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SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE
3 2449 0312735
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Shela Silverman '88
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010 with funding from
Lyrasis Members and Sloan Foundation
Sweet Br iar?„ lteg .
Sweet Briar, Virginia 24S95
7 May 1988
TO: Professor Hapala, Chair, Honors Committee
FROM: The examiners of Ms. Shela Silverman's
Honors Thesis in Interdisciplinary Studies
We recommend that Ms. Silverman be awarded
Honors for her thesis.
<N /* (
Professor Marc Schloss (external)
Professor Claudia Chang (anthropology \
Sweet Briar College
Professor John Goulde (religion'
Sweet Briar Colleqe
, ■ A
Professor Edward Drayer (sociology)
Sweet Briar College
A Description of Soms Rituals at Sweet Briar College
Shel a Silverman
ApHI ZM, 1*00
Sweet Briar College is a single sex, female, institution located in
Amherst County, Virginia, approximately 12 miles north of Lynchburg and
within an area bounded by the James River and the foothills of the Blue
Ridge Mountains. Founded in 1901 by Indiana Fletcher Williams, Sweet
Briar is unique in American colleges, having first been the location of a
large southern plantation. Mrs. Williams was the daughter of Elijah
Fletcher, who came to Virginia from Vermont in the early part of the 19th
century. Education was always Elijah's primary concern. He was the first
member of his family to complete a college degree and in a letter to his
unjuisr uaiVin, wnttBn in iu^+z, ne reminded him that a good education iS
the best fortune we can give our children", (von Briesen, P. xvii).
The college was founded as a memorial, a living expression of Indiana's
convictions in regard to the values of education, to her only daughter,
Daisy. Indiana's father's example may have been the guiding principle
which tuuK the material form of an educational institution which would
enable other young women to have the educational opportunities which
Daisy could not have. Daisy, the only daughter of Indiana Fletcher Williams
and her husband, the Reverend James Henry Williams, spent the majority of
her sixteen years at Sweet Briar and died in 1884. Her parents spent their
few remaining years grieving for their young daughter and in planning for
this lasting memorial to her. In the will establishing the College, Indiana
"it shall be the general scope and object of the school to impart to its
students such education in sound learning, and such physical, moral, and
religious training as shall in the judgement of the Directors best fit them
to be useful members of society."
Sweet Briar College formally opened in 1906 with a total enrollment of
51 students including 15 day students. Sweet Briar College presently has
an enrollment of approximately 650 women, most of whom are not native
Virginians. The number of day students is about forty. The present campus
is considered to be one of the most attractive in the country, and
encompasses an area of over 3000 acres. The acreage is wen nrisintsinsu
and a huge variety of native trees, shrubs and flowers decorate the main
campus. The majority of the buildings are in a neo-Georgian style of red
brick, and the main quadrangle is dominated by the Memorial Chapel, which
overlooks the entire campus. This chapel is the site of daily
inter-denominational services held for the entire Sweet Briar community.
Quite unique to the college is its magnificent horse-riding center,
which, along with miles of riding trails and horse jumping courses,
provides the students with one of the best provisioned riding programs in
the country. Also included on the campus is a working dairy farm and dairy
which provides the campus and a number of major food chains with their
In 1810 Elijah Fletcher wrote to his father: "I think female education is
tuu iTiuCh McyicCteu. They afe the GfieS Vv'nO have tile flfSt euuCauOn Oi
children and ought to be qualified to instruct them correctly." (von
Briesen, p. xix), Sweet Briar College's first five graduates received their
diplomas 100 years after this letter was written, and perhaps this
'prophetic approval' by Elijah Fletcher is still a part of the living memorial
to a young daughter.
Historical Background: Origins of the College
On October 3, 1936, Dr. Meta Glass, then President of Sweet Briar-
College, received a memorandum from a Miss Vera Joyner who worked for
many years in the Clerk's office in the Amherst Court House, Amherst,
Virginia. In this memorandum Miss Joyner traced the deeds, as recorded,
of land transfers related to Sweet Briar, dating from:
"November 4, 1771. Thomas Wiatt and Suckey, his wife, convey to
John Wiatt tract of 1 100 acres of land, more or less, bounded by the
lands of Hugh Rose (Geddes), Patrick Rose, Gabriel Penn and other."
"April 4, 1 790 to a Joseph Crews from a John Wiatt (also spelled
Wyatt)....in consideration of 100 pounds, conveys 102 acres of land on
north branches of Crooked Run, a part of a larger tract adjoining said
Wiatt and David Woodruff. Among witnesses mentioned, William S.
Crawford and Gideon Crews, (also spelled Crouse)"
"January 10, 1604- John Wiatt and Wilhemina, his wife, conveyed to
David Woodroof, Jr., John McDaniel and David Woodroof, Sr, certain
tracts of land on the south branches of Rutledges Creek."
There is some evidence to suggest that the tract of 'wild land' granted
to George Carrington by the Crown in 1770 is the same as the plantation
home of the Crews (Crouse) family. The six room T shaped farmhouse
known as locust Ridge" was built on this land in 1769 or 1790 and when
Crouse died in 1798, he bequeathed this property "the land on which I live",
to his son Joseph Jr. (It seems probable that the farm house of six rooms
which is the older part of Sweet Briar House, was erected by John Wiatt,
"the Flemish bond style of masonry indicating the date of erection, it
was occupied by Joseph Crouse at the time of his death and was owned
by Joseph Crouse, Jr. from that date, 1 798 until it was acquired by
Elijah Fletcher".) Lynchburg Virginia News. October 1 1, 1936.
Many of the descriptions from the official deed books in Amherst Court
House of land transactions were extremely vague but what we do know is
that Elijah Fletcher, a New Englander who had come to Virginia in 1810,
purchased property owned by Thomas Crouse at a public auction in 1830 at
a commissioner's sale. In a letter to his brother Calvin Fletcher of
Indianapolis, Elijah wrote:
"I have lately bought me a Plantation which Maria talks of settling and
spending her summers at. Vou may perhaps remember it. It lies this
side of Amherst, about 12 miles from here with a large brick house on
it, containing about 1000 acres of pretty good land. It cost about
Elijah and his wife, Marie Antoinette Crawford, a daughter of one of
the most distinguished families in Amherst County, were responsible for
the extensive restoration of locust Ridge'. Legend has it that Mrs.
Fletcher re-named the plantation Sweet Briar because of the abundance of
wild roses growing on the land. (Bannister, p. 13) (The early spelling was
Sweetbrier, the same spelling of the wild sweetbrier rose). Elijah
expanded the original brick farm house by adding two three-story square
towers at either end, four more rooms and a hall on the back, a stairway
into the tower on the east end and a great front portico, arched in the
center, which gave Sweet Briar House its present form. (Bannister, p. 14)
Again, in a letter to his brother dated April 18, 1 85 1 :
"...I find it quite inconvenient to leave home, as I have commenced
building and shall have what is not common several white mechanics
employed here most of the summer. In erecting two Towers to this
house—one at each end—three stories high 20X20 " On November 7,
1852, "...We are now making a completion of our new building. The
marble man is putting in his hearths and Mantles. Plasterer has
finished. .the Painters and Paper hannprs are at work— and the Furniture
ordered when in N. York and Philadelphia is arriving...."
Southern plantation houses were modeled after English country homes
and the furniture, silver and decorations were fashioned after the English
model. It was from England also that their gardens, with box bushes, yew
trees and traditional English flowers came. (Bannister, p. 3)
The gardens, lawn and a large circle of thirty boxwood bushes were laid
out at the same time that the house was enlarged. A variety of shrubs and
trees were planted on either side of the boxwoods: Norwegian spruce,
southern magnolias, cathedral yews, weeping and branching hemlocks,
horse chestnuts, maples, locust, catalpa, mimosa, holly and even a fringe
tree. (Glass, p. 2). It was during this time that he also planted the famous
boxwood gardens which completely surrounded the house and which
include, in individual bushes, groups and hedges, approximately 390 (389?)
boxwood bushes. These plantings also included symmetrical plantings of
large boxwood down the slope leading to the West Dell with its mirroring
pond. (Glass, p.2).
The Fletcher family that lived in this setting consisted of Elijah, Maria
and their four children: Elizabeth, Indiana, Sidney and Lucien. (another
child died in infancy). By the 1640's we can assume that Elijah Fletcher
was a relatively wealthy man. In 1810 he had arrived in Virginia virtually
penniless but in 1815 (1813?) he maried Maria Antoinetta Crawford,
daughter of William Sidney Crawford, owner of Tusculum', a man of means
(Bannister, p. 13), and his wife, the former Sophia Penn, daughter of
Captain Gabriel Penn. (Von Briesen, p. 3). Upon the death of his
father-in-law, Elijah left his chosen career in teaching and entered into
other fields in which he amassed a great fortune.
His interest in education and in its benefits prompted him to plan for
the education of all his children. Sidney went to Vale and studied
medicine; Indiana was sent to the Georgetown Visitation Convent. (Glass,
p. 3). Two years at Georgetown (1842, 1843) were followed by two years
at St. Mary's School in Burlington, New Jersey and then the girls made an
extensive tour through continental Europe and the Orient with their
brother. (Glass, p. 3).
"Indiana and Elizabeth were generally said to be young women of many
cultural accomplishments, including music and languages." (Pannell, p.
When he died in 1858 he left his acres, his beautifully furnished house
and his many slaves to his daughters, Indiana and Elizabeth. Very shortly
after the close of the Civil War, Indiana, now the sole heiress of Sweet
Briar after purchasing her sister Elizabeth's share, married the Reverend
James Henry Williams of New york, an Episcopal clergyman. James Henry
Williams, was, according to some, a "red-headed Irishman" (Stohlman, p.
27), and according to others, "a young minister" ( Sweet Briar Magazine.
Vol. 1, No. 1, P. 6) but he was most certainly the husband of Indiana
Fletcher. Indiana and Elizabeth, the daughters of Elijah Fletcher, inherited
Sweet Briar plantation along with 67 slave families, 1 15 people, (Whitley)
when Elijah died in 1856. The Civil War ended in 1865 and with it came
the end of the curse of slavery. Indiana Fletcher was the sole owner of a
considerable amount of land after purchasing her sister's share of the
estate, but like many other southern plantation owners, did not have the
labor to work it. It was at this juncture that James Henry Williams, a
graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City arrived at
Sweet Briar and, within days, was wed to Indiana.
The Williams* were not the typical young couple. James was a newly
arrived northerner living in the south immediately after the debacle of the
Civil War. Because he was a northerner he was able to hold public office
and, according to the sparse accounts of his career, when helping in the
drafting of the new state constitution he "took a very conservative stand
and assisted materially the white people of Virginia.'XStohlman, p.35).
Indiana was 37 years old at the time of her marriage and from all accounts
had been living a stressful and isolated existence during the war.
