Sewanee: The University of the South

For Sewanee Academy or Sewanee Military Academy, see St. Andrew's-Sewanee School.
The University of the South
Latin: Universitas Meridiana
Motto Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum.
(Latin, from Psalm 133)
Motto in English
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.[1]
Type Private
Established 1857
Religious affiliation
Episcopal Church
Endowment USD$336,524,119[2]
Chancellor Samuel Johnson Howard
Vice-Chancellor John M. McCardell Jr.
Undergraduates 1,653
Postgraduates 184
Location Sewanee, Tennessee, U.S.
Campus Rural, 13,000 acres (53 km²)
Colors Purple and Gold
Athletics NCAA Division IIISAA
Nickname Tigers

Sewanee: The University of the South, also known as Sewanee, is a private, residential, coeducational liberal arts college located in Sewanee, Tennessee, United States. It is owned by 28 southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church, and its School of Theology is an official seminary of the church. The university's School of Letters offers graduate degrees in American Literature and Creative Writing. The campus (officially called "The Domain" or, affectionately, "The Mountain") consists of 13,000 acres (53 km2)[4] of scenic mountain property atop the Cumberland Plateau, with the developed portion occupying about 1,000 acres (4.0 km2).

The school was ranked 45th in the 2015 U.S. News & World Report list of liberal arts colleges.[5] In 2016, Forbes ranked it 94th on its America's Top Colleges list.[6] Sewanee is a member of the Associated Colleges of the South.


1871 Poster for Sewanee

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

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

Because of the damage and disruptions during the Civil War, construction came to a temporary halt. In 1866 building was resumed, and this date is sometimes used as the re-founding of the university and the year from which it has maintained continuous operations (though official materials and anniversary celebrations still use 1857). The university's first convocation was held on September 18, 1868, with nine students and four faculty members present. The Rt. Rev. Charles Todd Quintard, Vice Chancellor of the University (Second Bishop of Tennessee and "Chaplain of the Confederacy") attended the first Lambeth Conference in England (1868) and received financial support from clergy and laity of the Church of England for rebuilding of the school. Quintard is known as the "Re-Founder" of the University of the South.

During World War II, the University of the South was one of 131 tertiary institutions nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, which offered students a path to a Navy commission.[8]

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

2004 name change

The institution has combined its two historical names in all university publications that are not official documents and bills itself as "Sewanee: The University of the South". The Sewanee Graphics Identity Standards Manual, a document reflecting the official policies of the university with respect to its public image, states, in part:

First, it must be understood that the official and legal name of this institution is "The University of the South". In the past, though, unorganized use of this official name and the university's familiar name, Sewanee, has been confusing to those unfamiliar with the institution. In addition, college guides and Web sites that have become so crucial in young people's college searches may list the institution under as many as four different entries—beginning with "The", "University", "South", or "Sewanee".
To avoid confusion and to honor the history and character of the institution, a consistent reference to the name of the institution is critical. So, for extended audiences unfamiliar with the institution, the naming convention "Sewanee: The University of the South" should be used on a first reference. Subsequent references may be to "Sewanee" or "the University".[9]

When this naming system was proposed in 2004, it was misinterpreted by some alumni to reflect a change in the official name of the university. A minor scandal ensued, insinuating that the change was intended to "distance" the university from its historic association with Southern culture.[10][11]


The Sewanee campus overlooks the Tennessee Valley, consisting of 13,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau. It includes many buildings constructed of various materials faced with local stone, most done in the Gothic style. In September 2011 it was named by Travel + Leisure as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States.[12]

Literary associations

The Sewanee Review, founded in 1892, is thought to be the longest-running literary magazine in the country and has published many distinguished authors. Its success has helped launch the Sewanee Writers' Conference, held each summer. The School of Letters, offering an M.A. in English and M.F.A. in Creative Writing, was established in 2006.

Sewanee has been the residence of authors such as Allen Tate, Andrew Lytle, and William Alexander Percy. In 1983 playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner Tennessee Williams left his literary rights to the University of the South. Royalties have helped build the Tennessee Williams Center, a performance venue and teaching facility, and to create the Tennessee Williams teaching fellowships, which bring well-known figures in the arts to the campus.

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

Environmental sustainability

Since Fall 2008, the university has held an annual Sustainability Week, which featured speakers, feasts of local foods, and environmentally themed documentaries. The campus is also home to an environmental sustainability house, The Green House and residence halls have environmental sustainability representatives. In 2007, the university became a signatory to the Presidents Climate Commitment. As of 2011, the university received a "B" on the College Sustainability Report Card.[15]

Institutional traditions

The school is rich in distinctive traditions, many of which are tied to Southern culture. For example, male students have historically worn coats and ties to classes—this tradition has generally been continued, though the coat and tie are often combined with casual pants and sometimes shorts. However, this tradition is currently in decline. Faculty and student members of the primary honor society and main branch of student government, the Order of Gownsmen, may wear academic gowns to teach or attend class—perhaps the last vestige of this historically English practice in North America.[10] Furthermore, the Order is charged with the maintenance of this and other traditions of the university.[16] Similarly, both genders enjoy drinking societies and secret societies and the ribbon societies continue to thrive. At major events, members of the former two groups display their distinctive ceremonial garb, kilts and capes. There is the Red Ribbon and Green Ribbon Societies for men (including membership in the faculty) and the Pink Ribbon and White Ribbon for women. While most drinking societies will accept sophomores, the Ribbons are for juniors and seniors. In addition to the more established societies, there are numerous drinking societies and secret societies that exist in the college. The vice chancellor on formal occasions assumes the cappa clausa cope as the vice chancellor at Cambridge University still does.

