Independence Day – Indie-Pendence Day: A Fresh Look at the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution of Sweet Briar College

blog declaration

Declaration of Independence

I have always been moved by Independence Day.  Through one of my ancestors, Susannah Lytle, I am a Daughter of the American Revolution.   It all seemed like very distant history to me for most of my life.  It is hard to imagine what our forefathers did for us as Americans or what life was like as colonists.

That is, until recently.  I have a new appreciation for what it is like to live through a revolution — the saving of Sweet Briar College.

One of the nicest traditions I have enjoyed over the years is reading the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  Elsie Baxter Heckel started my family on this tradition before my sons, Kent and Leland, were born.  This was a family tradition of hers starting long before Elsie could remember.

Each summer on Independence Day after a day of sun and fun, the family gathered for this tradition.  Just before dinner, everyone would gather on the broad sun porch.  Every chair was filled, children sat on the floor.  The aroma of dinner, started much earlier in the day, filled the room.

The yellowed, well-worn pages of this version of the Declaration of Independence came from Elsie’s membership in the Daughter’s of the American Revolution.  It was about the size of a small paperback book.  If you don’t have a copy at your home, you can view the text from the National Archives.

Outside, motorboats buzzed by, children played in nearby yards and the sounds of summer filled the air.  Inside, we were brought back to the horrors the early revolutionaries endured at the hands of a tyrant King.  Every few paragraphs, the book would be handed to the next person.

Fireworks - always a fun Independence Day tradition.
Fireworks – always a fun Independence Day tradition.

Until I discovered this tradition, Independence Day was all about flags, fireworks and fun.  Reading the Declaration of Independence with all of its “facts held out to a candid world” brought special meaning to the waving flag and a newfound respect for country.

This year, the Declaration of Independence has fresh meaning for me as I have just gone through my own “revolution” in the saving of Sweet Briar College.   I have read the Will of Indiana Fletcher Williams and lived the revolution brought about by those who have fought to honor it.

Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will.
Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will.

As I read the words this year, it brought to mind the journey of thousands of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and friends….

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” (Declaration of Independence)

Just as the inhabitants of these United States listed their grievances with the King of England, those who love Sweet Briar College have pursed legal action since March 3, 2015 to fight the attempted closure of the College they love.   The phrase, “When in the course of human events, it sometimes becomes necessary for one people to dissolve their political bands which have connected them with another…” has new meaning for me.  I don’t believe I have ever experienced anything as unifying as the movement of Saving Sweet Briar.   The causes which impelled those saving Sweet Briar were declared in legal briefs, on bedsheets, in blog posts and in the national media.

A "No Confidence" banner hangs off the Sweet Briar bell tower - a symbolic heart of campus.
A “No Confidence” banner hangs off the Sweet Briar bell tower – a symbolic heart of campus.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Indpendence)

Students React to Closure of Sweet Briar College

Students React to Closure of Sweet Briar College

As I read the words, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government….”, I am so grateful to the early revolutionaries of the United States.  It also makes me think of the revolutionaries of the Saving Sweet Briar Board who boldly put forth their own funds, time and talent to fight a cause they felt was worth fighting.  I, and thousands along with me, will honor them as revolutionaries of our time.  Joining them are the legal teams  – and those who supported them — representing students, faculty, alumnae and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Faculty and staff boldly spoke out.  Like the newspaper publishers of days gone by, writers of blogs and opinion pieces cried out against injustices and raised their truths.  All put forth a new vision and foundation for the future.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.” (Declaration of Independence)

"Girls Quit, Women Fight" banner hung outside Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College, the night of what the College declared "it's final reunion".
“Girls Quit, Women Fight” banner hung outside Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College, the night of what the College declared “it’s final reunion”.

The lawsuits of the students, faculty, alumnae of Sweet Briar College and the Commonwealth of Virginia petitioned for injunctions to halt the closure of their beloved College.  They listed their own usurpations as our forefathers did.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Sweet Briar College Votes to Close College at the End of 2014-2015 Academic Year (Sweet Briar Website)


“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

How Sweet Briar College’s Board Decided to Close (Chronicle of Higher Education)


“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

Hundreds of Alumnae Welcome Back Students as Show of Support


“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

Anger and Optimism Greet Sweet Briar College Plan for Closure (New York Times)


“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

Alumnae Association Creates Independent Association from College

Faculty Votes Unanimous No Confidence (Washington Post)


“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

Sweet Briar Board Was a Short Sighted Mess (Richard Leslie in Washington Post)


“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

Transfer Process Takes Toll on Students (News Advance)


“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.”

Virginia Attorney General:  County Attorney Lacks Standing in Case (News Advance)


“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”


“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

Who Gets Sweet Briar’s Endowment? (Inside Higher Ed)


“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

Sweet Briar Administrators Block T-Shirt Fundraiser


“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Sweet Briar College Can Be a Trust (Saving Sweet Briar.com)


“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:”

“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:”

Protests at Sweet Briar College
Protests at Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar Students, Faculty Protest Closure Outside President’s House (Richmond Times Dispatch)


“For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:”


“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:”

Sweet Briar College Abroad Programs to go to Hollins (Roanoke.com)


“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:”


“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:”

County Attorney Appeals Sweet Briar Case to Virginia Supreme Court (Washington Post)


“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences”


For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:


For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:


For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.


He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.


He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.


He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.


He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.


He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

While we were not fighting for our farms, our passion certainly runs strong. New leadership takes hold at the end of this Independence Day weekend.   The new Board of Directors is comprised of leaders from many economic sectors united in a desire for Sweet Briar to exist in perpetuity.

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

In Perpetuity....
In Perpetuity….

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

New President Takes Charge Declaring He Will Work Towards Highest Enrollment Ever (Washington Post)

President Stone wrote, “At an appropriate time, I will be able to more fully and effectively acknowledge the heroic work of Saving Sweet Briar and other friends of the college in successfully achieving what appeared to the rest of the world at the beginning to be impossible. The Sweet Briar alumnae have just been extraordinary, further proof that this special college dare not close. With their time, energy, resources and “Vixen determination,” the alumnae have demonstrated what might be our operative slogan:

AT SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE, THE IMPOSSIBLE IS JUST ANOTHER PROBLEM TO SOLVE.”

New Leadership at Sweet Briar College (WNCN.com)

Students, faculty, staff and a new board return to Sweet Briar for a new academic year.  All of these women and men are revolutionaries!

July 2nd – the day Sweet Briar keys were turned over to those who worked to save it – will always be our Indie-pendence Day!

* * *

Additional Reading:

Victory for Saving Sweet Briar:  In Indiana Fletcher Williams We Trust

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement. She raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

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