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Civil War and Reconstruction
Founding Era (1816–1860)
Thomas Jefferson’s vision for a public university in Virginia dates to at least 1779, when he proposed a general education system as an essential foundation for democracy. But it took decades of determination and political skill to turn the vision into bricks and mortar.
Feb. 14, 1816 Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and others obtain a charter from the Virginia General Assembly for Central College, which historian Philip Alexander Bruce describes as “the University in its chrysalis state.” They raise $40,000 and buy the land where the University now sits.
Oct. 6, 1817 The cornerstone is laid for the first building of Central College. This will become Pavilion VII on the West Lawn. Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are present.
Feb. 21, 1818 The General Assembly establishes a state university but leaves the site to be determined by an appointed commission.
August 1818 The commission, chaired by Jefferson, meets at Rockfish Gap not only to choose a location but also to recommend buildings, curriculum and administrative structure. Arguing for Charlottesville’s central location and the advancing construction on the site, Jefferson, Madison and their allies proffer the assets, land and buildings of Central College as an inducement, and the commission chooses Charlottesville.
Jan. 25, 1819 The General Assembly charters the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Following Jefferson’s prescription, and unlike most colleges of the time, it will have no religious affiliation and no clergy among its faculty.
1819–1829 Enslaved workers, leased from nearby slave owners, help to build the University, both as unskilled manual laborers and as skilled masons, carpenters and blacksmiths. They are joined by white workers and freed blacks.
March 7, 1825 First classes are held. Historians put the number of students from 40 to 68 at the outset, increasing to more than 100 by the end of the term.
July 14, 1825 The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society is founded by 16 members of the Patrick Henry Society. Hotel C on West Range, now known as Jefferson Hall, becomes its permanent meeting place.
Oct. 3, 1825 After many incidents of student disorder and drunkenness culminate in violent rioting on the Lawn, the entire faculty threatens to resign. The 82-year-old Jefferson summons all to the Rotunda. Confronting the failure of student self-rule and the threat to his dream of a university, he breaks into tears. Rioting students confess, some are expelled, and strict rules replace the former code of student self-government. Student mayhem is quelled, briefly.
Feb. 14, 1826 Edgar Allan Poe enrolls at UVA, joins the Jefferson Society in June, but drops out Dec. 15, saddled with gambling and other debts.
1828 First degree conferred: doctor of medicine.
1830–1860 As more slaves are leased to grow food, cook, clean and perform other domestic services for students and professors, the number of slaves varies between 108 and 182.
Nov. 12, 1840 Student disorder has persisted, to the point of a professor being horsewhipped near the Rotunda the previous year by two expelled students. Attempting to unmask a student firing a pistol on the Lawn, Law Professor and Faculty Chairman John A. G. Davis is shot. He dies two days later. Students capture the killer, and some historians regard their outrage and collaboration as a turning point in student lawlessness.
July 4, 1842 The seed of the Honor Code is planted when, in response to a perceived rise in cheating, the faculty approves a resolution by Faculty Chairman Henry St. George Tucker that requires students to sign a written pledge “on honor” that they have received no help on exams.
Nov. 26, 1852 The first fraternity at the University, Delta Kappa Epsilon, is established. Greek life would become an integral part of student life. Today, 61 Greek organizations exist at UVA: 38 fraternities, 22 sororities and one gender-inclusive LGBTQ fraternity.
1853 An expansive annex is added to the north side of the Rotunda to increase classroom space.
1857 Enrollment reaches 645. Gaslights are installed.
Civil War and Reconstruction (1860–1904)
As the Civil War dismantled plantation society and left the South impoverished, the University slowly adjusted to changes in society and the rise of industrialization.
Feb. 26, 1861 Students briefly display the Confederate flag on the Rotunda dome, said to be the first time the flag is flown in the state. After Virginia secedes on April 17, 1861, the faculty installs the flag on the dome officially.
1861–65 The University remains open throughout the Civil War, but with few students enrolled. Approximately 3,500 alumni, students and faculty serve in the Confederate armies; about 50 alumni and students, and at least one faculty member, serve in the Union armies.
July 1, 1861 Wounded Confederate soldiers from the war’s first major battle at Manassas are brought by train to Charlottesville. The University serves as a hospital throughout the war.