There are few written records available of their personal married
years until after the birth of their daughter Maria, born in 1867. Maria is
the name given to her at birth and used in the family bible (Stohlman, p.
28) but in all other accounts she was always called Daisy. Most of the
stories we are told of Daisy's life are gleaned from the pages of her
diaries and letters which she conscientiously kept for some years.
Reading through these pages we become acquainted with a naiive child who
led an extremely sheltered life and had few friends her own age. Her
parents doted on her and she apparently never lacked for material
comforts. Much of her young life was spent on the plantation tending
small animals, growing flowers, riding her pony, playing her harp, visiting
and being tutored in a variety of academic disciplines. The family
evidently spent part of every year in New York City overseeing their varied
business interests. It was while living there that Daisy had any formal
schooling. Her diary is filled with accounts of her days in New Vork but
there is always mention of her wish to return to Sweet Briar.
Most of what we know about Sweet Briar house and the gardens in the
late 19th century, comes to us from Daisy's diaries and letters. In them
she tells us of "my own little room upstairs", her "dear mamma's big
room"; about "the tea room" or the "blue room".
"June 28, 1862 the dewberries are just ripe but are not sweet at all."
"June 29, 1882... There is a rose a pink one in the garden fourteen
"June 30, 1882... Someone has taken all the murillo cherries, the
magnolias are in bloom."
"May 2, 1883 My own dear Mamma...Here I am at last at dear old
home, sitting at the table in your room..."
"The poplar trees are a faint green, and the maple and
the willow, that is all, there are no flowers but
lilacs and jessamine and narcissus..."
"May 12, 1883... The roses on the weaving house are just beginning to
bloom the things in the garden are beginning to
"Thursday afternoon..! have just come from the dear old Harp, it is
standing in the old place in the libraray no strings
broken.The screws were hard to draw as one of them
was all bent..."
(She wrote often of her beloved harp, which had originally belonged to her
mother, purchased when she was in England, for the sum of $ 1 000).
"Friday morning. ..My dear Mamma. ..Martha and I have been in the garden
weeding and working the roses. The roses are just beginning
to bloom very prettily, especially the little ones..."
There are also tales of visiting her 'Uncle Sing' (Sidney Fletcher) at
Tusculum, his mother's home. The road that connected the Williams' home
with the rest of the world was the one between the dell and Sweet Briar
house. When the family went visiting at Tusculum they went in their
carriage, an exceeding handsome vehicle pulled by six horses. ( Sweet Briar
News. N ov.. 29, 1927).
To the side of Sweet Briar house stood a two-room office, beyond
which "Daisy's Garden', bordered with dwarf box, made a shut-in nook
(Glass, P. 2) in which Daisy planted her flowers and herbs: "ageratum, fox
glove, canterbury bell, evening primrose, mixed german poppy, taragon..."
(see copy of page from Daisy's diary...).
When she died from "pneumonic" her porents did bring her body bock to
the plantation and had her buried in the Necropolis. When Daisy died in
1884, at the age of 16, her sorrowing parents made plans to turn their
property and great wealth into a 'perpetual memorial' for their only child.
After Mr. Williams' death these plans apparently increasingly absorbed
Mrs. Williams' thoughts, until in her very lonely last years, they took the
form of strange collecting which caused people to talk and wonder.
(Stohlman, P. 37). Upon Indiana's death, it was found that she had
purchased large quantities of curtains (170), towels (473), napkins (308),
pillow slips (234), carving knives (68), carving forks (64), and so many
yard goods that an inventory of them alone required ten pages in fine type.
(Stohlman, P. 37). These bequests and the explicit provisions of Indiana's
Will to provide for a "perpetual memorial' to her daughter:
"...a school or seminary for the education of white girls and young
women. ..It shall be the general scope and object of the school to impart to
its students such education in sound learning, and such physical, moral and
religious training as shall, in the judgement of the directors, best fit them
to be useful members of society."
--were the basis for the foundation of Sweet Briar Institute, (the name
was later changed to Sweet Briar College).
Part of the oral tradition of Sweet Briar has it that Daisy's ghost
returns periodically to her familiar childhood scenes; her home and
gardens. We can still find students who reassure us that they have seen
her ghost playing in the boxwood gardens. There is also a belief that on the
first balmy spring night with a full moon, Daisy can be seen riding her
dearest pet, her white pony, up the path to Monument Hill. "It is there
where her spirit hovers over the many girls she has influenced." ( Sweet
Briar News. October 3, 1 935.) There is another account, this one by Dr.
Mary Benedict, the first president of Sweet Briar Institute, who, like all
the presidents of the college, lived in Sweet Briar house. The music box
that had been one of Daisy"s dearest possessions was on a table on the
first floor of the house. Dr. Benedict's account was that after everyone
had retired for the night the sound of the music box could be heard again
and again. (Sweet Briar News. O ctober 3. 1935).
Founders" Day: The arrangement of physical and social space
The Necropolis lies at the crest of what was formerly called Woodrofs
Mound but is now endearingly memorialized as Monument Hill. The road to
the Necropolis is accessible by foot and automobile from the main campus
but it is unpaved and has many potholes. The open road winds gradually
along, traversing hay fields, plowed and cultivated cropland, vintage barns
and in the fenced areas there is an occasional cow. The view is
outstanding and combines the flat inhabited areas with the gently rolling
hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The road finally climbs until the forest
of oak and maple is reached. Until then there was an open and
uninterrupted view but now a feeling of stillness and darkness is
evidenced as the road ascends sharply through the forest until, after a
rather sharp bend, the road forks. The way to the Necropolis is the way to
the top of the hill. There is, once again, a magnificent view of the
mountains as the forest is left behind. The road encircles the entire
physical place as a boundary, keeping the commerce of daily living
separate from that which lies within the stone and rock wall of the
The steep climb from the main campus is obvious because now the
entire campus can be seen below, looking like a toy village dropped among
the trees. Many of the trees have been cut from this side of the hill so
that not only can the campus be viewed from this position but the
Necropolis can be seen, albeit distantly, from some parts of the campus.
Walking back to the Necropolis from the overlook, the rock and stone wall
which surrounds the entire area, can be appreciated both for its function
and form. There is but one entrance through the wall, that one being a
metal gate, which is rather difficult to pull. The gate has a stiff metal
section which has to be forced in order for it to slide past the worn rock
that operates as its fastener. Once past, the gate opens outward so that
the gate now swings free as one climbs the three worn stone steps and
There are other markers scattered thoroughout the Necropolis, some
difficult to read, some with name and dates clearly written:
"In Memory of Mary Miller Merton, Farmville, Virginia, March 16, 1913,"
"Sister Elizabeth, Daughter, Elijah and Maria Fletcher",
and there is yet another monument, an obelisk. This one is engraved,
"Sacred to the memory of our father Elijah Fletcher, Born in Ludlow,
Vermont July, 18, 1789, Departed this life February 13, 1858".
When Elijah wrote his last Will and Testament he included a request for
his 'final restinn nlace" and gave the following instructions:
"....I want an area enclosed and a plain White marble obelisk twenty feet
high. ..And this enclosure I would like cultivated in fine Trees and shrubs
and flowers and that all my children should meet there once a year and
prune and trim and cultivate it..." (Stohlmann, P. 22).
As Elijah instructed, there is now a veritable botanist's delight
growing within the cemetery: Chinese firs, Arborvita Cedars, Junipers,
Crepe Myrtle, Spyrea, Boxwood, Daylilies and Wisteria. All are carefully
nurtured. The Wisteria has been trained to grow tenderly over portions of
the well maintained rock and stone wall. Not like Frost's 'loaves and balls'
which, "We have to use a spell to make them balance; "Stay where you are
until our backs are turned..." ( Mending Wall, lines 19-21), but a solid, well
constructed wall, rock upon rock, concreted into place with stone until the
finished product, a circle measuring 1 / 1 0th mile, was completed. It is
within this area and lying deeply in the fertile Virginia soil that the
founders of Sweet Briar College were 'laid to rest".
There is some confusion as to the exact year that the statue which
marks off the Williams family plot was erected. But there is none
regarding its intent, for on the front of the base is clearly engraved:
"In Loving Remembrance, Daisy, only Child of Indiana Fletcher
and James Henry Williams,
Born in Sweet Briar September 10, 1867,
Died January 22,1664,
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."
The large robed female figure on top of this base is holding a cross in
her left hand which is inscribed with a Greek monogram for the name of
Jesus, ( Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church , P. 690), IHS. Her right
hand is aloft, pointing, as it were, to God. (This particular statue, it is
believed, was a copy of one that Indiana saw while she was in New York
City after Daisy's death. What is particularly interesting is that while
this statue towers over the entire Sweet Briar campus, there is no
definite data that tells us when it arrived or who erected it. There is a
great deal of legend surrounding it. One of the most interesting is that it
screams at night! Many an Amherst county couple have come up to the
monument hoping to hear it— and some say that it has! What is of
particular interest is that most of the students at the college believe the
statue to be of Daisy. There appears to be no reliable data that this was
the intent of Indiana when she ordered it for the family plot).
When James Henry Williams died he left all of his property to his sole
survivor, his wife. He requested that a school be established on Sweet
"It is my wish that my wife should by deed or by will, secure the ultimate
appropriation of my estate, in trust for the foundation and maintenance of
a school or a seminary.. ..as a memorial to our daughter Daisy Williams...."
It was Indiana Fletcher Williams" will that actually led to the founding of
Sweet Briar College for in it she stated,
"This bequest, devise and foundation are made in fulfillment of my own
desire, and of the especial request of my late husband,. ...for the
establishment of a perpetual memorial of our deceased daughter, Daisy
The base of the statue dedicated to Indiana is engraved with this in mind.
"In Grateful Remembrance of Indiana Fletcher Williams,
Founder of Sweet Briar Institute,
Died at Sweet Briar October 29, 1 900.
Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.
If the sight of the mountains lying directly behind is one which inspires
awe, than the statue of the draped female figure, right hand raised, left
hand carrying a cross, which confronts anyone entering the gate, peering
down at the college from its 980" elevation, is suggestive of heroic
adventures. This statue has three engraved facets at its base, one which
is inscribed with a dedication to Indiana Fletcher Williams who died on
October 29, 1900, the other to James Henry Williams, died on April 25,
1 889, and the front face which has a dedication to Daisy Williams, who
died on January 22, 1884.
Founders" Day: The Ritual Performance
Founders' Day at Sweet Briar is a day set apart from all others. The
small traditional memorial service honoring the Fletcher and Williams'
families who made Sweet Briar plantation their home and are responsible
for the founding of Sweet Briar College, is held annually in the Necropolis
on Monument Hill. In the early days of the college, the first Founders' Day
held in 1909 was quite different from those of today. The exercises began
with a chapel service in the evening conducted by the college chaplain.
