Lee Chapel

A focal point of campus, Lee Chapel now serves as a meeting space for a variety of events including weddings, speakers and honor society inductions. But it is also home to the Lee family crypt.

Not unmindful ... of the past


In 1867, the university began construction on the chapel at the request of Robert E. Lee, the school’s president.

Lee's death

Lee died on Oct. 12, 1870. He was buried beneath the chapel but was moved to his family crypt in 1883, when the university built an addition to the building to include a sculpture, “The Recumbent Lee,” by Edward Valentine.

Contemporary use

Lee Chapel is a gathering place for W&L's most important events, including concerts, lectures, and other events related to the student-run honor system.

Home for honor

As president, Lee encouraged students to take responsibility for their conduct: "As a general principle you should not force young men to do their duty, but let them do it voluntarily and thereby develop their characters."

Confederate flags

In 2014, a group of African-American law students wrote a letter to the university president, urging removal of Confederate flags from the Chapel. Kenneth P. Ruscio, the president at the time, discovered that the flags were replicas, and he ordered their removal.

Off limits

The gate in front of the Lee statue was closed in August 2017 after white nationalists and counter-protesters fought in the streets of nearby Charlottesville over a proposal to remove a statue of Lee from a city park.

Most students enter Lee Chapel for the first time at the end of Orientation Week. First-year students assemble in Lee Chapel the night before classes begin to listen to the president of the Executive Committee talk about the importance of honor on campus and in the community. The president’s address is memorable for most students, who recall years later how impressed they were by the solemnity of the occasion and how frightened they were about making a mistake. If they can’t abide by the honor system, they are told to leave—now.

The Executive Committee forces students to think about the gravity of the pledge that they are making by giving them several days to contemplate their promise. They are required to sign a book of matriculation in Lee Chapel. The first pledge dates back to the summer of 1821.

Lee: General vs. Educator

Saimon Islam, '19, Math and Computer Science double major and Film and Visual Culture minor

Select Saimon Islam or Elizabeth Mugo to hear his or her view on Robert E. Lee and Lee Chapel.

Elizabeth Mugo, '19 Sociology and Anthropology major, Africana Studies and Poverty and Human Capability Studies double minor

It wasn’t until afterwards when I actually reflected that I realized I’d stepped into what is sort of an honoring place for a Confederate general.

Dannick Kenon, '19, Accounting and Politics double major

Garrett Clinton, '20, Politics and Economics major

I’m in the same spot where somebody was fighting against my existence.

What's In a Name?

The debate rages not only in Lexington but across the country about whether buildings honoring Confederate generals should be renamed. In fall 2017, members of the congregation of Robert E. Lee Memorial Church, which is adjacent to campus, decided to change the name. They had tried for years to convince the vestry to revert back to the church's original name, “Grace Episcopal.”

Students disagree over whether the university should should drop Lee from its name.

Virginia Kettles, '19, Strategic Communication major and Creative Writing minor

We have him lying recumbent like Jesus in a chapel on campus.

I don’t think that Robert E. Lee being associated with the school is the reason that the school has race issues.

Sesha Carrier, '19, Philosophy major and Film and Visual Culture minor