March 3, 1865 Union cavalry under Gen. George Armstrong Custer approaches Charlottesville, prompting fear that the University will be torched, as VMI had been the previous year. Carrying a white handkerchief tied to a cane, Professors John B. Minor and Socrates Maupin tell Custer’s advance guard that the city will not be defended, and ask for protection. The University is occupied for three days, mostly without incident.
1865–67 Impoverished after the war, the University authorizes professors to collect tuition directly from their students. 258 students enroll for the 1865-66 term; 490 the following year.
1866 Baseball is first played at the University. In 1872, the baseball club plays the University’s first “intercollegiate” contest, facing a team from Washington and Lee. In 1877, a permanent club for intercollegiate sports is established.
1867-1869 With plantation society dismantled and industrialization rising, the University expands its school of civil engineering and adds schools of industrial chemistry (1867) and agriculture (1869).
1871 Boarding house residents form the “Cabell House Men” singing group, marked as the origin of the Virginia Glee Club, the oldest music group at the University. Some famous names add their voices to the Glee Club over the years, including Woodrow Wilson, who sang first tenor during the 1879–1880 season.
1876–1877 Brooks Hall is built as a natural history museum, its Victorian architectural style a striking visual contrast to Jefferson’s classicism.
March 30, 1885 A cornerstone is laid for the University Chapel in the shadow of the Rotunda, Jefferson’s deliberately secular centerpiece of his Academical Village. Proposals for a chapel on Grounds started as early as 1835.
1888 Electric lights installed in selected University buildings.
1888 Students choose orange and blue as the school colors, replacing silver gray and cardinal red that symbolized the Confederate uniform stained with blood. UVA plays Johns Hopkins in football. In 1889, the football team has a regular schedule, the baseball field is fenced in and spectators are charged admission.
1888 First edition of Corks and Curls yearbook published, to this day a vital archive of UVA history.
1890 College Topics, the school newspaper, founded.
1893 Caroline Preston Davis, granddaughter of slain professor John A.G. Davis, is awarded a math “certificate” rather than a diploma, because she is a woman. The next year, Addis M. Meade earns a master’s in mathematics, but faculty and the Board of Visitors decide that women will no longer be admitted.
1896–1898 Rotunda restored by American architect Stanford White, adding east and west wings and a portico and steps on the north. White significantly modifies Jefferson’s interior design, combining two of its three floors into an atrium library.
1897 In connection with the Rotunda restoration, White also designs Cabell Hall, Rouss Laboratory and Cocke Hall, closing in the Lawn on the south. Later, this is viewed as deliberately erecting a barrier between the University and a nearby African-American neighborhood known as “Canada.”
1899 At 664 students, enrollment for the first time exceeds the peak before the Civil War.
1901 University Hospital opens. Women permitted to enroll in a two-year nursing program.
1903 Fourth-year James Hay Jr. publishes his iconic “The Honor Men” in Corks and Curls, an elegy to UVA, which ends with the famous line, “I have worn the honors of Honor. I graduated from Virginia.”
Alderman-Newcomb Era (1904–1947)
In the Progressive Era, the growing and modernizing University joined the ranks of the elite in American higher education, but its expanding opportunities remained blocked for women and African Americans.
1904 A Virginia graduate is chosen in the initial class of Rhodes scholars; through 2018, 53 Virginia students have won the prestigious annual fellowship to study at Oxford University.
April 13, 1905 Edwin Alderman inaugurated as first president of the University. Under Jefferson’s design, the chairman of the faculty was the administrative head of the University. A Progressive Era reformer, Alderman envisions the University at the head of a comprehensive public education system and as the source of modern expertise for government and industry.
1905 Curry School of Education created, in keeping with the movement to expand public primary and secondary schools.
1907 Phi Beta Kappa chapter established.
1909 The president’s house, Carr’s Hill, completed. Like the Rotunda restoration and other buildings, it was designed by McKim, Mead & White.
1910 In a campaign that will continue for years, Richmond activist Mary-Cooke Branch Munford presses the General Assembly to create a “coordinate” women’s college in Charlottesville. Opponents view the idea as a wedge toward admitting women to the University.