The entire student body, numbering 36, including the five members of the
senior class wearing their caps and gowns for the first time, assembled
for an academic procession. The faculty, in full regalia, followed.
President Benedict, in an address, pointed out the significance of the day
by explaining that Mr. Elijah Fletcher, who was responsible for the
founding of the college, had received his degree from the University of
Vermont a century before. For this reason the President said that the
class of 1910 would receive diplomas modeled after Mr. Fletcher's.
( Sweet Briar News. October 30, 1935). After the service a dance was held
in the refectory with "one hundred young men" attending.
It was not until the 1920s that services began to be held at the
Necropolis. It was also at this time that it became tradition for the
sophmores to hand chrysanthemums to the seniors to put on the graves at
the Monument. The service at the Monument, held in one of the college
buildings, follows the Founders' day program honoring members of the
Sweet Briar community in recognition for their service to the college.
After the program those wishing to attend the service at The Necropolis,
assemble and march up the hill.
Founders" Day is held near the beginning of the academic calendar. The
service at the Necropolis which I observed took place during an extremely
hot, sultry day at the end of September. The Necropolis was arrayed in a
display of color; the trees still crowned in their summer foliage, the
bushes adorned in a variety of green hues. The various gravemarkers,
scattered among the trees and bushes, stood out in stark contrast to the
multi-colored display. Amidst the trees, bushes and other gravestones
within the Necropolis are the founders' graves. They rest in front of the
base of the large, heroic statue of a draped female figure who holds her
right arm aloft and carries a cross in her left. The graves of the founders
are at the base of the statue, lying in a row, with Daisy's in the middle. On
Daisy's tombstone is engraved:
"Dedicated in L ove to the Remembrance of Dear Daisy by her
Sorrowiny Parents. James and Indiana Fietcher Williams.
Peouiescat in Pace"
Entering through the gate from the campus below, the congregation,
composed of students, faculty, both academic Deans, alumnae and guests,
arrive at the Necropolis after the march. Once through the gate they walk
around, admire the foliage, look at some of the gravemarkers, or talk to
other congregants. It is a simple task to recognize the seniors, since all of
them are wearing their academic robes for the first time in the semester.
Their robes are open, so one can view a wide range of dress displayed
under them: from blouses, T shirts, shorts, jeans, tennis shoes and socks
to an occasional skirt or dressy dress. The robes themselves are
decortated with a huge variety of buttons, in all sizes and shapes, and
carry a variety of outrageous messages. On the inside of the robes are an
assortment of pockets, in all sorts of colors and sizes, stitched to the
robe itself. (I have been unable to find out the origin of these pockets but
they are made by freshman for the seniors. This is a replacement for an
earlier tradition when each freshmen hemmed and pressed a senior's robe).
Excepting for the seniors and faculty, the rest of the congregation is
wearing ordinary clothing. As if at a signal they cease doing what they had
been engaged in and start to form a semi-circle, seniors standing in the
front, faculty and guests off to the sides and rear and all face the
chaplain, her student assistant, three senior class officers, and three
sophmore officers who are standing in front and to the side of the three
graves of the founders of the college.
The Sophmore class officers are dressed very conservatively, wearing
blue skirts and white blouses and dark shoes and each one is carrying a
bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums, tied with pink and green ribbons, in
her arms. The chaplain is wearing a white supplice, a black collar with a
white inset and what appears to be a black academic gown under the white
supplice. There is another young woman who is standing next to the
chaplain and she is wearing a regular dress. She is holding programs and a
book in her arms. (She was there to assist with the singing but also
helped during the service).
The three Senior officer are wearing their academic robes closed
over their ordinary clothes and are wearing white shoes/sneakers. They
are facing the three Sophmore Class officers. They are all standing in
front and slightly to the side of the graves. The Sophmores are standing to
the South of the graves, the Seniors to the North of the graves. Closest to
the graves are the Sophmore Class President and the Student Government
Association President, then, standing next to them are the Sophmore Class
Vice-President and the Senior Class President. Closest to the audience
are the Sophmore Class Secretary and the Chairman of the Judicial
Committee. They are standing in a line from west (graves) to east
(audience) axis. They are all facing each other. The Chaplain, the
officiating officer, is standing next to the Chairman of the Judicial
Committee and is closest to the audience. (In the service I witnessed and
filmed, the Chaplain stood next to the Student Government Association
President. When I questioned her she admitted that due to her
left-handedness she frequently is "out of place". The instructions of the
service clearly indicate where she is supposed to stand.)
All of the Sophmore Class Officers are carrying bouquets of yellow
chrysanthemums tied with pink and green ribbons in their arms.
Everyone gets very quiet and looks at the chaplain. She steps forward
and both by gesture and voice starts off the first hymn. Everyone joins in
The hymn that was sung is sung annually.
There are two readings from the sacred text. Last year they were read
by the Sophmore Class Secretary and the Student Government President,
other years they were read by dignitaries. For these readings, the
Sophmore Class Secretory, after a gesture from the chaplain, handed the
bouquet of flowers she was holding to the Sophmore class President,
stepped into the center of the space between the officers, faced the
audience and read from the sacred text. When she was finished she
returned to her place and took back the flowers. The Student Government
Association President stepped into the center of the space, faced the
audience and read from the sacred text. After the reading she returned to
her original position.
Between the lessons,' the chaplain led the congregation in petitions to
God. At the start of each prayer she stepped forward and faced the
congregation, holding the sacred text, and reading from it. Her directions
to the congregation took the form of nods, bows and signals with her head.
The directions took the same form toward the particular officer she was
directing. Before the reading of the Lord's Prayer, she announced, "Let us
pray together." Everyone did.
At the conclusion of the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, the Chaplain
stepped forward, went into the center of the space, faced the audience and
recited the following prayer, which was written specifically for the
service, The Founder's Prayer:
"Almighty and Eternal God, We Remember Before Thee This Day
the Founders of this College, Indiana Fletcher Williams
and The Reverend James Henry Williams.
We thank thee for their inspired vision and for their ideal of service,
And We Remember Also Daisy Williams,
In Whose Memory this College Was Founded.
May Countless Generations of Students have cause to call her Blessed.
May her life, so brief here, have its perfect fulfillment in thy eternal
Kingdom. And may life perpetual shine upon them all.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen."
(A copy of this prayer, in large print, is part of the folder which contains
the instructions for the service. Presently there is no mention of the
Clergymen who were on the original Board of Trustees of the college. They
are included, by name, in some of the older copies of the prayer).
After praying the chaplain steps back to her place next to the Judicial
Chairman, but then she and her assistant step back further from the
officers, so that they are no longer in line WKn tnGm.
The presentation of the consecrated flowers by the Sophmore Class
officers to the Senior Class Officers, who then carry them in a particular
way to a selected grave, recite a certain prayer especially written for
that person, and then place the flowers on the grave, is carried out in the
following prescribed sequence. This is the central ritual event.
The Sophmore Class Secretary walks forward, holding the flowers in
her right hand, presents the bouquet to the Judicial Board Chairman and
returns to her place. The Judicial Board Chairman, carrying the flowers in
her right hand, walks behind the Senior Class President and the Student
Government President, walks to the grave of Indiana Fletcher Williams.
She stands behind the tombstone and faces the audience. She prays in a
very serious tone,
"In Memory of Indiana Fletcher Williams, devoted wife and mother,
founder of this College,"
bends, and then places the flowers in front, to the east of the grave. She
then returns to her place in reverse order.
The Sophmore Class Vice President walks forward holding her bouquet
of chrysanthemums in her right hand, presents it to the Senior Class
President ond returns to her ploce. The Senior officer, corrying the
bouquet in her right hand walks behind the Student Government President,
the graves of Indiana Fletcher Williams and Daisy Williams to the grave of
James Henry Williams, faces the audience and prays,
"In memory of James Henry Williams, minister of God,
a loving father, a man of vision, co-founder of this college."
She then bends and places the flowers in front, to the east of the
tombstone, and returns to her place in reverse order.
The Sophmore Class President, carrying the bouquet of chrysanthemums
in her right hand, walks forward, hands the flowers to the Student
Government President and then returns to her place. The Student
Government President holding the flowers in her right hand, walks past the
grave of Indiana Fletcher Williams, stands behind the grave of Daisy
Williams, faces the audience and prays,
"In Memory of Daisy Williams, beloved daughter,
in whose memory this college was founded,
that the high hopes which had centered in her
might be fulfilled in the lives of others."
She leans around Daisy"s gravestone, bending slightly and places the
flowers in front, to the east of the gravestone and returns to her place in
Thus ends the giving of the obligatory gift. The audience has been very
attentive during the entire ceremony.
The chaplain and her assistant move forward, back into line with the
officers, and announces the singing of another hymn. She nods and the
audience responds by reading the words from their programs, singing a
hymn. Some of the congregants are not singing, rather they are looking
around and some are whispering behind their programs. After it is sung,
the chaplain, facing the audience, head bowed, recites a benediction. Some
of the audience bow their heads. After the benediction, which is the signal
for the recessional, the audience opens a pathway for the officers who
walk throgh the congregation, in pairs, in reverse order from their
entrance, from east to west. The Chaplain does not walk into the center
but she also follows them through the audience. They all proceed through
the gate of the Necropolis at the eastern end of the space and the audience
and the chaplain's assistant follow.
(After the recessional there are people who come over to the
gravemarkers and look at them. They stand around and point to the
flowers, and/ or the gravestone. Some of the audience returns to the
Necropolis to have their photos taken. The Chaplain is standing with all
the officers who participated in the service and is smiling to everyone
while someone else is taking their picture. Several students are wearing
unusual hats, (baseball caps, sun bonnets). There is a sense of frivolity in
contrast to the seriousness of the service.
This is how the ritual looked in 1987.
Symbolic Categories: Sweet Briar, Founders" Day
The formal intent of the Founders' Day ritual performance is to honor
the Fletcher and Williams" family, the founders of Sweet Briar College,
symbolically it is an attempt to re-order crucial social relationships.
The ritual takes place in the Necropolis and involves a procession,
attended by a community of men and women, from the college to the ritual
space; consequently a description of the organization of this space is in
order. A circular wall of rock encloses an area cultivated in trees, shrubs
and flowers, interspersed with stone markers which differentiate the
areas where the dead are buried. Ritual ly, the entrance and exit to the
sacred area are through the eastern gate. Symbolically, the east has
always maintained the distinction of being the source of life. It is the
source of the new day, the rising sun. (Rigby, 1966, Van Gennep, 1960,
The first act of ritual separation from one's previous environment
takes place when one enters through the gate. To enter through this gate is
also to unite oneself with the sacred world.
