University of the South

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Sewanee in the Fall

The University of the South [1] is a private, coeducational liberal arts college located in Sewanee, Tennessee. It is owned by twenty-eight 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 literature and creative writing. Often known simply as Sewanee, the school has a strong academic reputation and recently ranked 40th in the annual US News & World Report list of liberal arts colleges.US News & World Report summary of Sewanee Sewanee has produced 25 Rhodes Scholars, garnering the distinction of the most Rhodes Scholars per capita of any school in the country.[2] The campus (officially called "The Domain" or, affectionately, "The Mountain") consists of 13,000 acres (40 km²) of scenic mountain property atop the Cumberland Plateau in southeastern Tennessee, although the developed portion occupies only about 1000 acres. In 2006, enrollment consisted of 1,467 undergraduates, 92 students in the School of Theology, and about 25 students in the School of Letters. In addition to the University, the town of Sewanee includes the Community of St. Mary (a convent) and St. Mary's Non-Denominational Retreat Center (which uses the buildings formerly occupied by St. Mary's School). The asteroid 89264 Sewanee is named in its honor.


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 Lookout Mountain by Bishop Leonidas Polk for the founding of their denominational college for the region. The cornerstone, laid on October 10, 1860 and consecrated by Bishop Polk, was destroyed in 1863 by Union soldiers from an Illinois regiment; many of the pieces were collected and kept as keepsakes by the soldiers. At least a few were donated back to the University, and a large fragment was eventually installed in a wall of All Saints' Chapel, where the relic can be visited by pilgrims. Several figures later prominent in the Confederacy, notably Bishop-General Leonidas Polk, Bishop Stephen Elliott, and Bishop James Hervey Otey, were prominent founders of the University. Generals Josiah Gorgas and Edmund Kirby Smith were important to the University's postbellum revival and continuance.

Due to the damage and disruptions of the Civil War, construction came to a temporary halt around that time. In 1866 the process was resumed, and this date is sometimes given as the re-founding of the University and the point from which it has maintained continuous operations (though official materials and anniversary celebrations use 1857 as the founding year). The University's first convocation was held on September 18, 1868, with nine students and four faculty members present. It is also recorded that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was offered the position of Vice-Chancellor but declined, choosing instead to work at Washington College in his native Virginia.

Schools of dentistry, engineering, law, medicine, and nursing once existed, and a secondary school was part of the institution well into the second half of the twentieth century. For financial reasons, however, it was eventually decided to focus on two schools which exist today, 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 an M.A. in American Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.


The Sewanee campus includes many buildings constructed of various materials faced with local stone, most done in the Gothic style.

  • All Saints' Chapel was originally designed by Ralph Adams Cram and began construction in 1904 (replacing the smaller, wooden St. Augustine's Chapel which stood nearby), but the financial panic of 1907 left the University without the funds to complete it. It was completed in 1959 to a design by then-Vice Chancellor Edward McCrady.
Dr. McCrady was also responsible for the connection of the buildings of the original quadrangle with cloisters. During his tenure as Vice Chancellor, the Jesse Ball duPont Library was constructed.
Dr. McCrady was determined to fill in the plain windows of All Saints' Chapel with stained glass, though many remained without for several years. After his death, a new stained glass window, which includes his image, was dedicated in his memory. The final window was installed in 2004, nearly 100 years after construction began on the Chapel.
  • St. Luke's Chapel is one of several chapels on the campus. St. Luke's is located next to the building which formerly housed the School of Theology.

"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." Graphics Identity Standards Manual

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, due in large part to insinuations that the change was intended to "distance" the University from its historic association with Southern culture. The controversy has generally subsided, though some students and alumni still mistakenly refer to the incident as a "name change".

Literary associations

The school has long been known for its literary associations. The Sewanee Review, founded in 1892, is thought to be the longest-running literary magazine in the country and has published and been praised by many distinguished authors. Its success has helped launch the well-regarded Sewanee Writers' Conference, held each summer.

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."

Institutional traditions

The school is rich in distinctive traditions, many of which are tied to Southern culture. For example, male students wore coats and ties to classes -- this tradition has generally been continued, though the coat and tie are often combined with casual pants or shorts. Also, faculty and student members of the honor society wear academic gowns to teach or attend class -- perhaps the last vestige of this historically English practice in North America. Similarly, the Highlanders and Wellingtons "drinking societies" continue to thrive after many decades, each displaying their own distinctive ceremonial garb at major events.

Modern traditions include the Festival of Lessons and Carols in early December, an imitation of the traditional Christmas service in Cambridge. Also, local mythology regarding angels is abundant; residents of the Domain tap the roofs of their cars as they pass through the stone gates in order to "get their angel" for protection in their travels. Numerous other traditions continue to flourish on the Mountain, many adapted to fit modern practices.

In recent years, some alumni and students have perceived that the school was trying downplay the university's traditions, particularly its historical and cultural ties with Southern culture.[3]. [4]. As a result, some traditions have come under special scrutiny.

One particular concern was the disappearance of a ceremonial baton, called a "mace," dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest and decorated with Confederate-themed marks and images. The mace, donated to the University in 1965, was displayed in official processions until 1997, after which it broke and was deemed unusable. A new mace, dedicated to the four founders of the University but bearing no Confederate imagery, was commissioned and continues to be used in University processions.

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.[5] The tune was previously used for the Austrian national anthem and a variation is used for Germany's national anthem.

University Insignia

God of Light, Whose face beholding,

Israel's Leader learned Thy Will,
Fire and storm the Rock enfolding,
Where the Voice was calm and still,
Give Thy Children on this Mountain
Grace and power Thy Truth to know;
Open here a living fountain,
Whence Thy Praise shall ever flow.

On the world now grows the Vision
Love of Country—Freedom's call;
Gage of Battle, Life's decision,
Faith will see the Christ through all.
Clearer, surer, rings the story,
"Christ our Brother—God Most High!
Through earth's vapors sweeps the glory,
Wrong, injustice, sin must die."

For the warfare train us, Father,
God of battles, God of might,
That no mists of Hell may gather,
Darken or obscure the right.
Gird our souls with Thy compassion,
Purge our minds with fire divine;
Light of Light, the Truth incarnate,

Make our lives and thoughts like Thine.

Alma Mater, written by Newton Middleton (Class of 1909)

Alma Mater, Sewanee
My Glorious Mother ever be.
I will give my All to Thee
God Bless Thee to Eternity.

Thou canst make me worth the while
O Guide and Shelter me.
And all my life, through Storm and Strife,
My Star Thou'lt be.

The School of Theology

The School of Theology at the University of the South was founded in 1878. Originally it was known as "St. Luke's" because it was housed in St. Luke's Hall, which was given by Charlotte Morris Manigault to the University specifically for a School of Theology. Following the merger of the Sewanee Military Academy with the nearby St. Andrew's School in 1981, the School of Theology moved to the former SMA campus. Because this new location was a mile away from St. Luke's Chapel (west of the UTS campus proper), seminarians worshipped in a converted classroom until a new chapel was constructed adjacent to the school in 2000. [6]

The School of Theology is one of the eleven seminaries officially connected with the Episcopal Church.

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