Our History

Recognizing a void in educational opportunities in the South, in 1906, Dr. Robert Carter Jett formulated a plan that called for immediate action by the Episcopal Church of Southern Virginia to establish a way for deserving youth from all walks of life to achieve a superior secondary education.
The 41-year-old pastor and father of two young daughters followed his passion, zealously inspiring and implementing positive change in education and propelling VES to the forefront of a movement that would extend the advantages of a well-rounded education to a much greater number of boys and, eventually, girls.
Dr. Jett and Lynchburg rector and VES co-founder Joseph B. Dunn proposed Lynchburg, Virginia, as an ideal location for this ambitious project. In the first in a long history of philanthropic partnerships, Virginia-Carolina Railway founder Wilton E. Mingea of Abington, Virginia, who originally declared the idea “a delusive dream,” generously put up $5,000 to buy the property, establish a building fund and pay the headmaster’s salary.

The Roots of Our Mission: Toward Full Stature
Mingea proposed the name Virginia Episcopal School, proclaiming that “if Virginia was part of the name, the school would have a history from the day of its opening.”

Dr. Jett, who was named the school’s first headmaster, saw a future in which VES would develop and send into the world capable, ethical and productive members of society. Together, Jett, Dunn and Mingea coined a motto to explain the school's mission. “The Full Stature of Manhood” conveyed their conviction that a quality education meant “training with character as its end."

Funded by National Names in Philanthropy and Education

VES has benefited from the support provided by dedicated philanthropists — bearing well-known names including Langhorne, Astor, Glass, Barksdale and duPont — as well as the Lynchburg community. Bishop Jett tapped the nationally distinguished architect Frederick H. Brooke to design a classically proportioned complex of red-brick buildings, which received both Virginia Historic Landmark and National Register of Historic Places designations in 1992. These structures are where VES students live, learn, create lifelong relationships with their peers and mentors, and grow toward full stature. The campus continues to provide a place to which generations of alumni enjoy returning home.

The most prominent early donor to Jett’s vision was Lady Nancy Langhorne Astor — the first female elected to the British House of Commons and world symbol of women’s rights. When the determined founder of VES was visiting Lady Astor’s family estate in Albemarle County, Virginia, he bravely requested a charitable contribution to the school. Lady Astor promised Jett $10,000 on the condition that he raise $100,000 — a gift Jett described as “the first big spark” of financial support. Astor then appealed on Jett’s behalf to the congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg and raised another $17,000, $10,000 of which Mrs. Margaret Stanford Glass Lucado pledged. The money raised with Astor's substantial challenge grant funded the construction of VES’ first buildings — Main (today’s Jett Hall) and West (today’s Pendleton) — which opened in 1916. In 1919, Lady Astor’s father, Civil War veteran and railroad magnate Chiswell Dabney Langhorne, gave the Langhorne Memorial Chapel in memory of his wife, Nancy Witcher Keen.   
    • Panoramic View of the VES Campus circa 1916

      Panoramic View of the VES Campus circa 1916

In addition to these large private donors, the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce canvassed the community for support. The community responded by pledging the required funds, making the people of Lynchburg, in Jett’s estimation, “co-founders of the school.”
During Jett’s lifetime — from the founding through the Great Depression and early years of World War II — Hamilton M. Barksdale and his wife, the former Ethel duPont, were the school’s largest benefactors. Mr. Barksdale, who served as General Manager of the E.I. duPont de Nemours and Company, made substantial donations to the original building fund. In 1919, Mrs. Barksdale honored her husband’s legacy with the landmark Barksdale Memorial Gymnasium. 
On the threshold of the Depression, Bishop Jett began an ambitious fundraising initiative to eliminate the school’s debt. Rising to the challenge were benefactors Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans, whose gifts to the VES debt-fund made her the school’s third-largest donor during that critical era, and Elizabeth Bingham Blossom, whose generosity established the school’s first scholarship endowment.

The VES Endowment was begun in 1929 with a $100,000 challenge grant from Woolworth founder F.M. Kirby, General Motors executive F. Donaldson Brown and philanthropist Ethel duPont Barksdale. The endowment was doubled through a bequest of Col. William King, Jr.

Own a Piece of VES History

If you haven’t purchased your copy yet, don’t miss out. VES alumni and current families are raving about this beautiful coffee table book with 100 years of fascinating, funny and poignant story about VES moments in history. The book makes a great gift for alumni, students and friends of VES.

    • VES founder Dr. Robert Carter Jett

      VES founder Dr. Robert Carter Jett

    • Jett Hall, VES

      Jett Hall, VES's main building circa 1916

A Leader in Cultural Progress & Inclusivity

VES has been a leader in social progress. Bishop Jett made a commitment that tuition remain low so that the school would remain accessible to “families of limited means.” 

In 1967, VES became the first boarding school in the South to integrate, and the school remains a warm and inclusive community today. 

VES, under the leadership of Headmaster Austin Phillips Montgomery and with thesupport of Bishop William H. Marmion of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, the Board of Trustees, chaired by Henry M. Sackett, Jr., after full and at times very contentious consideration of the matter, decided to allow these students to apply for admission. Two students, William Alphonso Alexander of Nashville, Tenn., and Marvin Barnard of Richmond, Va., matriculated to VES in the fall of 1967 and became the first two black students to attend VES. For the next four years Bill and Marvin were leaders in all aspects of life at VES, including being consistently ranked numbers one and two in class standings based on grade point averages, holding leadership positions in the school and contributing significant athletic accomplishments. Bill and Marvin were also role models of strength of character and of grace under what were the very challenging pressures of being pioneers in the area of racial integration at the private, secondary school level, and they served as mentors to subsequent black students admitted to VES. There were a total of six additional students, specifically Jerrauld C. Jones ’72, Johnny Holloway ’72, Wilbert Terry Sherrill ’73, Gregory Nathaniel Prioleau ’73, Anthony Leroy Johnson ’74, and Arnald B. Crews ’74, who subsequently attended VES with the support of the Stouffer Foundation. These individuals have gone on to great accomplishments, including serving as physicians, attorneys at law, judges, ministers and business executives, as well as giving back in their communities. VES now has a student body that is 9 percent black and that is 26 percent non-white with many diverse cultures represented, demonstrating the commitment of VES to being inclusive of all races and cultures. 