The Necropolis is sanctified; it is set apart, detached from the
surrounding milieu. It is no accident that the Necropolis is fixed at one of
the highest points of the campus, that is, afterall, the place nearest the
deity. It has been consecrated by ritual specialists invoking a
transcendent being in their petitions. In the context of the ritual, all
contact with sacred things is mediated by the designated ritual specialist
who imposes his/her ministrations between the objects and the
worshippers. Even in prayer the sacred is protected by prohibitions.
(Traube, P. 142) The Necropolis is re-sanctified in the doing of the ritual.
It is in the performance of the ritual that the elements of sacredness and
prohibition are most evident. (Traube, P. 142).
The area marked by the female figure and the three stones dedicated
to the Williams' marks the conceptual center of the ritual space. It is the
physical locus of contact between the world of the living and the world of
the dead. The statue is of a mammoth figure of a woman, right hand aloft,
left hand holding a cross, which towers over the entire Sweet Briar
campus. There are few universal symbols, however, the bilateral
opposition between left and right is a prominent one. The right hand of the
statue, raised, overlooking the entire Sweet Briar community, connotes
strength, uprightness and moral integrity. (Hertz, 1909, Needham, 1960,
Rigby, 1966). As the conceptual center of the space, this area is
symbolically linked to the outside wall of the Necropolis which marks the
periphery of the entire ritual space.
The center stone in the group of three lined up in an north-south axis,
designates Daisy's final resting place. It is on this grave that the most
senior member of the senior class, the Student Government Association
President, gives her symbolic, obligatory gift to Daisy.
The bond with the dead is periodically renewed by the living in the
giving of a sacrifice, a gift. The spirits of the dead are contacted in the
ritual when sacrifices, in the form of flowers, are offered to them. The
gift, is, in a sense, "consecrated' to the spirits. It is through the ritual
treatment of the flowers which renders them sacred. Only Senior officers
may place them on the graves, only Sophmores may carry them. Only
certain Seniors may place flowers on certain graves.
Within the ritual space we find a dual symbolic classification of
categories: Sophmore Seniors
There are strong oppositions in Sweet Briar cosmology. Incorporation
is brought about by mediating contradictions and it is in the doing of the
ritual that this is accomplished. Dual classification entails the ordering
of symbolic categories into pairs of opposites, such as inner/outer,
heaven/earth, above/below. Sets of dual categories are combined in
particular contexts and used to represent diverse realms of experience.
Symbolic categories work to remind participants of the formal purpose of
their ritual practices. (Traube, 1986).
Articles of attire symbolically differentiate the actors. The
sophmores do not wear robes, the seniors do not wear skirts and blouses.
Seniors do not wear white, Sophmores do not wear black. Among the
earliest symbols produced by man are those of black and white. These
colors represent products of the human body, white/semen, breast, milk;
black/excretia, death. But, according to Turner, these colors are also
associated with social relationships. White is linked to the mother-child
tie; and black is linked to transition from one social status to another
viewed as mystical death or as unity of the widest recognized group
sharing the same life values. (Turner, 1967).
Another cultural property of Sweet Briar thought is characterized by
the structure of positions held by the students at the college. This is
designated in the culturally recognized concept of degree of achieved rank,
as when speaking of Sophmore, Senior etc. The rights and obligations of
each are clearly defined. Traditionally, as in Lantern Bearing, these two
ranks of students have been ritually opposed. The Sophmores carry the
Seniors' lantern in a procession around the campus. They also dress in
white and the seniors wear their robes. There is a clear-cut category of
opposition. In the ritual at the Necropolis they are physically opposed.
Seniors stand on the North side of the ritual space, the Sophmores stand on
the South side. *(North/South opposition is another of those universal
symbols. In the context of the ritual I am describing I have been unable to
demonstrate its symbolic 'meaning'). What I can state, however,is that,
whatever the symbolic category, it works to remind participants of their
The sequence of words and acts are a means of communicating with the
'lineage ancestor'. The common ancestor is Daisy "in whose memory the
college was founded". The students 'represent' her, in the flesh. The
transition is achieved through the giving of the gift. There is a danger in
this contact between the living and the dead, so the ritual specialist
mediates the danger through the use of symbolic language: special prayers
to the dead in the form of The Founder's Prayer.
Once the sacrifice is made, the ambiguous liminal state, the realm that
has none of the attributes of the past or of the coming state, is over. The
last phase of the passage is now consummated and the ritual individuals,
the Senior and Sophmore Officers who represent the Sweet Briar student
body, are once more in a stable state and, by virtue of this, now have the
rights and obligations which are both clearly defined and "structural".
They are now expected to behave in accordance with certain customary
norms, values and ethical standards. ( Turner, 1967).
Their physical presence, in which they were ritually separated from the
congregation, is now completed, and they proceed to re-enter the group as
they mark the procession out of the Necropolis.
May Day: The History and Ritual Performance at Sweet Briar
From the time in 1907 when the first thirty-six girls went in and out
the doors of Sweet Briar House to crown their Queen of the May in the
boxwood circle before its galleries, May Day, with its attendant crowning
of the May Queen, became as much a part of Sweet Briar tradition as her
boxwoods and Sweet Briar House. Each year the interpretation of how to
celebrate May Day underwent some change, but the scene, including what
was once Elijah Fletcher's ice pond and is now the decorative pool in the
dell used for the pageant, the periwinkle that blooms blue beneath the box
bushes and the lilac hedges, remained the same. (Glass, P. 5).
As the school grew, the court and pageant became increasingly more
elaborate. There appears to be evidence that the first May Queens were
chosen by the previous ones. We can try to picture the first May Day, the
girls in their freshly starched lawn dresses, and compare it to the most
splendid ones with ladies in gowns of the latest fashion. The flowers
which had been gathered in the woods, violets, azaleas and dogwood,
changed to arranged bouquets bought from the florist. The earliest
festivals were led by a 'haughty' peacock into the boxwood circle, but
because of the tremendous increase in the numbers watching the pageant,
it became necessary to hold the fete in the dell. The tradition of crowning
the May Queen, the fairest maid in the village", who receives the
admiration and homage of the 'revellers'. ( Sweet Briar News, May 5, 1965),
was one of the features of the fete which remained constant. Dancing
around the Maypole adorned with flowers was probably the most
conspicuous feature of the Sweet Briar festivities, and that too. continued
as part of the custom.
The central ritual event that I am looking at in this paper is the
coronation of the May Queen. The purpose of looking at the coronation is
that it is the organizing and central symbol of the tradition.
There is a consistent order of events that appears at each May Day
coronation. The Queen's "subjects' have a procession to the area (Boxwood
Circle or West or East Dell) than they form an aisle, down the center of
which the Queen passes, preceded by her court. She ascends the dais and
sits on her flower-bedecked throne, surrounded by her court and subjects.
A garland, scepter and crown are presented to her by the three loveliest
maidens in the court and then the Queen speaks a few words of welcome to
her 'loyal subjects'. After her address she is entertained by the dancing of
her subjects around the Maypole. ( Briar Patch, 1918). She sits facing her
subjects, who surround her, sitting on the grassy slopes of the dell, or in
the first few fetes, on the veranda of Sweet Briar House.
The following descriptions of May Day are taken from many sources:
newspapers, yearbooks, videocassettes, films, magazines, books,
interviews etc. I have not had the opportunity to see the traditional May
Day pageant and coronation at Sweet Briar first hand because it was
discontinued in 1969 by a vote of the students. I was able to view a film
of the Fete, taken sometime in the 1920's, but because of its condition I
could not view it for extensive periods of time. There are also a few
'clips' of May Day pageants and coronations among the videocassettes used
by the Admissions Office, but other than numerous photographs, which are
not readily available, there really is no reliable visual documentation of
What I have done in the following pages was to assemble a number of
descriptions of the fete and rewrite them in such a way that they would be
useful for further analysis. I have attempted to supply as much detail as
possible in these descriptions so that in many cases they are a
compilation of multiple sources. The major source for the majority of
these descriptions was the Briar Patch, the Sweet Briar College year book,
so frequently the citation given after the description is solely its. It is
exceedingly difficult to do 'justice' to the extravagance of the fete in
descriptive prose. I therefore have assembled a small collection of copies
of the original photographs of May Queens from different years,
photographs of the pageants, as well as copies of water colors of the
costumes worn by the entire faculty, student body and community in the
May Day celebration of 1937. I have also included copies of programs, the
theme readily apparent by the pictures included, and in the ones from the
1950's- there was an attempt to design unique ones, some cut into figures
depicting the theme. They are hereby included with this paper for visual
verification of the ornateness of the festival.
The annual May Day Festival at Sweet Briar College is held in the
loveliest seeting for an outdoor festival in all of the South. The century
old Virginia plantation which is now a college campus boasts over 3000
acres of fields, wooded hills, rolling lawns, bounded by rare shrubs and
boxwoods. The Queen, selected by the students for academics as well as
for beauty, holds court within this setting of charm and beauty. Her
grassy stage, close by Sweet Briar House looks over vast acres of hills and
fields until the Blue Ridge beyond.
Shut into these stately boxhedges, an expectant audience assembles in
the afternoon of May Day to await the queen's coming. Laughing voices in
the distance announce the arrival of the Queen of May and her court. "How
strange in contrast to the lonely years of the past! Perhaps the boxwood
circle remembers those years of a mother's solitary grief, out of which
came the happy present—a college in memory of a beloved daughter."
( Harper's Bazaar. J uly. 1916).
The original 36 girls held their first May Court in the Boxwood circle
in 1907 with the girls wearing their freshly starched lawn dresses and
Carrying flowers: violets and azaleas, which they had gathered in the
neighboring woods and fields. "Only the people on campus were present
for", we are told, "the roads were bad".
The queen wore a pretty dress of white organdie and lace, made
especially for the occasion. Most of the other girls wore white summer
dresses with "high bloused waists, and full, flowing skirts that brushed
the grass." The small line of white dressed girls, wound their way across
the campus with their queen at their head. They went in and out the
boxwood circle with the two Sweet Briar peacocks very much a part of the
procession. "In fact they seemed to think they were the whole show as
they strutted after the queen." Once the queen took her place upon the
flowery throne, the male peacock spread his tail before her and "rivalled
her in the attention he received." Standing around the throne, her subjects
waved branches of white dogwood aloft while they sang inspired songs to
their queen. Then they crowned her with flowers and presented her with a
scepter of daisies. The maypole, decorated with streamers in pink and
green, stood in the center of Boxwood circle and as it was wound, Queen
Anne's subjects sang:
"Gaily now we twine the Maypole
With our colors rose and green
Singing merrrily to springtime
To fair springtime and our Queen."
(Sweet Briar News. A pril. 1928).
In 1909 heralds were added to the May Court and it became a more
elaborate affair. That was also the year that the first pageant was held.
