For a variety of reasons, Thomas Jefferson decreed that there be no president. Instead, the administration of the University was entrusted to a chairman of the faculty.
By the end of the 19th century it was apparent that this way of running an increasingly complex university was not practicable. In June 1904, the Board of Visitors selected Edwin A. Alderman to be the University’s first president. He was inaugurated on April 13, 1905—Founder’s Day.
In all accounts of the inauguration day, the excitement, exuberance and sheer fun of the day shine through. A Washington Post reporter observed that Cabell Hall “filled as though a bursting reservoir of humanity had been turned into it when the doors opened.” The student body marched from the Rotunda to Old Cabell Hall with a band alternating between “Dixie” and “The Good Old Song.”
After the Rector of the University, Charles Pinckney Jones, administered a simple and direct oath of office, a student in the gallery began a cheer, “Rah! Rah! Rah! Vir-gin-ia. Alderman, Alderman, Alderman.”
That evening, the Lawn was “brilliantly illuminated by hundreds of Japanese lanterns,” according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. About 500 students assembled on the West Range and were given torches, which they carried to the Lawn. Afterward, the crowd of several thousand went to the north portico of the Rotunda, where fireworks “afforded a dazzling spectacle.”