Tusculum Newsletter

February 2017

Volume 7, Issue 1

Printable, 4MB, pdf version of the newsletter. PDF > | Past Issues of the Tusculum Newsletter. Read >


Sweet Briar During the Great War

During the Fall 2016 semester, Professor Lynn Rainville was on leave to finish her book about Virginia’s role in World War I. Titled, Doing Their Bit: Virginia in the Great War (McFarland Press, 2018), this engaging historical retrospective covers the expected and unexpected roles played by Virginians between 1915 and 1919 (the years just before and after America’s entry into the war).

In this newsletter, we will focus more narrowly on Sweet Briar’s role during the war. While SBC students could not serve in the armed forces, they did volunteer for a variety of positions, including that of nurses, ambulance drivers, and the heads of local civic associations that assisted communities in their wartime preparations.

At the opening of the 1917 school year (several months after the April 6th War Resolution which sent American troops into battle), SBC President Emilie McVea wrote, “In common with schools and colleges all over our land, Sweet Briar feels the thrill of a greater purpose and a higher life…Alert, vivid, physically fit college graduates are responding by thousands to the call for national service in agriculture, in hospital and medical service, in ambulance work, in food conservation, in camp santitation, in actual government employ.”

Sweet Briar students enrolled in extra-curriculuar courses about canning (to preserve food on the homefront), stenography, and book-keeping. Meanwhile, male staff members, like janitor Landon Jones, and local residents, like Daniel Bibby, enrolled in the armed forces. Both of these Amherst citizens were African American and served in segregated units.




A wartime poster encouraging women to work in factories. Source: Minneapolis College of Art and Design Library.


An exhibition of World War I posters on display at the Cochran Library in 2015. The originals are in the Sweet Briar College Collections.

To learn more about a related project, "World War I Memorials in Virginia," click here.


President Meta Glass’ World War I Service

President Glass served as the Sweet Briar College President for 21 years. A native of Petersburg, she attended high school in Lynchburg and took a job as a teacher after she graduated. After several years, she returned to school to complete a PhD in Classics from Columbia University. In 1925 she accepted the presidency of Sweet Briar which she described as a place that “had the power to draw me from an absorbing and satisfying task [her work at Columbia University] to have a part in [Sweet Briar’s] fine work and to feel the thrill of growing with it toward the realization of its alluring possibilities.” She held this position until her reitrement in 1946. While at the College, she also served as the national president of the American Association of University Women between 1933-1937.

In years prior to her presidency she volunteered abroad to help the Entente Powers (or Allies) during the first World War. During the Great War she served as secretary of the Y.W.C.A. at its Paris office and Dean of a nearby training school for women. The photograph pictured on the left was taken during her wartime work. She was recognized by the French government for her service. Two decades later, in the midst of World War II, President Glass had words of wisdom to share with Sweet Briar students, “In every time of crisis women step in greater numbers than usual into posts of enlarged scope and responsibility. Whatever institutions are educating them must guide and fit them to take this extra step…”

Almost two decades after her retirement, a dormitory was named in her honor (see below). After she left Sweet Briar, she moved to Farmville (in nearby Charlottesville) where she lived until her death in 1967.

Wartime Identification Papers. Dr. Meta Glass’ Certificate of Identification from her time as a Y.W.C.A. volunteer in Paris. Issued August 21, 1918. Sweet Briar College Library Archives.


Ms. Meta Glass. This photograph was taken during her wartime service abroad. Later she returned to the U.S., earned a PhD, and was appointed the third President of Sweet Briar College.

A Portrait Bust of Dr. Meta Glass.

To read about a recent art exhibition inspired by Dr. Glass, click here.


Lecture on African American Heritage at Sweet Briar

Join the Director of the Tusculum Institute, Lynn Rainville, for a talk titled “Invisible Founders: Two Centuries of African American Labor at Sweet Briar,” in Charlottesville at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities on March 7th (Tuesday) from 12 to 1. Lunch is provided. Rainville is a fellow at the VFH this year.

In this talk, Dr. Rainville will present the results of her in-depth study into the enslaved community on the Sweet Briar Plantation and the many unrecognized contributions that African Americans made to create an institution of high education that, to this day, hires employees who are descended from the original plantation laborers.

By holding up a mirror to the black families at Sweet Briar College, formerly an antebellum plantation, her talk will reveal the profound social, cultural, and historical changes that took place throughout the South and the nation over the past two centuries.


An historic postcard of the "Administration Building" (today's "Sweet Briar House"). Note the groundskeeper standing out front.

Longtime employee and groundskeeper, Bowman Knuckles, working with Bebe Gilchrist '27.



Centennial Event to Commemorate America's Entry into World War I

Dr. Rainville will the keynote speaker at the official WWI centennial event at the Richmond Carillon (the state’s memorial to the Great War) on April 6th. To recognize America’s entry into the war, a ceremony will be held at the Byrd Park bell tower at 11:45am. Learn more at the Virginia WWI and WWII Commemoration Commission website.


Virginia's Official Memorial to the Great War, the Byrd Park Carillon. Photograph by Beth O'Leary.









About The Tusculum Institute

Tusculum Institute is a local history resource center located on the campus of Sweet Briar College providing information to students, faculty, and the wider region. Using the rich historic and intellectual resources of the College and working in partnership with the Department of Historic Resources, the Institute supports the preservation of the region’s historic assets and promotes the use of Virginia’s historic legacy as a learning resource. If you wish to support us or have questions, please contact Dr. Lynn Rainville.

Growing our membership

Let us know if you have friends or colleagues who might enjoy this newsletter.