Interestingly enough, it was Robin Hood. As the years passed it became
the custom for May Day to be celebrated on the first Friday in May. The
festival was divided into two parts: the coronation and May Pole dance in
the boxwood circle, and the pageant in the West Dell. At the beginning it
was not necessary to be a Senior to be the Queen of the May but gradually
it became the custom to have only senior as May Queens and as honor girls.
May Day, 1909, The Queen delivered the following speech of welcome
to her assembled subjects'.
"My faithful subjects and my May Day court, and you friends, all who have
crowned and garlanded me with flowers to be your Queen of May, I thank
you and I ask your help that I may be a Queen worthy to wear your rose and
your crown. And you, blithe company, who are gathered at our Court of
May, I bid you welcome. By virtue of my crown, my garland, and my May
Day sceptre, I give to you my royal command, "Be merry, I pray you, and fill
with gladness all my reign of this May Day."
The Queen, bedecked with her insignia of royalty, her garland and sceptre,
and clad in her royal robes of office, a vision of truly wondrous beauty, sat
surrounded by her beautiful maidens and witnessed the spectacle of the
twining of the maypole. Singing the song as they twined in rose and
green, and dancing about it as they did. But this was not enough, they must
do something more to honor their Queen. So, when the dancing was done
she, and her court, were conducted to a dais in the west dell. Here she sat,
surrounded by her beautiful maidens and witnessed the spectacle of the
pageant: Robin Hood and his Merrrie Men "who had consented to honor the
coronation with their presence." Then, with the lovely dell as a
background, they presented a play, which so delighted the Queen that Robin
Hood with all his men was invited to accompany her when she returned to
The joyous day ended with the greatest, most royal of banquets. ( Briar
Fete in Honor of the Queen of May
Procession of the Queen's subjects to the Box Circle
The Coming of the queen and her Court
The Coronation of the 'queen
Dancing before the Queen and her Court
Procession to the May Pole, led by the Queen
May Pole Dance on the Green ( Briar Patch. 1914, 1915).
On a gray and rather breezy afternoon, the old garden, blooming rather
prematurely, displayed a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers. In the distance
the sound of voices, happily announcing the May Day Fete, could be heard.
Gradually the boxwood circle became filled with the subjects who
sauntered about until, quite suddenly, the music began. Instantly the
"blossoms' formed an aisle, faces turned expectantly in one direction.
Slowly the procession of girls, dressed in multi-hued dresses, strewed
flowers in the path of the Queen. She appeared: A delicate flower, the fair
Queen of the May! Graciously bowing and smiling at her subjects, she sat
on the flowery throne. The coronation was held, she bade all welcome and
ordered them to be merry. Dancers appeared, and with skipping feet and
smiling faces, danced before the Queen's throne. The May pole was wound
unwound, braided and unbraided~all for her pleasure. When all was
finished, the Queen rose and between aisles of her court and subjects, she
passed out under the flowery arches. ( Briar Patch. 1914)
An expectant hush fell over the large audience assembled on the steps
of Sweet Briar House as the words "With roses, red roses ", heralded the
coming of the May Queen of 1916. The singing girls, clad in flowing
Greecian gowns, formed into two lines to make a path for her to walk
through. First came the court, with slow, measured steps, and finally,
with her adoring subjects courtseying before her, came the Queen. The
crowd went wild with enthusiasm as she passed through their ranks.
After her crowning, there were songs and dances for her pleasure. She
passed again through the double file of girls and thus, ended the first part
of the May Day celebration (Briar Patch. 1916).
In 1927, following a fire of catastrophic proportions at Sweet Briar
House, the entire May Day Festival was moved to the West Dell. Up to that
time, the increasing crowds of people, threatening the safety of the porch
and roof of Sweet Briar House, had been admitted to the coronation only by
ticket. Once the ticket system had been abandoned, the grounds were
opened up to all visitors.
The Queen of the May was crowned at the annual May Day festival
which was held in the Dell on the afternoon of May 6. The procession began
at 3:30 when the heralds announced the coming of the court to the strains
of the May Queen song. The heralds were dressed in white satin, had ruffs
about their necks and carried white trumpets. The ladies of the court
were all dressed in green and yellow chiffon with matching sandals and
short shirred chiffon jackets with puffed sleeves. After the heralds came
the flower girls, dressed in yellow and green, carrying bouquets of roses.
After them came the ladies of the court, carrying bouquets of spring
flowers. They were followed by the Honor Girls: the Scepter bearer, and
Maid of Honor, the Crown bearer. As the Maid of Honor took her place with
the others, the May Queen approached her court. She was dressed in white
satin with a matching jacket. Her satin train with a wide inset of lace
down the center was attached to her shoulders and was carried by her
page. The page was dressed in a white satin costume similar to the
heralds'. As she passed between the lines of her court they curtseyed in
her honor. The May Queen, carrying a large bouquet of white orchids,
reached her throne. Her court then took their places about their Queen. She
received her crown, scepter and garland and then greeted them with words
of welcome. Then followed the dancing about the May Pole and a pageant in
her honor. ( Sweet Briar News. Mau 12, 1932).
Probably the most elaborate of all May Days was held in 1937 when the
entire campus was turned into an English green of the Elizabethan era with
lords, ladies, merchants and peasants strolling about. Costumes were
particularly attractive, bright, and so far as possible, authentic Nearly
the entire Sweet Briar community was involved in the program. Reports
following the festival declared it as 'the most outstanding May Day in the
history of the college." ( Sweet Briar News, flau 5, 1937).
The entrance of the royal procession to the sound of a fanfare of
trumpets, was hailed with applause from the 'villagers'. First came the
twenty pages in formation followed by two heralds in shining white satin
and plumed hats. Following them were the ladies of the court, beautifully
gowned in velvets and brocades. Their dresses were nearly alike in the
style of the period— full skirts and big sleeves with high upstanding
collars. Each of the ladies carried a bouguet which harmonized with the
color of her dress. Then came the gueen who wore a period dress of deep
cream and gold. She carried a white bouquet and her purple velvet train
was borne by a page in white satin. The attendants had formed a double
line, and as the gueen passed, each attendant curtseyed. After ascending
the throne her ladies surrounded her and knelt during the coronation.
( Sweet Briar News. May 5, 1937).
Among the elegant ladies gathered to see the festivities were Miss
Dutton and Miss Glass (faculty and President of the college). Miss Glass
was described as being in white skirt and black bodice, each decorated
with large painted flowers. The lace collar and cuffs matched her 'piece
de resistance', a henna wig! Miss Dutton was in a lovely dress of pale blue
satin combined with a deeper shade of velvet. The dress had a full skirt
with double puffed sleeves. Not to be outdone, Dr Connor was very dashing
in his cape and big hat with flowing plume. Honors went to Mr. Finch in his
yellow and black jester's suit. ( Sweet Briar News. May 5, 1937).
In 1938, a student wrote a letter to the editor of the Sweet Briar
News, requesting that the selection process for the May Court be changed.
Instead of having "four opinions to represent four hundred", perhaps they
should examine the possibility of electing the new members of the May
Court. The student, did acknowledge that in spite of the unfair way the
"school"s best looking girls" were being selected, they usually did a
pretty good job. ( Sweet Briar News, January 19,1938). Apparently, this
idea became a reality, for in 1948 the recently elected members of Sweet
Briar's May Court were tapped. In fact, the article goes on, it was so soon
after dinner that "the first few beauties called upon were still in the
Refectory eating pink ice cream!". Their excited classmates cheered and
squealed as the girls % names were announced. There were freshmen and
sophmore pages and junior and senior members of the court. This method
of electing the girls by their own classes was new in 1948. It was agreed
that to have an election was a more satisfactory way of choosing them
"and the results are a bevy of beauties that will make the advent of Spring
at SBC even more welcome than ever. ( Sweet Briar News, March 3, 1948).
In February of 1949 the election of the May Queen was held amidst the
"presence of general havoc", and a parade across the stage of
upperclassmen who aspired to be Queen of the May. Some of them were
quite in jest, as there appeared a person with a plunger! The observers
shouted as their favorite candidates walked. There were nominations and
the race got underway. The field of nominees decreased as the voting went
on but finally there were only two nominees left. Once the final voting
took place, everyone arrayed themselves along the path between "the
Chapel to the Arcade". One girl suddenly came forth from Manson wearing
"the invisible crown of Queen of the May" and on her shoulder she wore a
corsage of white gardenias. The rest of the throng screamed as the
"Queen" ran her Marathon. ( Sweet Briar News. F ebuaru 17, 1949).
At a traditional" election for May Queen held in 1956, seniors went
dressed in costumes "ranging from queens to witches." ( Sweet Briar News.
March 14, 1956). She was elected by the entire student body. Her crown
bearer was elected at the same election.
The entire senior class paraded into Manson Hall costumed in
"everything from the new chemise to the Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse". Nominations for May Queen began and after the third ballot
the student body lined up outside from Manson to the Refectory arcade.
"According to Sweet Briar tradition the May Queen and her crown bearer
are first known when they run past this line." ( Sweet Briar News. M arch
Seniors, dressed in their "traditionally unorthodox costumes"
entertained the student body during the Student Government meeting as
they elected the May Queen and Crown bearer. ( Sweet Briar News. Februaru
"The entire student body votes for the May Queen and although a girl
must have a 1.5 credit ratio to qualify, the election is unabashedly on the
basis of beauty."' ( Washington Post. Mau 5, 1963).
The films I viewed of May Day demonstrated the elaborateness of the
festival. One film in particular, taken during the 1920's, displayed the
entire procession and coronation. The Honor Court entered the West Dell
after the audience had arrived and walked between them as they formed
two adjacent rows, down the center of which they passed, followed by the
Queen. The Court, were dressed in very fancy matching long gowns. There
was a great deal of lace and all were made of very gauzy material. They all
carried bouquets of roses and they strew rose petals on the path as they
walked. The rose petals were in fabric bags made out of the same fabric
as their dresses. The Honor attendants came next, dressed in matching
gowns, very fancy and long, their gowns differed from the girls in the
Honor Court only in the degree of extravagance. At the end of the
procession came the Queen, her long train carried by a page. The Queen
smiled upon the audience as she went past, then stepped onto the platform
upon which her throne stood. ( The coronation was very difficult to see, as
the film was in rather poor condition) It appears as if the Queen was
handed a scepter and crown by one of her Honor attendants. After the
Coronation, costumed dancers performed a Maypole Dance. A group of
horsemen rode through the dell on horseback. The pageant held in the
Queen's honor consisted of a variety of dancing. All of the dancing was
done in front of the ornately decorated platform on which the queen and
her court sat. The audience observing the pageant was sitting on the grass
facing the queen and court.