1913 The Honor Committee becomes part of student government, to preside over violations of the Honor Code, gradually extending to conduct such as passing bad checks, breaking a no-drinking pledge or answering “present” for a fellow student absent at roll call.
1915 Eugenics proponent Ivey Lewis is hired as chair of the School of Biology. With Alderman’s support and other faculty advocates, over the next decades the University becomes a center of a genetic-engineering movement that is eventually scorned as white supremacist pseudo-science.
1916 For the first time, public school students outnumber private school students enrolled at the University. Alderman is a champion of public schools.
1918 The bill to establish a women’s college at UVA fails in the General Assembly by two votes, despite Alderman’s support. William and Mary becomes fully coeducational in 1918 as an alternative.
April 12–13, 1919 The University’s centennial celebration is delayed by World War I, but Alumni Association Secretary Lewis Crenshaw orchestrates a celebration in Paris for hundreds of students and alumni who served and remain overseas.
1919 Sidney Fiske Kimball arrives in Charlottesville to establish a School of Architecture at UVA.
1920 Women are allowed admission to graduate and professional schools; three enroll in Law, four in Medicine, three in Education, seven in Arts & Sciences. Men number more than 1,550 at the University at the time. Five women are awarded Education degrees in 1922.
1921 UVA celebrates its centennial with four days of speeches, processions, memorials, banquets, a “pilgrimage to Monticello,” and an outdoor pageant on the theme of truth-pursuing, honor-seeking youth that blends Jefferson, Lafayette, Socrates and Athena with music and dancing Greek maidens. After Final Exercises, the celebration closes with Jefferson’s image rendered in fireworks above the Lawn, along with the words “Jefferson Still Lives.”
1926 Mary-Cooke Branch Munford is appointed to the BOV, where she serves until her death in 1938. She is the third woman to serve on the board. Mary Munford Hall, built in 1951, is the first residence hall at UVA built specifically for women.
1927 Chi Omega is the first women’s fraternity established at UVA (before the term sorority was in use, and almost a half-century before undergraduate admissions would fully enroll women).
1929 In 25 years under Alderman’s presidency, student enrollment grows from 500 to 2,200. Faculty members increase from 48 to 290.
Oct. 15, 1931 UVA football hosts VMI before 22,000 at the new Scott Stadium, which replaces Lambeth Field.
1931 Alderman dies after a stroke. John L. Newcomb (Engr 1903), dean of engineering and Alderman’s assistant since 1926, is appointed acting president.
Oct. 6, 1933 After more than two years, the BOV elects Newcomb as the University’s second president. As the Great Depression deepens, he faces significant funding cuts from the state.
1935 Alice Jackson, an African-American graduate of Virginia Union, is denied admission for graduate study by the BOV, which cites the state’s “fixed policy” of segregated education.
1938 Boxing team wins the University’s first NCAA championship. Through 2018, UVA teams have also been NCAA champions in lacrosse, soccer, tennis, cross country, rowing and baseball, for 25 in all.
June 10, 1940 In an address at Finals, President Roosevelt delivers the “dagger in the back” speech in response to Italy joining Nazi Germany’s war on France. In what historians regard a turning point, FDR declares America will materially aid the Allies and make military and industrial preparations in case the country is drawn into the world war.
1941–1945 Enrollment drops below 2,000 during World War II. More than 6,000 alumni and students served, and 321 died in the war.
1944 Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg becomes the “coordinate college” for undergraduate women. After two years at Mary Washington, women can transfer into the University.
1946 With troops back from the war, enrollment quickly tops 4,000 as the GI Bill provides tuition grants that encourage veterans to pursue higher education.
Post-War Boom (1947–1990)
Enrollment climbs as the University enters an era of prosperity, widening opportunity and tumultuous social change.
1947 Former Virginia Gov. Colgate Darden (Col 1922) inaugurated as third president of the University. He sees the University as integral to Virginia’s public school system. To “democratize” the University by reducing social exclusivity—and to curb drunken carousing—he prompts a ban on first-years joining fraternities.
1947 The Garden Club of Virginia begins its curation of the pavilion gardens.
1948 By 1948, the GI Bill is financing more than 3,000 of the University’s 5,000 students. The postwar GI boom soon subsides, but by 1960 enrollment is back to 5,000, and climbing.
