seven SCAC members that announced their departure from that conference at the 2011 annual meeting of SCAC presidents.[35] The seven were joined by Berry College, another small private school in Georgia.[35]

Noted alumni and faculty

Sewanee has over 12,000 alumni from all 50 states and 40 countries and has produced 26 Rhodes Scholars—a number that puts Sewanee in the top four nationally among American liberal arts colleges—as well as 34 NCAA Postgraduate Fellows, 46 Watson Fellowships, and dozens of Fulbright Scholars. The School of Theology's alumni include countless bishops, including three of the last five presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church.[37]

See also


  1. The University of the South. (2006) Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
  2. As of June 30, 2018. "U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Endowment Market Value and Change in Endowment Market Value from FY 2017 to FY 2018" (PDF). National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute. 2018. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  4. NAICU – Member Directory Archived 2015-11-09 at the Wayback Machine
  5. "About Sewanee". Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  6. Steven Deyle (2013). Carry Me Back : The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life. Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 20, 2013., pp. 205-07. Professor Deyle notes: "[D]espite his central role in its establishment, [slave-trader] Armfield's contributions to the University of the South, an institution that supposedly symbolized southern ideals, have all but been forgotten....The initial reports and histories of the university barely mention him, and except for a bluff named in his honor, there is no other commemoration for Armfield on the campus today."
  7. Cohn, Lawrence. "Freedom House Museum". Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  8. John Armfield (1797-1871) in the online Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  9. "U.S. Naval Administration in World War II". HyperWar Foundation. 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  10. The University of the South.Graphics Identity Standards Manual, Section 5.1.
  11. Finder, Alan. (2005).In Desire to Grow, Colleges in South Battle With Roots, New York Times.
  12. McWhirter, Cameron. (2005). Colleges suffer identity crisis, The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived February 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  13. Finder, Alan (November 30, 2005). "In Desire to Grow, Colleges in South Battle With Roots". New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  14. Carmon, Brittain (November 20, 2018). "Eight women say Charlie Rose sexually harassed them — with nudity, groping and lewd calls". Washington Post. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  15. Blain, Glenn (January 23, 2018). "SUNY revokes Charlie Rose's honorary degree". NY Daily News. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  16. "Board of Regents chooses to maintain Rose's honorary degree". Sewanee Purple. February 15, 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  17. "Board of Regents Discusses Revoking Charlie Rose's Honorary Degree". Sewanee Purple. February 12, 2018. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  18. "An open letter to the Board of Regents from the School of Theology tenured faculty". February 20, 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  19. "Sewanee Revokes Charlie Rose's Honorary Degree after Months of Pressure to Take Action." Episcopal News Service, The Episcopal News Service, 22 Mar. 2018,
  20. "America's most beautiful college campuses", Travel+Leisure (September 2011)
  21. "Chapel of the Apostles | The School of Theology | Sewanee: The University of the South". Archived from the original on 2014-07-19. Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  22. "". 2008-10-07. Archived from the original on 2012-02-19. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  23. "America's Top Colleges 2019". Forbes. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  24. "U.S. College Rankings 2020". Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  25. "Best Colleges 2020: National Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  26. "2019 Liberal Arts Rankings". Washington Monthly. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  29. "The College Sustainability Report Card". Retrieved 2011-09-28.
  30. "About – The Order of Gown". Archived from the original on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  31. Sewanee Greek Life (2018)..
  32. Huang, Jasmine. (2018)..
  33. Dorsey, Patrick (September 23, 2011). "Sewanee, long-lost member of the SEC". Page 2. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  34. Martin, Cam. "Sewanee puffs out chest with historic title - Sports Fans, Teams, Stadiums, Page 2 - Fandom Blog - ESPN Playbook - ESPN". Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  35. "Eight southeastern colleges, including Sewanee, form new athletic conference" (Press release). Sewanee: The University of the South. June 7, 2011. Archived from the original on April 2, 2012. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  36. "Eight Division III colleges form newly named Southern Athletic Association" (Press release). Sewanee: The University of the South. August 19, 2011. Archived from the original on January 23, 2012. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  37. "About Sewanee". Retrieved 2012-07-31.

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