Indiana Fletcher Williams, a strong advocate for women’s education, bequeathed her estate through a trust to establish a liberal arts college for women as a memorial to her daughter, Daisy, in perpetuity. Since opening in 1906, Sweet Briar College has educated women who have furthered her vision by going on to lead lives of significance in whatever field or endeavor they chose.
On March 3, 2015, 114 years after the College’s founding, the then-board of directors and interim president of the College sought to close Sweet Briar. Alumnae, faculty, staff, students and friends of the College immediately organized to successfully challenge the closing. As a result of this remarkable show of force, the newly installed board of directors voted to establish a special recognition for a person or persons who exhibit exceptional commitment to the mission of the College.
“The presentation of this medal will acknowledge the bold vision of the recipients, and distinguish them as particularly significant figures in the history of the College,” said board chairwoman Teresa Tomlinson ’87. “This award will be given to individuals who have advanced the interests of Sweet Briar College through courageous action, and who are worthy of extraordinary recognition.”
In honor of the heroic efforts of Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer in the fight to save Sweet Briar College, the board of directors unanimously voted on April 22, 2016, to award her the inaugural Founder’s Medal.
On March 30, 2015, Bowyer filed a complaint to challenge the attempted closure. She, along with attorneys from Troutman Sanders who worked as special counsel to her office, argued the case before the Amherst County circuit court before taking an interlocutory appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court on April 29, 2015, on the question of the existence and effect of the Williams’ trust. The legal challenge resulted in a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court on June 9, 2015, which led to a settlement, reached on June 20, 2015, that kept Sweet Briar College alive under new leadership.
“Ellen’s efforts ensure that the intent of Indiana Fletcher Williams’ will is honored in perpetuity, so it is particularly fitting that the inaugural Founder’s Medal be awarded to her,” Tomlinson said.
Bowyer was warm in her expression of appreciation for the honor, and noted saving Sweet Briar was a true team effort.
“It would not have happened without the alumnae, faculty, staff and students all working together. It was an extraordinary adventure and I am proud to have been one part of it,” she said.
Bowyer will receive the honor during Sweet Briar College’s 107th Commencement on May 14, 2016.