Robert E. Lee

a painting of Robert E. Lee in his office at Washington College

Robert E. Lee, a descendant of patriots who aided in the founding of the United States, related by blood and closely tied by marriage to President George Washington, was a professional military man of renowned ability. After the Civil War, he emerged as one of the most important and nationally appreciated figures in healing the divisions of that conflict. As Lee stated, “Remember, we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring them up to be Americans.” Qualified by his prior tenure as Superintendent at West Point, in 1865 Lee became president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. His stated purpose was to prepare young men to be successful in their endeavors and to be gentlemen in the most positive aspects of that title.

Kappa Alpha Order was founded on December 21, 1865, during Lee’s presidency. Lee was not a member of Kappa Alpha Order, but his religious convictions, exemplary ideals, values, strong leadership, courtesy, respect for others and gentlemanly conduct greatly influenced the students at Washington College. His requirement for all students was, “We have but one rule—that every student must be a gentleman.” It is in this spirit that Lee is noted as the Order’s Spiritual Founder.

Lee’s Definition of a Gentleman

“The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled when he cannot help humbling others.”

-Robert Edward Lee in a memorandum found among his papers after his death