by Mr. Karl W. Saur (CLAS 1983)
Read before the Society on 5 February 1982
The history of the Jefferson Society is, in large measure, the history of the University of Virginia. No other organization has been as active, for as many years, in the life of the University of Virginia as has the Jefferson Society. The Jefferson Society is a survivor — and a tenacious one at that. She has survived three great wars, two of which threatened to bring about her premature demise. She has survived the growth of fraternity life at the University and the rise of collegiate athletics. The days when literary societies provided the only form of extra-curricular activity at the University have come and gone. Yet, the Jefferson Society has not only survived through these many years — she has flourished. Why? How, in this day and age, is the Society able to attract new members and inspire a high level of devotion and involvement on their part? Surely, one cannot attribute this to chance alone. The Society has fulfilled a need of the students of this University — she provides a forum in which they may develop strong friendships and stimulate their minds while, at the same time, she encourages the ambitious to compete for her favors. The Society is not, nor has ever been, to everyone’s taste. She has never tried to appeal to everyone. This is one of the keys to her success. The Jefferson Society has found her audience and has been content to keep to it over the years. The history of the Society is one of short-term failures and long-term successes. The record of the Society is something of which she may be proud.
On 7 March 1825, the University of Virginia was opened to students. Soon thereafter, the Patrick Henry Society was founded. On 14 July 1825, sixteen of her members, disaffected by chaotic meetings and an open membership policy, met in Room 7 West Lawn to appoint a committee to frame a constitution for a new literary society. The committee consisted of Edgar Mason, John H. Lee, and William G. Minor. Four days later, on 18 July 1825, the group met in Room 5 West Lawn and adopted the new constitution. Thus was born the Jefferson Society of the University of Virginia.
Because of the burning of the Society’s archives in the Rotunda fire of 1895, most of our records of the Society’s early years have been lost. Adequate materials remain, however, to enable us to sketch a picture of those years. We do not have a copy of the first constitution, but we know something of its framework from a catalogue of the Society that was printed in 1859. Originally, there were four officers of the Society: Edgar Mason was the first Moderator, John H. Lee the first Vice-Moderator, Mann A. Page the first Secretarius, and J. N. Tazewell the first Bibliothecarius. When those offices became known by their present names is a mystery, although it is certain that the change took place before 1854, and probably well before that. Meetings were held, at first, weekly on Monday evenings “at candlelight.” This was found to be unsatisfactory, and meetings were soon held every fort-night. The place of meeting varied; at first, meetings were held in Pavilion I. Later, meetings were held in Pavilion IV, which was not used as a professorial residence; it was commonly known as “the old Library.” Moot courts were held in the basement of Pavilion IV by the professor of law. Pavilion VII was used as a place of meeting on occasion. Not until 1837, when the group was granted permission to use the large room of Hotel C, did the Society have a permanent meeting place. In 1841, the Society was allowed to remove the partitions in the hotel. The Society now had a spacious meeting hall that soon be-came known as “Jefferson Hall.” The relationship between the Society and this hall has always been very close; to this day, both are referred to simply as “The Hall.”
The first badge of the Society was ordered “to consist of a bunch of ribbons, the colors of which are to be Blue — White and Pink, to be worn on the left Lapelie of the coat.” A medal was also adopted by the Society: “The device, a scroll, on which appears the Declaration of independence transversed by a spear, surmounted with the cap of Liberty; on the reverse shall be the name of the Society, its date of birth, encircled by a wreath of laurel. The seal shall be the front of the device, with the motto, Pro Patria, Pro Libertate, at que ProLitteris.” The model and motto were adopted in 1825 and changed in 1848. The colors of the Society were changed to blue in 1834, by which time another society had taken white and pink as its colors.
At first, meetings of the Society were not strictly secret; members were allowed to bring a friend to meetings. Apparently, this was not found to be to the benefit of the Society and in February 1827 strict secrecy was enjoined upon all members, with expulsion as the penalty for its violation. This would remain the policy of the Society for many years.