1948 College Topics changes its name to The Cavalier Daily.
1950 A federal court compels the University to admit Gregory Swanson to the Law School. He is the first black student enrolled at UVA.
June 1953 Earning a doctorate in education, Walter Ridley becomes the first African American awarded a degree by the University. Two months later, E. Louise Stokes Hunter is awarded a doctorate in education, becoming the first African-American woman awarded a degree by UVA.
1955 To encourage economic development and management skills, the University establishes the first graduate school of business in the South. In 1974 it is named to honor Darden.
1957 William Faulkner becomes UVA’s first writer-in-residence, serving from 1957 to 1959 and then lecturing in American literature from 1960 until his death in 1962. He bequeaths most of his papers to the University’s library, creating the largest Faulkner archive in the world.
June 1959 Graduating from the School of Engineering, Robert Bland becomes the first African American to earn an undergraduate degree from the University.
Oct. 6, 1959 Edgar Shannon is inaugurated as fourth president of the University. He presides over a period of social turbulence, and enrollment more than doubles, topping 10,000 by 1970.
1960s Living on the Lawn becomes more prestigious with the introduction of a formal selection process.
March 25, 1963 Invited by a small coalition of African-American and white students, Martin Luther King Jr. speaks on civil rights and social justice at Old Cabell Hall.
1963–67 New Dorms constructed along Alderman Road to meet enrollment growth.
1965 University Hall opens as the home for UVA basketball.
1968 A committee appointed by President Shannon recommends that all restrictions on admission of women be rescinded. The Honor Committee asserts that admitting women will hurt the Honor System. Shannon appoints a committee under Provost Frank Hereford to address the practical considerations of admitting women, such as the impact on dormitories.
1969 To redress a history of discouraging African-American enrollment, Shannon’s administration hires a black admissions officer and energizes a high school recruiting program.
1969 The BOV proposes limited admission of women over a 10-year period.
September 1969 Having successfully challenged in federal court the University’s delayed lifting of restrictions, Virginia “Ginger” Scott of Charlottesville is the first woman enrolled as a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences.
October 1969 Under pressure from the federal court, the BOV resolves to admit women on the same basis as men in 1972, with transitional admissions of 450 in 1970 and 550 in 1971.
September 1970 Approximately 1,000 women apply to UVA, and the 450 enrolled make up 39 percent of the entering class. The next year, 2,500 women apply to fill the 550 openings allotted.
1972 The Honor System single sanction undergoes the first of what will be 14 student referendum challenges over the ensuing 44 years.
1973 The first African-American Greek societies form on Grounds, with fraternity Omega Psi Phi and sororities Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha (1974).
1974 North Grounds established, with new law, business and Judge Advocate General schools as anchors.
Oct. 9, 1974 Frank Hereford (Col ’43, Grad ’47) inaugurated as fifth University president. Enrollment is more than 14,000.
1975 Miller Center is established, focused on presidential scholarship, history and public policy. It is a rich repository of presidential history, including secret Oval Office tapes from FDR to Richard Nixon.
July 1976 Renovated and remodeled to reflect Jefferson’s original interior, the Rotunda reopens. Gov. Mills Godwin (Law ’38) hosts Queen Elizabeth II (shown above with UVA President Hereford) in the Dome Room in connection with America’s bicentennial celebration.
August 1976 The Office of Minority Affairs is created, capping years of activism to improve University life for African-American students.
Fall 1980 For the first time, the number of women entering the University exceeds the number of men. By 1995, female students outnumber male students overall, a fact that has persisted since.
1981 The cross country team wins UVA’s first women’s NCAA championship.
1985 Robert O’Neil inaugurated as sixth president of the University. During his tenure, programs are established in women’s studies, biomedical ethics and Tibetan studies.
1987 University and Monticello named UNESCO World Heritage sites.
1987 The first Black Alumni Weekend leads to the creation of the Ridley scholarship for African-American students from Virginia. The Holland scholarship is established the next year for out-of-state African-American students. In 2009, the Holland fund is renamed to also honor former Dean of Admission Jack Blackburn. All merge under the Ridley name in 2010.
1989 Women’s Center opens to support women’s lives and leadership at the University.
Modern Era (1990–present)
Turbulent social change subsides into an era of dramatic financial growth, greater diversity and critical reflection.