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

In recent years, some alumni and students have perceived that the school was trying to downplay the university's traditions, particularly its historical and cultural ties with Southern culture.[10][11] As a result, some traditions have come under special scrutiny.

Mace controversy

The University mace, an unsolicited gift dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest which prominently featured a Confederate battle flag, has been a point of interest in the debate over the university's identity, because of its association with Forrest and its implications for attitudes toward African-Americans. Forrest had no connection with the university;[10] the mace had been commissioned in 1964 by Louise Claiborne-Armstrong, whose brother attended the university.

It was given to the university in 1965 and was carried by the President of the Order of Gownsmen at academic processions until it disappeared in 1997. Upon its rediscovery, various alumni offered to pay for the mace's repair but the university declined their offer.[10] This mace is now available for private viewing via the school's archives.

Festival of Lessons and Carols

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

University hymn and alma mater

The University Hymn, written by Bishop Thomas Frank Gailor (1856–1935), is sung to the tune of Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (The Emperor's Hymn, known in English language hymnals as "Austria"), by Joseph Haydn.[17] The tune was previously used for the Austrian national anthem and a variation is used for Germany's national anthem. The school's Alma Mater was written by Newton Middleton (class of 1909).


Further information: Sewanee Tigers football

Sewanee was a charter member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1894. The Sewanee Tigers were pioneers in American intercollegiate athletics and possessed the Deep South's preeminent football program in the 1890s. The 1899 football team had perhaps the best season in college football history, winning all 12 of their games, 11 by shutout, and outscoring their opponents 322-10. Five of those wins, all shutouts, came in a six-day period while on a 2,500-mile (4,000 km) trip by train.[18] In 2012, the College Football Hall of Fame held a vote of the greatest historic teams of all time, where the 1899 Iron Men beat the 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide as the greatest team of all time.[19]

Sewanee was also a charter member of the Southeastern Conference upon its formation in 1932. By this time, however, its athletic program had declined precipitously and Sewanee never won a conference football game in the eight years it was an SEC member. The Tigers were shut out 26 times in their 37 SEC games, and were outscored by a combined total of 1163–84.[18]

When vice chancellor Benjamin Ficklin Finney, who had reportedly objected to Sewanee joining the SEC, left his position in 1938, the leading candidate was Alexander Guerry, a former president of the University of Chattanooga. According to a university historian, Guerry agreed to come to Sewanee only if the school stopped awarding athletic scholarships. In 1940, two years after Guerry's arrival, Sewanee withdrew from the SEC and subsequently deemphasized varsity athletics. Guerry's stance is sometimes credited as an early step toward the 1973 creation of NCAA Division III, which prohibits athletic scholarships.[18]

Sewanee went on to become a charter member of the College Athletic Conference in 1962. The conference, now the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC), consists of small, academically-focused private schools such as Sewanee.[20]

Sewanee is now a member of the Southern Athletic Association (SAA),[21] offering 11 varsity sports for men and 13 for women. As is the case for all of its previous conferences, Sewanee is a charter member of its current conference—it was one of the seven SCAC members that announced their departure from that conference at the 2011 annual meeting of SCAC presidents.[20] The seven were joined by Berry College, another small private school in Georgia.[20]

Noted alumni and faculty

Sewanee has over 12,000 alumni from all 50 states and 40 countries and has produced 26 Rhodes Scholars—a number that puts Sewanee in the top four nationally among American liberal arts colleges—as well as 34 NCAA Postgraduate Fellows, 46 Watson Fellowships, and dozens of Fulbright Scholars. The School of Theology's alumni include countless bishops, including three of the last five presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church.[22]

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sewanee: The University of the South.
  1. The University of the South. (2006)
  2. "US News College Compass". Sewanee--University of the South. US News. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
  3. NAICU – Member Directory
  4. "About Sewanee". Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  5. "US News & World Report summary of Sewanee".
  6. "Forbes". Sewanee—University of the South. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  7. 1 2 Steven Deyle (2013). Carry Me Back : The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life. Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 20, 2013., pp. 205-07. Professor Deyle notes: "[D]espite his central role in its establishment, [slave-trader] Armfield's contributions to the University of the South, an institution that supposedly symbolized southern ideals, have all but been forgotten....The initial reports and histories of the university barely mention him, and except for a bluff named in his honor, there is no other commemoration for Armfield on the campus today."
  8. "U.S. Naval Administration in World War II". HyperWar Foundation. 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  9. The University of the South.Graphics Identity Standards Manual, Section 5.1.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Finder, Alan. (2005).In Desire to Grow, Colleges in South Battle With Roots, New York Times.
  11. 1 2 McWhirter, Cameron. (2005). Colleges suffer identity crisis, The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived February 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. "America's most beautiful college campuses", Travel+Leisure (September 2011)
  13. "Chapel of the Apostles | The School of Theology | Sewanee: The University of the South". Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  14. "". 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  15. "The College Sustainability Report Card". Retrieved 2011-09-28.
  16. "About – The Order of Gownsmen". Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  17. Archived March 27, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. 1 2 3 Dorsey, Patrick (September 23, 2011). "Sewanee, long-lost member of the SEC". Page 2. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  19. Martin, Cam. "Sewanee puffs out chest with historic title - Sports Fans, Teams, Stadiums, Page 2 - Fandom Blog - ESPN Playbook - ESPN". Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  20. 1 2 3 "Eight southeastern colleges, including Sewanee, form new athletic conference" (Press release). Sewanee: The University of the South. June 7, 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  21. "Eight Division III colleges form newly named Southern Athletic Association" (Press release). Sewanee: The University of the South. August 19, 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  22. "About Sewanee". Retrieved 2012-07-31.

Coordinates: 35°12′12″N 85°55′11″W / 35.20344°N 85.91967°W / 35.20344; -85.91967

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