At the first constitutional meeting of the Society, Mr. Jefferson was elected an honourary member. The committee appointed, having ad-dressed to him a letter, received the following reply:
Monticello, Aug. 12, 1825
I am very thankful, gentlemen, for the honor done me by the society of which you are a committee, in electing me one of its honorary members. I could decline no distinction conferred by the them, nor service I could render them, but on reasons of still higher importance to themselves, on maturely weighing the general relation in which the law of the University and the appointment by its visitors have placed me as to every member of the institution, I believe it my duty to make no change in those relations by entering into additional and different ties with different associations of its members. The duties with which I am charged require that in all cases which may arise, I shall stand in an equal position as to every person concerned, not only that I may preserve the inestimable consciousness of impartiality to all, but the equally inestimable exemption from all suspicion of partialities. Your kind expressions towards myself ensure to me, I hope, an equally kind acceptance of the reasons on which I act, and I can add with truth on behalf of my colleagues of the visitation, that the highest reward they can receive from their joint cares and exertions on behalf of this institution, is the anticipated hope and relief that they are rearing up in science and in virtue those on whom the hopes of their country rest for future government and prosperity. For myself, I pray you to accept assurances of my sincere affections and best wishes.
James Madison was elected an honorary member and accepted; James Monroe later did likewise. The Marquis de Lafayette was elected and notified in person by John H. Lee at a celebration given by the University in Lafayette’s honor in the Rotunda during the Marquis’ triumphal tour of the United States in 1825. The Society has a transcript of the article in the Richmond Enquirer of 6 September 1825 that covered the celebrations in the Rotunda and Monticello; included is a mention of Lafayette’s election to membership in the Society and his acceptance of it. John Randolph was nominated for honorary membership, yet he was rejected because of his opposition to the presidential candidacy of James Monroe.
The founding of the Jefferson Society should be seen within the context of the remarkable rise and growth of literary societies at American colleges that marked the first half of the nineteenth century. Literary societies had been founded in the eighteenth century at some campuses, but they were few and far between when compared with the boom that began at the turn of the nineteenth century. Many of the earliest Greek letter fraternities began as secret literary societies. The oldest Greek letter fraternity, the northern Organization of Kappa Alpha fraternity, was founded in November 1825. Literary and debating activities provided the chief form of extracurricular activity on American campuses of the day. This would not remain the case, and literary societies would find themselves hard-pressed when competitors for the attention of students arose.
The young Society grew. Meetings soon became disorderly and in 1826 a new office was instituted for the assessment of all fines for disorderly conduct on the part of members of the Society. A regular court was held after each meeting, presided over by two judges who heard all appeals respecting fines and decided on them, always doubling the amount of the fine if the appeal were not sustained. This practice grew useless and cumbersome and was abolished in 1838. Boisterous proceedings became a hallmark of the Society; it was an ironic development, as disorderly meetings were a cause of the secession from the Patrick Henry Society. The constitution of the Society was continually revised; the practice became so common that it was decided “any one introducing a motion affecting the constitution shall be fine done dollar, providing such a motion be not carried.” Evidently this did not deter the reformers, for revisions of the constitution were made annually. The present preamble and oath of membership date from 1832; with the accretions of the years, the present constitution resembles those of the early years of the Society in little else.
Edgar Allen Poe became a member of the Society on 17 June 1826, while he was a student at the University. Poe does not appear to have been a terribly active member, although a few evenings after joining, he read an essay, according to the custom of the Society in those years. His subject was “heat and cold.” As well as participating in some debates, he acted as secretary pro tempore; his autograph was later cut out of the minutes, which in turn were destroyed in the Rotunda fire.
In 1826, the Medical Society was founded. It soon became known as the Aesculpian Society. Little is known of this society except that it was represented by one editor of the five on the board of the Jefferson Monument Magazine in 1849. There is no further mention of the society after this point in time. Meanwhile, the Patrick Henry Society faded out of existence by 1830. In the session of 1831-32, about fifteen or twenty students founded the Academics Society; it was an “association for mutual improvement in the art of oratory.” The Washington Society Catalogue of 1866 states that the Academics Society united with another society, which remains nameless, in the session of 1835-36 to form the Washington Society. In 1836, Gamma Pi Delta was founded as a debating and oratorical society. It is usually cited as the first Greek letter society to appear at the University. Little else is known of it. By 1836, the Jefferson Society had a number of competitors for the attention of students. Only one, the Washington Society, survived long enough to seriously compete, yet even it had a number of problems; it was never able to challenge the dominance of the Jefferson Society.
