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About Southern Virginia University

Main Hall - Built in 1891

Southern Virginia University is a "new" institution of higher learning with a long tradition. The school was founded in 1867 during Virginia's post-Civil War era when Alice Scott Chandler established the Home School for Girls in Bowling Green, later renamed the Bowling Green Female Seminary. In 1883, Dr. Edgar H. Rowe purchased the school and operated it with Mrs. Chandler as principal. Dr. Rowe moved the school to Buena Vista in 1900, and changed its name to Southern Seminary. It was located in the splendid Buena Vista Hotel, which had been built 10 years earlier to accommodate the large numbers of land speculators investigating the town's iron ore discoveries. The iron boom was short-lived, however, and Dr. Rowe was able to purchase the hotel. The original hotel still serves as Main Hall, the University's principal building, and holds a place of distinction on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Historic Landmark.

In 1919, Dr. Robert Lee Durham, former dean of Martha Washington College, bought a half-interest in Southern Seminary and became the resident head of the school. An educator, lawyer, engineer, author and inventor, Dr. Durham strengthened the school's academic program. In 1922, Dr. Durham's daughter, Margaret, married H. Russell Robey, who purchased Dr. Rowe's remaining interest in the school and became its business manager and treasurer. Dr. Durham and Mr. Robey added college-level courses to the school's curriculum, and the first class of the new junior college program graduated in 1925. The period of greatest physical growth of the school, by then called Southern Seminary and Junior College, occurred during the presidency of Margaret Durham Robey, who succeeded her father upon his retirement in 1942. Facilities for art, early childhood education and home economics were added.

In 1959, the Robeys turned over the ownership of the College to a Board of Trustees, and the institution changed from proprietary to nonprofit status. In 1961, the school ceased offering high school courses, and the name of the institution was changed to Southern Seminary Junior College. The academic program was expanded to allow students either to begin careers after their two years at the school or to transfer to four-year colleges. "Sem" became a nationally recognized competitor in intercollegiate riding, winning numerous state, regional and national equitation competitions. By the early 1990's it had been generally forgotten that a seminary was anything but a school preparing one for the ministry. To avoid confusion, the name was again changed to Southern Virginia College for Women, which was shortened in 1994 to Southern Virginia College, when male students began to be admitted.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's enrollment began to slip and the College became financially unstable, which led to a loss of regional accreditation in 1996.

In the spring of that year, a group of Virginia businessmen and educators, all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stepped forward to renew the College. Since then the institution has experienced phenomenal growth. Only 76 students enrolled in fall 1996, but the next year saw enrollment increase to 214. In May 2000, "preaccreditation" was granted and enrollment surpassed 400 the following fall. The name was changed to Southern Virginia University in April 2001 to reflect growth of the curriculum and the rapidly increasing size of the student body. SVU continues to grow and progress, adding to the history and legacy of a great institution.

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