The intent of this paper was to describe the May Day festival as it was
celebrated at Sweet Briar College in the years 1907-1969. Very little
description of the festival, after the early 1940's, can be found. There are
annual articles in the newspaper reporting the events but the emphasis
was on the dance that followed the pageant. The year books contain photos
of the May Queen and her Court, but there is little, if any data describing
Throughout the 1960's there were editorials, articles and letters to the
editor in the Sweet Briar News requesting changes in the traditional May
Day weekend. The Sophmores, the class who was responsible for
organizing the entire event, came in for the most criticism. They were
accused of "lacking imagination" (1969), but this apparently was not a
problem unique to Sweet Briar. Hollins college, "sisters in Southern
womanhood" to Sweet Briar, held a similar 'fete de printemps', but in 1969
they questioned the affair "as having more or less gone to pot." ( Sweet
Briar News. May 16, 1969). The major entertainment was now concerts in
the dell and formal dances.
Symbolic Categories of May Day
The category of thought to which May Day belongs is one in which the
arrival of spring is ushured in with a celebration. It is a rite which
conforms to the season. May Day is spring, rejuvenation, it is a rite of
rebirth of vegetation and fertility. There is an expectation of rebirth
According to Van Gennep, rites of passage are also found in ceremonies
pertaining to the seasons which fall at the time of summer and winter
solstice as well as at the spring and fall equinoxes. The expulsion of
winter is often a rite of separation, and bringing spring into the
community becomes a rite of incorporation. (Van Gennep, 1960). No longer
is winter to be dreaded, spring is here, trees and flowers are a'bloom, and
the campus resembles a setting in which the stage, the massive boxwood
bushes surrounding Sweet Briar House, is surrounded by flowering
dogwood, lilac and sweet briar roses. Not far off are the foot-hills of the
Blue Ridge mountains which, added to the area in which the coronation
takes place, adds a note of beauty and charm to the event. ( Harper's Bazaar,
The procession into the boxwood gardens by the court and queen mark a
separation from the secular world to the sacred. This area is a direct rite
of passage by which one world is left behind and a new one is entered.
(This area is the ritual center of the cult) The actors are separated from
the world by special clothes They have left theirs in the secular/ordinary
world and are wearing extraordinary clothes. The clothing worn by the
queen is always white. The symbolic meaning of white is usually in
opposition to black but in this ritual no one wears black. The symbolic
dualism in the ritual is inherent within the color itself. White symbolizes
purity, something new and good, virginity, life, health, and fertility. The
color white has universally been associated both with semen and milk,
thus the contradiction within the color symbolism of purity/fecundity.
Another aspect of the white symbolism is the nature of the relationship
between persons which it represents. White represents cohesion. The
deity is depicted wearing white robes. It is he who orders the universe
and keeps it whole. Whiteness, as light, streams forth from the divinity:
the light of knowledge. "Whiteness or purity is in some respects identical
with the legitimate incumbency of a socially recognized status. To behave
in a way that transgresses the norms of that status constitutes impurity."
(Turner, P. 77). It is also the color of "non-pollution", freedom from
defilement, unsullied. This quality of freedom from defilement has both a
ritual or moral character. As when someone says, "that was white of you",
meaning that was good of you, or when a girl is a virgin, she is ritually
Water is regarded as white because it is what is used to clean the body
of dirt, but, according to Turner, it symbolically washes away impurities
inherent in a social status which one is leaving behind. Universally, people
are washed and given white clothes as they return to society after being
secluded as initiates Behind all of this symbolism lies the notion of
harmony, purity, the manifest, appropriate and legitimate, and unified.
There is also a radical opposition in the person of the queen and the
symbol of the queen as representing the entire student-body. She is an
elected queen whose role is simultaneously religious and political. The
queen is both a natural symbol of the authority of the community and a
symbolic queenship, the nature of which is represented most clearly in the
rituals surrounding her installation. The Queen is ritually separated from
her profane state in the procession through the students to the sacred area
where she then ascends a dais which raises her above the rest, and is,
therefore, in a transient state and is not in either realm. She is isolated
and must be incorporated into the sacred realm. She is then given the
"sacra", the scepter and crown, which incorporates her into the sacred
realm. The dominant symbols of the coronation are the scepter and the
crown. In all of the May Day rituals I examined this was the common rite.
The crown and scepter creates an analagous sacred bond and are two signs
of incorporation with the sacred. There is widespread use of the 'sacred
bond" a ring is used in the rite of marriage, a crown in the rite of
investiture. *l am lacking the language used in the actual ritual during the
incorporation, due, of course, to the absence of any details on this portion
of the activity. I can only hazard a guess as to what was actually said but
all of the ethnographies which I have read on the subject assume a 'speech'
of some kind which calls upon the deity/the sacred realm. Based on that
evidence I would imagine that in the giving of the sacra and the placing of
the crown a similar invocation was done. Just who said the words I have
not been able to ascertain. The films I viewed did show that it was
someone in costume.
The entire ritual was enacted in stages which began with a rite of
separation from the profane, continued with rites of incorporation into the
sacred and ended with rites through which the queen took possession of
the sacred and terrestrial realms. (Van Gennep, 1960).
Symbolic structures are grounded in particular forms of social
organization. In the ritual performed in 1937 this was physically obvious.
There were categories of commoners/royalty which were congruent with
the social structure and these categories even had a spatial division. The
commoners sat on the grass facing the dais, the royalty sat surrounding
their queen. The categories of thought at Sweet Briar are confirmed in the
ritual. Once the ritual subject, the Queen, is in a stable state, she has
rights and obligations which are structural and she is expected to act in a
clearly defined way that is in accord with certain customary norms and
values. (Turner, 1967). The entire pageant is arranged for the Seniors by
the Sophmores. The Seniors are the court, the Sophmores, the entertainers
who perform after the coronation for the pleasure of the queen and court.
If there is not to be anarchy, the individuals who make up Sweet Briar
society must be reminded, at least symbolically, of the underlying order
that is supposed to guide their social activity. Ritual performances have
this function for the groups who participate. Representations reinforce
social integration, legitimatize society's norms by providing divine
sanctions for behavior that society defines as normative. Periodically,
they bring people together for ritual activities that strengthen their
feeling of unity.
The sets of cultural ideas and the interrelationships of statuses within
the structure which I have been analyzing in this paper, are not
free-floating, adopted at random. Ideas exist in a social context, they are
patterned by and are reflections of the social structure in which they
exist. Sweet Briar society is an empirical reality which exists as a
spatial and temporal entity. Sweet Briar students realize they are
members of a single social system and are bound together by a shared life
style, shared values and customs. This system is an aggregate of units; it
has structure consisting of the relations between people who hold
statuses in these units. (Middleton, P. 231). In one respect, culture
consists of a set of ideas about the "correct" distribution of power
between persons and groups of persons. The lorm is a cultural form; the
expression is ritual expression. (E R. Leach).
Structural relations are legitimated by religious beliefs. These
beliefs are congruent with certain elements of the social structure. The
ritual re-enacts and situates people in social activity which confirms
social structure and social relationships. Moral authority is imposed on
relationships so that the social system is legitimated.
The distribution of authority at Sweet Briar College is expressed in
terms of seniority, which is, in theory, based upon differences in both age
and rank. The distinguishing feature of the Sweet Briar community of
students is an internal differentiation of roles with respect to authority.
The 'ordinary' students are distinguished from the students who carry
responsibility and have been elected by the other students to fulfill these
positions of authority. (Weber, 1947)
The exercise of authority is part of the structure of the group and is
arranged hierarchically. In Sweet Briar it is exercised between ranks of
students. They recognize this in the terminology used: Freshmen,
Sophmore, Junior, Senior. Only Seniors may wear black robes to the
Founders Day Ceremony, while sophmores wear white dresses. Only
Freshmen may sew pockets inside of Senior's robes. Clearly I do not know
why they do this anymore than I know why they wear buttons on their
senior robes. What I do know is that it has symbolic significance and is a
statement about their statuses The stability of Sweet Briar's social
order is sometimes enforced by sanctions as it does not always rest on
custom. (Johnson, 1986). A student with authority, for example, a Senior
over a Freshman, can insist that the Freshman not be allowed to walk
through the "Senior Doors" or she will be made to scrub the bricks in
front of the doors with a toothbrush".
Cult of the Dead
Sacrifice renews the social order; it does not change it. The cult of
the dead operates to resolve conflict, to sustain authority and to validate
changes in its distribution. (Middleton, 1960). At ritual, and especially by
the making of the ritual address, The Founders Prauer. the experience that
is accepted by all members of the group, including the dead, is formally
The sacred area where the ritual address is made is a place of power
which contrasts with the neatness of the surrounding campus. The
connection between God and the Founders is clear. The prayer itself is
both collective as well as formal and there is a confidence in the
omnipotence of the sacred speech as well as in the deity addressed. The
power of God is called upon to act on their behalf. The speech is the most
important part of the ritual; without the speech there can be no sacrifice.
The Founder's Prayer, the ritual address, made by the ritual specialist,
the chaplain, was written specifically for this rite:
"Almighty and Eternal God, We Remember Before Thee This Day
the Founders of this College, Indiana Fletcher Williams
and the Reverend James Henry Williams
We thank thee for their inspired vision and for their ideal of service,
And We Remember Also Daisy Williams,
In Whose Memory this College Was Founded.
May Countless Generations of Students have cause to call her Blessed.
May her life, so brief here, have its perfect fulfillment in thy eternal
Kingdom. And may life perpetual shine upon them all.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen."
In this address to the deity, the reference to God is in the opening and
last phrases, thus providing a kind of framework, which, in the middle
section, refers to the founders. The placing of this reference to the
transcendent being is indicative of the values of Sweet Briar society.
The members of the Sweet Briar community have a cultural construct
of a two level universe; one that is occupied by the living and another that
is occupied by the dead. This classification is manifested in the concepts
of heaven and earth. The living occupy a place on earth but when one dies,
one's spirit ascends to a heavenly realm. This notion also incorporates the
idea of a supra-empirical power, a creator of both heaven and earth, which
is embodied within an all knowing deity. The central postulate of Sweet
Briar religious belief is the fundamental dichotomy and opposition
between the world of the living and the world of the dead. (Rigby, 1966,
1969). The structure of Sweet Briar religious belief is a universal
problem, as Leach states: (1964, P.38-39):
"Religious belief is everywhere tied in with the discrimination between
living and dead. Logically, life is simply the binary antithesis of death;
the two concepts are the opposite sides of the same penny; we cannot have
one without the other. But religion always tries to separate the two. To do
this, it creates a hypothetical "other world" which is the antithesis of
"this world". In this world, life and death are inseparable; in the other
world they are separate. This world ins inhabited by imperfect mortal
men; the other world in inhabited by immortal nonmen (gods). The
category god is thus constructed as the binary antithesis of man. But this
is inconvenient. ...To be useful, gods must be near at hand, so religion sets
about reconstructing a continuum between this world and the other world."
