Sweet days at Sweet Briar College & others

Coed in the mid 1960s.
Coed in the mid 1960s.

In the mid 1960s, I was a reporter/photographer for The Roanoke Times and a student at the University of Virginia’s Roanoke campus.  As a young, single man with an interest in comely co-eds, I found delightful company with those who attended two women’s schools:  Hollins College north of Roanoke and Sweet Briar College north of Lynchburg.

Such co-eds were intelligent, liberal and fun loving.   One Sweet Briar student worked one summer at the Lendy’s restaurant on Church Avenue in Roanoke.  We spent a lot of fun times together.  We’re still friends

I hadn’t heard from her for a while but an email arrived Tuesday with the sad news that Sweet Briar, faced with financial problems, is closing its doors in August.

“God, I can’t believe it,” she wrote.  “A big part of my life will be gone.”

Back in the 60s, more than 450 small liberal arts colleges existed and thrived in the United States.  Now less than 45 remain.  After August, one more bites the dust.

But while Sweet Briar is closing, Hollins is now a university that offers co-ed graduate programs and has weathered the storm.  Radford College was a women’s teacher’s school in the 60s.  Madison College in Harrisonburg, also a women’s school back then, is now a co-ed university called James Madison.

My interests in women’s schools were not driven just by testosterone.   Students at such schools were bright, articulate and mentally challenging. Ann Compton was a student at Hollins when I met her during her internship at WDBJ television in the 60s.  She was a White House Correspondent for ABC News and is now retired. We’ve remained friends.

A woman I dated at Madison College now works for a law firm in Richmond.  Hope to have dinner with her in next week if the Lady Buffaloes make the state basketball tournament. We will talk politics, state government and the general mess things are in with government.

Another attended Mary Washington in Fredricksburg.  We were companions for two years and remain friends today.

When I look back at lifelong friendships I have with women over the past 50 years, most were students at women’s schools of the period:  Hollins, Sweet Briar, Mary Washington, Radford and others.

Two of Amy’s and my best friends in Wythe County include a graduate of Longwood in Farmville back when it was still a small women’s college.  Now, of course, it is co-ed and a university.

Sweet Briar, like other schools in Virginia, was one of those who came to fraternity parties and other social gatherings at the University of Virginia.  A Sweet Briar student attending one of those free-for-alls and wrote a piece about it in her student newspaper:

“A weekend at the University of Virginia is a traumatic experience wrapped up in pure old Southern tradition,” she wrote.  “100 proof.”

I wrote a response for the Daily Cavalier, Virginia’s student newspaper.

“What amazes us, and at the same time delights us,” I wrote. “Is that these poor, disillusioned, girls keep coming back for more.”

The Sweet Briar paper reprinted my piece and my name was mud in Amherst for a while.  But it was also part of the fun of college life in those days.

Those days are gone.  Sadly, Sweet Briar will be gone too after August.

Back in the day.
Back in the day.

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