For a full year—beginning with our Centennial Celebration in September 2016,—VES has worked alongside Dr. Marvin Barnard ’71, Dr. Bill Alexander ’71 and Mosi Secret, a New York-based journalist, as Mosi researched and crafted a compelling story, published in the New York Times Magazine September 2017 Education Issue.

This New York Times Magazine  article is so very important. I ask that you pause and take time to read it and listen to the audio story on This American Life.
We read the article with a sense of pride, compassion and empathy, but mostly we feel inspired by the fortitude and resilience of these pioneering young men and the courage that VES demonstrated to be a leader in integration in Southern boarding schools. The VES of today was shaped by the indomitable will and spirit of these “Magnificent Eight” pioneers, and we are a stronger, smarter and much more interesting community as a result of the diversity that we now enjoy. We are proud that our school continues to guide students to think beyond themselves and that we work diligently to improve the experience and education for every student who passes through Jett Hall.

We are recognizing the 50 years since that pivotal moment of integration at VES by spending the 2017-18 school year leading a meaningful dialogue on race relations—looking back at the history within our school, grappling with the issues still at the forefront in our country today, and looking forward as we seek solutions. VES hosted the first Dare to Imagine a Better World Dialogue: Breaking Down Racial Barriers, with New York Times Magazine contributor Mosi Secret moderating discussions with our students and faculty and, in the evening, conducted a panel discussion with our larger VES community, including alumni, parents and friends of VES. Drs. Bill Alexander ’71 and Marvin Barnard ’71, along with former faculty Nat Jobe and Jim Hopkins, joined us, along with seven of the eight Stouffer Scholars who led the way for integration at VES.
VES’ mission to guide boys “toward full stature” broadened to encompass girls in 1986 when VES became the first boarding school in Virginia to coeducate. During the 2018-19 school year, VES celebrated three decades of co-education. Over the Founders Day and Homecoming weekend in October 2018, we honored the decision-makers, the faculty, the pioneering women and their male classmates, who in 1986, transitioned VES from an all-boys boarding school to one that offered equal opportunities for young women.
VES looked back on this landmark decision in the second year of its Dare to Imagine a Better World Dialogue series—designed to elevate awareness and drive thought-provoking conversations about where we’ve been and where we are today as a school.

The Path to Coeducation

VES founder Robert Carter Jett had six children—two of them daughters. Even as he was formulating his plan for VES, he frequently expressed concern for the education of both young men and women. He advocated for the appointment of an educational committee to actively consider how to provide college preparatory opportunities to girls as well as boys.

Nearly 80 years passed before VES undertook a preliminary study to see if VES could realistically provide that opportunity. At a time when boarding schools were wondering about their sustainability, Headmaster Charley Zimmer and his forward-thinking Board of Trustees, led by Frank Craighill III ’57, evaluated the impact of doubling their prospective market by welcoming young women into the school. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, remaining an all-boys institution meant that the school was choosing to exclude half of all potential candidates for admission. But beyond pragmatism, Headmaster Zimmer saw an opportunity for enrichment—the kind of enrichment that only comes from adding varied perspectives and voices to the conversation.

After evaluating many factors—market demand, tuition, required changes to campus and more—the proposal to coeducate came to a vote on January 12, 1985.
Craighill, VES Board Chair, made this strong appeal: "Why not take our rightful place as a leader in the Southeast and benefit from being the first boarding school to co-educate rather than some years down the road being a follower? Butch Watkins ’57, the school’s first Alumni Director, provided another influential voice. It is said that during the discussions about coeducation, Butch noted that “Daughters of VES alumni are blood,” encouraging others to recognize their “rightful place” at VES.

Mary Morris Booth, VES’s first female trustee, recounts that “When the vote came around to Bill Formwalt—an older, highly respected alumnus from the class of 1932—of course everyone looked at him to see what he was going to say, and he voted for it. As a tangible demonstration of his commitment, he established an athletic award to be given to a female student at graduation. For someone of Bill’s era, that was huge! He turned the tide, and I admired him for doing that.”

An eight-member steering committee was formed to guide the process and later, once the first group
of women arrived on campus, a team of faculty and students formed the Co-education Committee to identify opportunities and tackle issues as they arose.
In a panel discussion with our students and faculty, moderated by pioneer and current trustee Mary 
Hodges George ’89, Zimmer shared, “Young women at the school meant a newly enlivened and enriched community. It is from this place that the Board voted nearly unanimously to allow girls to matriculate to VES.” With that and some significant modifications to campus prior to their arrival, in September 1986 the first 27 young women became students at VES. The boarders moved into Wyatt Dorm, earning the name “the Wyatt Women.” News crews were on hand to document their arrival and to feed the story to a curious Lynchburg community and beyond.

Continuing to Lead the Way

Our student body has grown significantly from those early days and now includes more than 250 young men and women from all over the country and the world. Each day, we live out the vision of Dr. Jett — continually striving, constantly growing, positively contributing to their communities and the world. For over 100 years, we've prepared our students for success in colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad, and we are proud of the extraordinary contributions — both professionally and philanthropically — that our alumni have made.

A College Preparatory, Independent Boarding and Day School for Students in Grades 9-12
400 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503 • 434.385.3600