To the Sweet Briar community God is the central notion. Not only is
there a reference to God but to Jesus Christ as well which implies a
specific religious commitment. The idea of an omnipotent deity and his
sacred son is a category of thought in Sweet Briar society: the idea of an
obligation, collectively and individually, to carry out Gods will on earth,
is, (Bellah, P. 76), for the community of Sweet Briar, deeply held. God
himself is directly at work instructing his people, through his son, in his
works. God does not come into contact with people but he enters into a
system of authority as the omnipotent, ultimate source of authority. What
does that mean in Sweet Briar thought? What does it mean that God is the
source of the ultimate authority?
In the prayer, the Founders, Indiana Fletcher Williams and James Henry
Williams are being remembered by the community for their "ideal of
service and inspired vision" for the founding of the college in Daisy's
memory. There appears to be a fundamental legitimacy being sought for
the founding of the college within this sacred realm. Mot only is Daisy
named but there is a request to call her blessed. Only God is capable of
doing this. Blessed is a category of thought which lies within the heavenly
realm and speaks to an intimate relation with the divine. "A person who
has been beatified receives the title of Blessed" ( Oxford Dictionary of the
Christian Church, p. 146). Daisy, the child of the Williams' is now in God's
eternal kingdom, heaven, and the college, on earth, in her memory, is the
living symbol within the secular world. The Founder's Prayer re-affirms
the religious legitmation of the college. The main part of the ritual, the
prayer, concerns itself with the relationship between the living and the
dead, particularly Daisy. This same relationship is expressed and
reflected in the relationships of the students and is legitimated by the
sacred realm. Sweet Briar beliefs about their secular world validate
their ritual and secular behavior in the sense that they provide an ideal of
their society. (Middleton, 1960). Their ideal is an orderly distribution of
authority. All interests as individuals are subordinated to the moral order
of society. The moral values of Sweet Briar are sustained in the cult of the
Once the prayer is given, the offering of the sacrifice, the flowers, the
exchange contract between the students and the deity, all become
members of a single, undifferentiated body in which individual interests
are transcended toward a single common end. There is a collective action
in the sacrifice. The Seniors who offer sacrifice are representatives of
the entire student body, so that by the performance they are performing a
corporate act. The sacrifice creates moral reality and existentially the
community is ideally re-created. The sacrifice is made for the whole
community and is a social act
May Day: Rite of Passaye
The traditional Hay Day was also a collective, ritual performance.
The May Day ritual as performed at Sweet Briar in the years from 1907 to
1969, has several meanings which can be inferred from the symbolic
patterns and behavior of the actors. Symbolically, the social status of the
actors is confirmed in the doing of the ritual and the formal intent, to
celebrate the arrival of spring, which is represented by the Queen of the
May, is analagous to a rite of passage .
Durkheim wrote "primitive religions hold to reality and express it. One
must learn to go underneath the symbol to the reality which it represents
and which gives it its meaning. No religions are false, all answer, though,
in different ways, to the given conditions of human existence.'* (Durkheim,
1954, p. 2-3). Ritual symbols refer to what is normative, general and
characteristic of unique individuals. Thus, Sweet Briar symbols refer to
the basic needs of social existence and to shared values on which their
communal life depends, ( i.e., respect for status ranking).
For a woman to become a Queen, to pass from one category to another,
an act which is extraordinary, calls for a ceremony or ritual which is
derived from the sacred realm. The incompatibility between these
categories is so great that she would not be able to pass from one to the
other without going through a transition or liminal stage. This transition
stage is enveloped within the ritual context and involves actions and
reactions between the sacred and profane —actions which are highly
prescribed, so that no one will suffer and there will be no danger. (Van
Gennep,1960). Sacredness is not an absolute value but is brought about by
the nature of the particular situation. For Sweet Briar's May Queen to pass
from one category to another she must submit to a ceremony where she
stands alone, apart from the group, to separate and then be reunited.
One aspect of the process of ritual symbolization for the community at
Sweet Briar, is to make visible, audible, and tangible beliefs, ideas,
values, sentiments that cannot be directly perceived. Associated with
this process of revealing the unknown, or the hidden is the process of
making public what is private or making social what is personal. (Turner,
The Ring Game: Ritual Performance
The Ring Game is also a collective, ritual performance, but its purpose
is to enact another order. The Ring Game is one of those Sweet Briar
traditions whose origins lie buried in the past history of the school. At
their last class banquet, the final senior banquet, all of the members of
the class who were engaged, 'ran around the table'. ( Sweet Briar News.
uuiie i, i^jj;. inSlBaQ 01 uie niiy yaiiib 10 ainiuuiiuc Well eiiyaQeiii&Mib,
the senior girls evidently got up from their chairs at the banquet and ran
counterclockwise around the table while the other girls remained seated.
( Sweet Briar News. J une. 1969).
The present ring game is played whenever a senior wishes to announce
her engagement to the rest of her class. The game is played in front of the
senior stairs at 1 2: 1 5. There is much camaraderie as everyone waits for
the President of the Senior Class, who took the ring the night before, to
place it on the ribbons. In the ring game described in 1977, 50 seniors
took part. The ring, whose ownership is kept secret, is sent around three
times on two ribbons, one pink, one green, held by the other seniors. The
first time it goes around slowly, the second, fast, the third, hand to hand
and then the ribbon is cut by the ring's owner. There is much speculation
as to the owner, and there is much excitement. Everyone looks at it as it
passes and admires the stone. After the first circuit, everyone sang,
"Gonna Get Married". The second circuit, the ring is not touched by anyone.
It is slid quickly around, forcing everyone to raise and lower the ribbons.
1 tie (.1111 u l 11 lui (., uie 1 11 iy is pabseu 1 1 uiii naiiu iu naiiu, eaCii seinui iiuiuiny
it in both hands. When it reaches the owner, she cuts the ribbon.
On October 12, 1977, there was a re-enactment of the ring game, but
with a 'twist'. The ring game is traditionally played on the opening day of
school, but that year, since it did not take place, a group of 20 seniors felt
that "the desire of most members for a game was sufficient reason to hold
one, fake or otherwise". Apparently other senior class members did not
share the group's enthusiasm and demanded a letter of apology. The girl
who had claimed to have been engaged was charged for the cost of the
ribbon and for the paper and ink used to make the signs advertising the
game. ( Sweet Briar News. October 2 1 , 1977).
In the notes of the preceding event kept by Dr. G. Berg and kindly lent
to me for this research, he noted that the officers of the senior class who
were not involved in the hoax were not upset by the violation of the
tradition, but by the fact that they were left out of the joke, so that the
perpetrators had undermined the solidarity of the class. One of them even
suggested doing the ring game hoax annually provided all seniors were
involved in it. As a final note Dr. Berg noted that 'class' as a group, was
more an issue than "traditionalists" versus "iconoclastic moderns".
On September 24, 1987 I witnessed a Ring Game in the Sweet Briar-
quadrangle. It began with an announcement in the dining hall at 12N that
"there would be a ring game in the quad at 12:15". A group of students
mingled in front of the 'Golden Stairs' in front of the Pannell Center until
the Senior Class President, holding two rolls of ribbon, one green, the
other pink, passed the ribbons around to the senior 'girls' standing in a
circle. The circle was fairly large, at least thirty, and there was an
audience of underclassmen behind them observing the game. Once everyone
held the ribbons, they were joined by the Senior Class President, who
"threaded the ribbons' through the engagement ring. She then released the
ring and it was passed counter- clock wise around the circle, each girl
h a n d 1 i n g i t . a d m i ri n g i t a n d m a k i n g pie a s a n trie s a b o u t i t s size , w h e t h e r 1 1
was 'nice', 'sweet', simple, or 'to the point.' When it got back to the
President, the string was raised, lowered and shaken, so that the ring was
moved countercheck -wise around the circle without anyone touching it
u n til it g o t b a c k t o t hi e Preside n t o f t h e S e n i o r C 1 a s s . T h e t h i r d 1 1 m e i t
was sent around everyone asked "whose is it", "I wonder whose ring it is?"
Once it got to the person who owned it, she cut the ribbon. There was
much hugging, clapping, and congratulations.
The person who is en gaged, who wants to announce her engagement via
a ring game, gives her ring to the class president prior to the ceremony.
Each year there is a great deal of competition to see who will be the first
person to have a ring game.
Symbolism of the Ring Game
The culture of Sweet Briar is something which all the students have
chosen to accept. It consists of shared symbols and meanings which are
widely shared throughout the group (although, in practice, it is not evenly
shared). The Ring Game is a really good example of this, in Sweet Briar
thought, marriage after college is the ideal. There is this notion which
alludes to the importance of a degree:
"Sweet Briar is a four-year independent college whose aim is to prepare
women to be active, responsible members of society A foundation in the
liberal arts is essential to this end. Study of the liberal arts enhances the
development of critical thought, leads to independence and allows the
mature adult to continue to learn long after leaving Sweet Briar..." (Sweet
Briar's Mission Statement, Students' Handbook. 1985-66, P. 9).
but afterwards one should seriously consider marriage.
The ideal of college life, to be part of the community at Sweet Briar,
would be problematic if marriage occurred during the four years a student
was in attendance. There is, in fact, a restriction against married
students living on campus. The Student's Handbook. 1985-86, the rules
governing the student body, carefully state:
"If a student enrolled in Sweet Briar College plans to marry before
graduation, she is requested to notify the Dean of Student Affairs of her
marriage plans at least a month in advance of the marriage...'' (p. 51).
A woman who graduated two years ago, Cynthia Wilboltz, assured me that
when she married while in her Junior year, she had to get 'dispensation' in
order to remain in the dorms her senior year.
The Ring Game is officially recognized to be only for seniors. The
Senior Class President, representing the entire Sweet Briar community, is
the person who places the ring on the ribbon. On the first trip around the
circle the ring is admired by the entire group. It is community property
but impersonal. The ring is the subject being admired. On the second
circuit around the group, no one touches the ring. The ribbons are lifted
high above the group in order that no one should touch it. This is the
liminal stage when the ring symbolically belongs to no one. On the last
circuit, the ring is once again handled but there is speculation as to its
owner. The ring becomes an object, the student becomes the subject. Once
the ring arrives at its owner, she cuts the ribbon, thereby cutting her
symbolic ties to the group.
This rite of passage , from group ownership to personal ownership,
although appearing to compete with the group's interests, actually aids in
supporting the group"s fundamental cultural category of marriage, and
ultimately reinforces the groups norms and values.
While I was collecting the data for my Senior Honor's thesis, I was
struck with the curiousity that in spite of the large number of slaves who
had lived on the Fletcher plantation in 1858, there was no documentation
as to the place where they were buried. I have a particular interest in
understanding the use of consecrated areas for the dead, so I began to
check the archival material once again but still was unable to come up
with any location. I then re-considered my problem and decided to do some
additional field-work. Note book in hand, I began to question several local
residents as to the whereabouts of the cemetery(ies). After several vain
attempts I met and questioned a "local" who informed me as to the exact
location of the slave cemeteries.
