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  • Janet Norton Bouvier (1907 - 1989)
    Janet Norton Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris (December 3, 1907 - July 22, 1989) was an American socialite. She was the mother of former United States First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Le...
  • Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation
    Elaine Lan Chao is an American politician who is the 18th and current United States Secretary of Transportation. She is a member of the Republican Party. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Chao was the first As...
  • Mary Lee Newton or Tazewell or Weathersbee (1918 - 2005)
    Mary Lee Settle (July 29, 1918, Charleston, West Virginia – September 27, 2005, Ivy, Virginia) was an American writer. She won the 1978 National Book Award for her novel Blood Tie and was a founder...

The college is on 3,250 acres (13,152,283 m2) donated by the founding family of Indiana Fletcher Williams. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The school is named after the former plantation of Elijah Fletcher and his family. Fletcher was a 19th-century teacher, businessman, and mayor of Lynchburg. His wife, Maria Crawford, is credited with naming the land Sweet Briar. By the mid-19th century, Fletcher had between 80 and 100 slaves at the plantation. After their emancipation in 1865, several continued to work for pay and live at Sweet Briar. On Elijah Fletcher's death, his daughter, Indiana, inherited the plantation. When she died in 1900, she willed the land and much of her assets to starting a college for women, as her daughter Daisy had died at 16 and, therefore, never had a chance to attend college.

Sweet Briar began as a finishing school that adapted to modern times by emphasizing a liberal arts curriculum. Regardless of its transformation, it never entirely escaped its antecedents and reputation.

On March 3, 2015, Sweet Briar's board of directors announced that the college would be closing at the end of the summer session, citing "insurmountable financial challenges". In response, a group of concerned alumnae and friends of the college formed a nonprofit organization, Saving Sweet Briar, to reverse the board's decision. Saving Sweet Briar, students, parents and alumnae, faculty and staff, and the local Commonwealth Attorney all filed lawsuits to enjoin the closing, one of which reached the Virginia Supreme Court. On June 20, 2015, the Virginia Attorney General announced a mediation agreement to keep Sweet Briar College open. After replacing the board and president, the college rescinded the closing announcement. In January 2016, the college announced that it had received more than 1000 applications for the 2016-2017 academic year, and that it did not plan to touch the $16 million of restricted funds initially planned to be released from the endowment by the attorney general. The college additionally announced that students at Sweet Briar would begin to be able to take online courses through the Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction in the spring 2016 semester due to a Council of Independent Colleges grant; two of the courses available online will be taught by Sweet Briar faculty members.