Dudley selects first director of institutional history

As director, Lynn Rainville will develop a museum dedicated to Washington and Lee University’s history

Gus Cross

President Will Dudley announced Lynn Rainville of Sweetbriar College as the new director of institutional history earlier this month.

Rainville, originally an archaeologist with a doctorate degree in the field, began teaching anthropology and archaeology courses at Sweet Briar College in 2001. She was appointed the founding director of Tusculum Institute for public history and historic preservation in 2008. In 2018, Rainville was appointed as dean of the college at Sweet Briar.

“Lynn has a really unique set of skills and professional experiences that combine the study of archaeology, history [and] public history, with her contagious curiosity and enthusiasm for telling the stories of a community,” Sally Stone Richmond, a member of the search committee for the position and the vice president for admissions and financial aid, said. 

The search committee to find a potential candidate for the new position was formed in the fall of 2018 at the direction of Dudley. The committee worked with a professional search consultant firm, Storbeck/Pimentel and Associates, to find potential applicants. The committee was chaired by Brant Hellwig, the dean of the law school.

“The number one goal was trying to generate interest in candidates that checked as many of the boxes as we could identify,” he said. “We wanted to develop the deepest possible candidate pool.”

The official description on the Washington and Lee University website for the job encompasses “developing a museum to explore the University’s history” in addition to managing “all assets facilities, resources, staffing and strategic planning associated with the University’s historic galleries and the University Collection of Art and History.” The intention to create a “modern campus museum to present W&L history comprehensively and accurately” appears in the university’s Strategic Plan, approved in May 2018. 

“It’s a pretty unique job; there is no position that exists that is completely comparable to this one,” Richmond said.

Richmond added that the school needed someone with a love and curiosity for history, an appreciation for the public dimension of the job and to “be a teacher at heart.”

After going over all the applicants and nominees for the position, the committee narrowed down the candidates to 10 to 12 semi-finalists. From there, the committee invited four finalists to campus to come present and interact with the community at Washington and Lee. The four finalists – Col. Ty Seidule from West Point, Susan Kern from the College of William and Mary, Kirt von Daacke from the University of Virginia, and Rainville – were selected for their understanding of the job, their enthusiasm and their “experience and passion for helping our school,” Hellwig said.

Richmond said that in going over the potential candidates, both the committee and the search firm were mindful of the gender, age, ethnicity and geographic proximity and background.

“Who these individuals were, what they could represent and how they might help affect change absolutely included their own background and their own interests,” said Richmond. “Each of them had given evidence of an investment into their own identity but also an investment in helping diversify the story of their own institutions.”

After the final four candidates visited campus and held open presentations for the Washington and Lee community on their vision for the position, the search committee met one last time with Dudley to go over their final thoughts on all of the candidates.

“What became evident to folks that observed or interacted with her  [Rainville] during her visit was the clear and natural love for unpacking and telling [the stories of a community],” Richmond said.

Hellwig said he was happy with Dudley’s decision.

“She is deeply genuine in her desire to do this kind of constructive work and I find that exciting,” Hellwig said. 

Richmond said she has talked with Rainville over email and said Rainville is excited for the upcoming position.

“She just absolutely loves the idea of getting to know a community better and unpack and interpret the community and all of its stages of history,” Richmond said. 

Rainville will start her new position officially on July 1 but will be visiting campus prior to that, said Richmond.