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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.
 
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."

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.   
 

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
    • Jett Hall, VES's main building 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.

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 the 1960s, VES became the first boarding school in the South to integrate, and the school remains a warm and inclusive community today. VES’ mission to guide boys “toward the full stature of manhood” broadened to encompass girls in 1986 when VES became the first boarding school in Virginia to coeducate. 
 
Our student body has grown significantly from those early days and now includes 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 101 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