LC in History: The Match Factory

Dr. Clifton W. Potter, LC History Professor~

In 1903, the year that Josephus and Sarah LaRue Hopwood founded Virginia Christian College—now Lynchburg College and soon to be the University of Lynchburg—most of the institutions of higher learning in the United States were single sex.  However, a public distrust of coeducation did not deter Dr. Hopwood from pursuing what he considered “God’s divine plan,” but numerous barriers were in place on campus to deflect Cupid’s arrows.

Westover Hall was the first co-ed dorm on campus.  From 1903 until 1910, women lived on the second floor, while men lived on the third floor. Standing facing the dining hall, the right staircase led to the women’s quarters, while the left gave access to the top floor.  Barriers prevented “accidental” intrusions into the living quarters of the opposite sex.  With the opening of Carnegie Hall, which was completed in November 1909, the men were moved there, and Westover became a women’s dorm.   Men and women were not allowed to sit with each other at meals unless they were siblings or close relatives.  

Match factory

Illustration by Genevieve Griffin

Classes were mixed, but the men sat on one side of the room and women on the other.  It was very difficult for students of the opposite sex to interact with each other, but it was not impossible.  Strange as it may seem, students corresponded via the US Mail.  A young man could put on paper what he couldn’t say in person, and then wait for an answer by the regular mail or by way of the baskets that were regularly pulled up and down outside the windows of Westover at night.  Notes could be left in library books, but there was always the possibility that the wrong person might find it and report the would-be Romeo and Juliet to the librarian or a house mother.  For the more adventurous, there were field trips and classes that involved outdoor lab work.

Each year there were regular trips to the Peaks of Otter, Natural Bridge and some of the historic sites in the area.  It was possible to momentarily stray from the path, just long enough for a press of hands, a few whispered words or perhaps for the very bold, a quick kiss.  Getting lost on a botany field trip was relatively easy because the professor could not keep track of every student. These classes were very popular and had full enrollments every semester.

For those who did not want to spend money on letters or contrive to lose themselves on a field trip, there was always church. Every student at Virginia Christian College was expected to attend regular Sunday services at the church of their choice, and they were encouraged to attend Sunday night services if possible. This was a great way to sit next to that special someone and share a hymnal. After evening services, there was often a brief social hour before boarding the streetcar for the return trip to campus.  Those in charge of protecting the virtue of our female students finally discovered what was happening behind their backs, and attendance at Sunday night services was curtailed, or subjected to strict surveillance by an army of chaperons. However, love will always find a way, and many of the members of those early classes married fellow students after graduation. Sixty years ago our Alma Mater still was known affectionately as “The Match Factory.”