In 1832, the Society held its first public celebration of Founder’s Day. Until this time, the Society held celebrations of Washington’s birthday, the anniversary of the opening of the University, Mr. Jefferson’s birthday, Patrick Henry’s birthday, Independence Day, and the anniversary of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. This became a burden for the Society. In 1832, a motion was carried that called for the annual election of an Orator for Commencement and Founder’s Day. Alderman Library has manuscripts of the Society’s Founder’s Day orations for 1833 and for many of the following years. The other celebrations appear to have ceased at this time. In 1898, in Pavilion IX, an invitation for that first Founder’s Day celebration was found behind a mantle. It was an invitation to a ball given in Hotel C on Jefferson’s birthday and the names of those invited are also found on the roll of the Society’s membership for the session of 1831-32. In the 1840’s, having permanent quarters in the now-spacious Jefferson Hall, the Society began to hold many social functions and became a center for social activity on the Grounds. The Society often gave cotillions in the Hall; in 1845, the faculty granted a request for a dance, with the restriction that all public drinking was to be avoided! In 1846, the Society began the custom of selecting a Reader of the Declaration of independence for its Founder’s Day celebration. In the same year, the Washington Society held its first public celebration of Washington’s birthday; the Washington Society Catalogue of 1866 notes that the organization had been very poorly supported until 1846. By the end of the 1840’s, the Washington Society was firmly established at the University.
In 1848, the Jefferson Society altered its motto and device. The motto became Haec olim meminisse juvabit. Why this motto was chosen is not known. The motto, incidentally, is that of the clan Lewis of Scotland. In an old photograph, one can see this motto on the proscenium in the public hall of the old Annex that stood behind the Rotunda between 1853 and 1895. The motto was taken from the Aeneid. The scene in which the line is uttered is one where Virgil depicts a group of men, shipwrecked and starving. One of the group remarks, with a mixture of optimism, pessimism, and more than a tinge of irony: “Fortasse haec olim meminisse juvabit.” — “Perhaps, at some time, it may be pleasing to remember these things.” This motto has proven to be an apt one, as many members of the Society will attest. The Society also adopted a new device, one which was a simplified version of its predecessor. A new element was introduced in this device; the Greek letters Phi Pi Theta were added to the scheme. When the Society first adopted its Greek letters is a mystery. They might have been adopted in 1825,but what sketchy records we have do not mention them until 1848. The Gamma Pi Delta Society, founded in 1836, is referred to as such in our records without mention of our letters. Perhaps we adopted the letters between 1836 and 1848. On the other hand, there was no need for the Society to identify itself by its letters. In sum, we will never know when the letters were adopted. The long-standing tradition of the Society is that those letters have been associated with the Society since its earliest days. This is as valid a hypothesis as any, although not conclusive. The letters themselves form the Greek acronym for “Philoi, Patris, Theos” — “Friends, Country, and God.” As with its motto, the Society’s letters have served it well. It is with some pride that the Society counts itself the second oldest Greek letter society in the nation, second only to Phi Beta Kappa.
In 1849, the Philomathean Society was founded by a group of defectors from both the Jefferson and Washington Societies. It met its end in 1851. The Columbian Society was possibly founded as early as 1850. It ceased to be by 1859. The Parthenon Society was founded by a group of malcontents of the Washington Society in 1852 — their candidate in that society’s election had failed to win and they withdrew from the society. By 1853, the Parthenon Society was no more.
In 1852, a chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity was founded at the University. This signaled the rise of a powerful competitor for the position the literary societies held as the dominant force in extra-curricular activities at the University: the social fraternity system. In the session of 1855-56, the Council of the Friends of Temperance was founded. This organization would be second only to the Jefferson Society in membership in later years. Nonetheless, the 1850’s were a “golden age” for the Hall, the first of several. The time of trouble would not arrive until the next decade. In the session of 1852-53, the University’s enrollment was 425; the Jefferson Society accepted 123 new members in that session, and the Washington Society had 42 members. In the session of 1855-56, the Hall admitted 155 new members, while the University’s enrollment hit an antebellum high of 645 in the following session. The University of Virginia was the second largest university in America, and it seemed it would soon replace Harvard as the preeminent university in the United States. By the end of the decade, the Hall counted 250 students as members. In terms of the size of its membership, the Society has never had it better than in those years before the War.