1990 John Casteen (Col ’65, Grad ’66, ’70) inaugurated as seventh president of the University, overseeing a 20-year period of enrollment growth, construction and financial challenges. Enrollment will grow from 18,000 to 24,000.
1992 New business school built, designed by modern-day classicist Robert A.M. Stern.
1993 U.S. News & World Report ranks the University the No. 1 public university in the country. UVA has consistently placed in the top three.
1997 The old business school gets retrofitted as part of the expanded David A. Harrison III Law Grounds.
1998 Larry Sabato (Col ’74) founds the Center for Politics to improve politics and civic engagement. It grows into a nationally prominent source of nonpartisan political commentary and prediction.
2000 After several renovations, Scott Stadium seating increases to more than 60,000.
2004 AccessUVA financial aid program begins, enabling students from low-income families to attend UVA free of debt. In 10 years, the cost grows to $40 million per year, and the program is modified in 2014 to include a maximum of $7,000 per year in loans.
2004 The Dell is completed. This 11-acre water management project created a pond and garden paths while solving complicated environmental problems going back almost to the University’s founding.
2006 With the state providing an ever-shrinking share of their budgets, UVA and other selective Virginia colleges explore the prospect of “going private.” That radical idea is not formally proposed, but the General Assembly agrees to loosen state control over tuition, spending and administration.
2006 John Paul Jones Arena opens, replacing U-Hall as home to UVA basketball, concerts and shows.
2007 Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy is founded.
2008–2015 “New” New Dorms replace the old New Dorms (but keep many of the names) in a phased modernization and expansion project.
2010 Faculty diversity increases during Casteen’s 20-year tenure, with UVA’s rank in the Association of American Universities improving from 58th to 48th in female faculty and from 21st to 12th in African-American faculty.
Aug. 1, 2010 Teresa A. Sullivan takes office as the University’s first female president. As the nation and the University slowly recover from the Great Recession, she will be challenged by management crisis and by social and political turmoil.
June 2012 Sullivan resigns under pressure from several BOV members to cut traditional elements of the liberal arts curriculum. Students, faculty and alumni protest Sullivan’s surprise ouster and the furor draws national attention. She is dramatically reinstated after 17 days.
September 2013 President’s Commission on Slavery and the University created, building on previous initiatives to discover and commemorate the role of enslaved people in the University’s history.
November 2014 Rolling Stone magazine publishes “A Rape on Campus,” igniting a furor with its false claim of a gang rape at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and tolerance of a “rape culture” at UVA. As investigation begins, parties at fraternities are suspended until January, when they adopt stricter safety and alcohol policies. The story is discredited and retracted. Rolling Stone pays millions in resulting defamation suits.
March 2015 A new residence hall is named Gibbons House in honor of William and Isabella Gibbons, married slaves owned by different professors before being freed after the Civil War. Isabella Gibbons became a teacher and William Gibbons a minister.
June 2015 UVA baseball team wins College World Series.
June 2017 “Freedom Ring” design approved for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, which will occupy a prominent place between Brooks Hall and the Corner.
Aug. 11, 2017 The night before a deadly “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, national white supremacists march on Grounds with torches, brawling with student counterprotesters surrounding the Jefferson statue on the Rotunda’s north terrace.
October 2017 On the 200th anniversary of Presidents Jefferson, Madison and Monroe laying the cornerstone for Central College, the University launches its bicentennial celebrations.
This timeline has extracted milestone dates, figures, characters and events from histories by Philip Alexander Bruce, Thomas Perkins Abernethy, Virginius Dabney, and Rex Bowman and Carlos Santos; articles in Virginia Magazine, University News, The Chronicle of Higher Education and various newspapers; exhibition narratives by the UVA Library; UVA Annual Financial Reports; a list of key dates by the Office of University Communications; and other research. The division of eras was suggested by Coy Barefoot.
- 200 and Growing: Celebrating the past two centuries. And the next.
- What Lies Ahead for Higher Ed
- On Common Grounds: An incomplete list of notable alumni who shared the University
- The Class of the Classroom: Favorite professors through the years
- Hero or Villain, Both and Neither: Appraising Thomas Jefferson, 200 years later
- A Hat Tip to UVA: And just what is it about this place