Imagine my chagrin when I was taken by this anonymous informant, to
a field, a pasture, in the middle of Sweet Briar College! The site was
being used both by the farm and the horse-riding program at the college.
There was a horse jump nailed to two trees, which, when jumped over, was
directly over one of the four remaining granite markers that had been used
to mark the grave sites My informant advised me that two years earlier,
when she had last visited the area, there had been six markers in that
space. Now there are four in place. A fifth one lies on its side inside of a
rotten tree trunk, as if it had been pulled from its original position and
thrown on the ground, out of the way from the animals that graze and
might otherwise injure themselves if they tripped over them.
I was very disturbed by the sheer negligence and uncaring attitude
displayed toward this site, which I consider to have special meanings and
should, I strongly believe, be marked off from ordinary commerce.
With this idea in mind I wrote the President of the College and
informed her of my findings. I also visited with the College Chaplain and
informed her She assured me that this was quite important and to pursue
it was a necessity. Within a week I received a written reply from the
President requesting that I contact the Vice President of the College,
since he was responsible for the physical plant. I made an appointment
with him and explained the situation. He asked me the location of the
cemetery and when I explained the location he agreed that he already knew
where it was as he had been shown it by the previous Vice President I
assured him that there was a very serious problem which needed to be
dealt with since these were people's graves which had been desecrated.
A very few days later I received another letter, this one from the Vice
President, requesting me to "identify the four corners (boundaries) of the
cemetery." I immediately advised him that I did not have the expertise or
the time to undertake this project but that I was acquainted with a very
reputable Archaeologist who would probably be interested in doing that. I
also received a note from the Director of the riding program requesting
that I phone him. I did so and he informed me that as soon as he had been
told about the cemetery he set about removing the horse jump. At the
same time he told me the location of another area that he believed had
also been used as a slave cemetery but was not marked off. I asked if he
would inform the Vice President as to it's location.
The Archaeologist was contacted and the work of marking off the
boundaries of this sacred area will now be done. (The second area,
overgrown with paradise trees, has also been located, and acknowledged to
be another gravesite. This area will also be marked off).
Since the beginning of this problem, I have received much
encouragement from the black community at the college, who feel, I am
told, that to honor the place where their families is buried is very
important and long overdue. I felt very humble and very embarassed at the
same time when I realized the emotional issue that I had been dealing
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Levi-Strauss, Claude The Raw and The Cooked. H arper and Row, New York,
(article) "The Story of Asdiwal" p. 1-47.
The Savage Mind University of Chicago Press, 1966.
Lienhardt, Godfrey Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka
Oxford University Press, 1961.
Mauss, Marcel The Gift WW. Norton and Company, New York, 1967.
Middleton, John Lugbara Religion: Ritual and Authority Among An East
African People Oxford University Press, London, 1960.
Needham, Rodney (article) "Right and Left in Nyoro Symbolic
Classification" Africa. 37 P. 299-33 1 .
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Edited by F.L. Cross and E. A.
Livingstone Oxford University Press, London, England, 1985.
Pannell, Anne Gary (article) "Talk to Lynchburg Antiquarian Society on
Sweet Briar House", P. 1-8, Feb., 3, 1954.
Richmond Times Dispatch, "May Day Customs", P. 8A April 27, 1952.
Rigby, Peter (article) "Gogo Rituals of Purification," P. 153-174.
"Symbolic Role of Cattle in Gogo Ritual: Dual
Symbolic Classification", Africa 36, P. 1-17, 1966.
Sapir, J. David "Kujaama: Diola-Fogny Symbolic Separation", American
Anthropologist p. 1330-1346, 1978.
(article! "Leper, hyena and blacksmith in Kujarnaat Diola
thought" American ethnologist. P. 526-543, Feb., 1961.
Smart, Ninian Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs.
Charles Scribners Sons, USA., 1983.
Stohlman, Martha Lou Lemmon The Storu of Sweet Briar. A lumnae
Association of Sweet Briar College, Princeton University
Press, Princeton, N.J. , 1956.
Stromberg, Peter G. Symbols of Community: the Cultural Sustem of a
Swedish Church University of Arizona Press, Tucson,
Suttle, Mary Elizabeth (article) "May Day Traditions". Sweet Briar College
Alumni News. P. 26-28, 1943.
Sweet Briar Magazine Vol. 1-14.
Sweet Briar College Student Handbooks. 1919-1987.
Sweet Briar News Vol. 1, 1927-May 1, 1980.
Sweet Briar College Seven Decades: 1901-1971.
Tambiah, S.J. (article) "The Magical Power of Words" Malinowski
Memorial Lecture, London School of Economics and Political
Science, Feb. 20, 1966.
Traube, Elizabeth G. Cosmology and Social Life, the Ritual Exchange among
the Members of East Timor. The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, 1986.
Tumbull, Colin M. (article) "The Nature of Reality" Claude Levi Strauss.
The Anthropologist as Hero, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.,
Turner, Victor W., The Drums of Affliction: study of religious processes
among the Ndembu of Zambia. Cornell University Press,
The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual.
Cornell University Press, 1967.
The Ritual Process Aldine Publishing Co., Chicago, 1966.
Van Gennep, Arnold The Rites of Passage University of Chicago Press,
Von Briesen, Martha (article) "Elijah Fletcher, Citizen of Lynchburg",
Lynchburg Historical Society Musuem, Vol 7, No. 2, 1970.
tu^ Waohinntnn Dn<<< "M«., r\~.." m~.. c ir>£-7 n m i a
i lie Yvasniiitjiuii rusi i lay uay i my j, i ?uj, r. z^>, z<-t.
Weber, Max The Sociology of Religion Beacon Press, Boston, 1963.
The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Oxford
University Press, NY., Inc., 1947.
Williams, Daisy "September, 1667-January, 1864" Sweet Briar College,
A Memorial published in commemoration of the 50th
anniversary of the death of Daisy Williams.
Wilson, Monica Hunter (article) "Witch Beliefs and Social Structure", P.
Films of May Day, Videocassette of Founders' Day
Executive Committee Meetings Minutes: Vol. 1, 2, 5, 6, 7,8, 9
Reports of Committess for Founders" Day and May Day
Chaplain's files for Founders' Day service
Diaries of Daisy Williams
Copies of Court House Records, Deeds
Magazine articles in files with no names or dates
Newspaper articles in files with no names or uai.es
Diaries, no legible names
Sweet Briar Museum records
Interviews with staff, faculty and students
Fig. 1 : Map of Sweet Briar, 1902
Fig. 2: Sweet Briar House
Fig. 3: Parlor in Sweet Briar House, decorated with furniture from late
19th, early 20th century.
Fig. 4: Daisy's harp
Fig. 5: Daisy's garden
Fig. 6: Daisy's garden plan
Fig. 7: Boxwood Circle
Fig. 8: Map of Sweet Briar with Monument Hill
Fig. 1-23: May Day Queens, Pageants and Programs
Fig. 1-20: Costumes designed specifically for May Day, 1937
Fig. 21-23: Program for May Day, 1937
Fig. 24-25: Pictures with description, May Day, 1937
Fig. 26: Copy of schedule for May Day, 1937
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THE ANNUAL CELEBRATION of May Day
is one of Sweet Briar's besc-loved tradi-
tions. Coming at the full flowering of the
spring season, this festival, which has been
celebrated every year since the college
opened, has come to typify to generations
of students the abiding beauty of Sweet
Briar and the appeal of Sweet Briar*s way
of life. Pictured here, against a background
of boxwood hedges, great oaks and (lower-
ing dogwood trees, an Elizabethan festival
is being presented with students and facul-
ty dressed in costumes typical of the
manv-sided life oi Elizabethan England.
»T~ EASTING ON ihl GREEN." An Eliza-
bethan luncheon was served to the
college and to hundreds of visitors between
the morninu and afternoon programs of
the Elizabethan festival. The sixteenth
century authenticity of every item on the
menu was verified by quotations from Shake-
speare or some equally trustworthy contem-
porary source. The spring festival also
mcludes the annual May Day Dance, one of
Sweet Briar's two formal dances of the year
and always an important part oi the celebra-
tion, and the Ma) Da) Hor^e Show I
bv the students in the college riding ring.
SCHEDULE FOR MAY PAY ISSUED PY MR. KING 4/30/37
Flease study the following schedule carefully. Everybody MUST FOLLOW IT
EXACTLY if the May Festival is to be a oredit to Sv/oet Briar.
9:00 AM All Soldiers , Merchants , Persant Men , Peggnr Men and Gen tl omen
will report in costume at the Chr.pol for make-up.
All plnyers in the ROBIN HOOD PLAYS will report, in costume,
at FLETCHER AUDITORIUM for make up.
(Everybody in Women's costume will wear ordinary street make-up,
applying it themselves. Tho30 dressed as boys will wear no
10:00 Tho MAY COURT will assemble, in costume, et the lower hockey field.
10:30 A bugle call will give the signal for tho general assembly.
The !>:** y Queen's Procession will assemble in tho Fox-wood Circle
in f r ■'nt if Sweet Briar House.
Everybody else, in costume and make-up, will assemble in front
of the Refectory .
Burgher women ^ merchants and Merchants.' wives w ill assemble
under the arcade botween Gray and the Refectory.
Ladies, Gentleman, Scholars and Fj'Is will assemble undor the
arcade between Randolph and the Refectory.
The rest will assemble on the quadrangle in front of the Refectory.
10:45 Everybody except those in the May Queen's Procession will go to
the lower hockey field by way of the road in front of Sweet
Brii r l!->use.
11:00 A bugle cell will signal the entrance of tho M^y Queen's precession.
12:30 FM The morning program will end,
12:45 Luncheon will be served in the quadrangle in front of Fergus Reid.
2L15 A burl'"; call will signal the general assembly for tho afternoon
The ^ay'^ucen's precession will assemble in tho Box-Y/ood Circle
in Front of Sweet Briar House.
Everybody else , in costume and make-up, will immediately assemble
at the lower hockey field. (Tho audience will go to the West loll)
2:30 Everybody, except those In the May Qaecn's procession, 7/ill
go to tho v/ost Dell and take places at the foot of the Dell In
front of the audience,
2:40 A Purrle call will signal the entrance of the May Queen's procession.
4:15 The afternoon program will end.
people k. staying at sweeh briar ovlr friday night will direct
them 70 the hocket field some time during the day on friday. all guests wiij
go to the hockey field oh may day fy way of the p„.th in front of poxwoop inn .
peofle having h s* arriving on Saturday will ple.se arrange to meet the:.:
A description of some rituals
at Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar College Library
Sweet Briar, VA 24595