In 1856, the Jefferson, Washington, and Columbian Societies joined forces to publish the University Literary Magazine. This was the successor to the Collegian, which was founded in 1838. The name of that magazine was changed to the Jefferson Monument Magazine in 1849, with the Jefferson, Washington, and Aesculpian Societies represented on the editorial staff. The University Literary Magazine soon became the Virginia University Magazine and eventually evolved into the University of Virginia Magazine. With the coming of the War in 1861, publication of the magazine ceased. it was revived after the War and was published by the two surviving literary societies until 1907, when the English department took over control of the magazine. After that, the magazine had a spotty history; it was revived on a few occasions by the Jefferson Society under different names and was last published around 1970.
The 1850’s were prosperous years for the Hall. The Society was able to donate a large number of books to the library of the University. The Hall gave a stone for the building of the Washington Monument; the stone was inscribed and placed at the 270th-foot landing, where it can still be seen. The Society sought relief for Mrs. Clemm, the mother-in-law of Poe. The constitution of 1860, noting the prosperous financial condition of the Hall, set aside surplus monies for scholarships for University students. The scholarships were 250 dollars and could be renewed for a second year. The 1850’s were years of vigorous growth for the Society and the University. Those years saw the two experience a golden age of a kind which has yet to be repeated. The advent of the new decade saw the arrival of a war that threatened the very existence of the Jefferson Society and the University of Virginia. It remains the gravest threat the two have faced to date. The post-bellum world would differ greatly from that which preceded it, yet the Society and the University survived and managed to adapt to the changes that had taken place, in spite of the odds against doing so.
In 1860, support for secession was generally lacking among the students and faculty of the University. In the election of 1860, the support of the University went to the Constitutional Unionist ticket of Bell and Everett. After the firing on Fort Sumter, Lincoln’s invocation of the Militia Act, and Virginia’s consequent decision to secede from the Union, however, the University and the Hall rallied behind the Commonwealth. The Washington Society met on 20 April 1861 and decided to meet thenceforth only at the call of their president. Thereafter, the Washington Society began to meet with the Jefferson Society at the meetings of the latter. The Hall must have lifted its policy of strict secrecy to allow such an occurrence. In their joint meetings, the societies decided to retire the Everett Medal, which had been given for debate between the societies, and to cease publication of the Virginia University Magazine. The Washington Society ceased to meet altogether on 19 May 1861, after having decided to contribute its assets to the Commonwealth. The Jefferson gave its assets to the Confederate cause and ceased meeting at the end of the session.
At the beginning of the next session, that of 1861-62, according to the Washington Society Catalogue of 1866, “a few old members of the Washington and Jefferson Societies united and formed the ’University Literary Society’ and held their meetings in the Hall of the Washington Society. The new body ceased to exist at the close of the session; but in the succeeding session, the Jefferson Society was reorganized and continued to hold its meetings thereafter, with few interruptions, during the war.” The Jefferson Society continued to meet in Washington Hall. Jefferson Hall was used as a hospital for those wounded in the War, particularly after the Battle of Manasses and the Battle of Port Republic. The number of members in the Society during the war years was sizable, if one considers that the University averaged sixty-four students per session at the time. It is surprising that both the Society and the University were able to function at all; most of their sister organizations in the Confederacy were not as fortunate.
On 3 March 1865, the University surrendered to General Custer, who captured Charlottesville for Sheridan. Custer spared the University and Monticello from Union torches at the request of John B. Minor. The University was thus saved from the fate suffered by other universities in the South. Ahead lay the business of recovery, a task that was not easy by any standard.
The session of 1866-67 saw 490 students enrolled at the University. They were serious students, as would be expected from men trying to salvage a society and struggle with an uncertain future. The Society continued to meet, although interest in literary societies was not very strong in such a serious and practical academic atmosphere. The Washington Society reorganized in October 1865. The two literary societies contributed towards a monument to the Confederate dead, which now stands in the University cemetery, and aided the University in its recovery. These years were dark in contrast with those of the previous decade, yet they would not remain so for long.
By the 1870’s, the Jefferson Society was returning to a semblance of its old, proud, boisterous self. Politics dominated Hall activities, and the influences of fraternities and factions were felt strongly in the Society. In these years, the literary societies were frequently censured by the University of Virginia Magazine for allowing such politics to dominate their activities. As the magazine was published by the societies, it might well be that such censures were written by those who had been on the losing side of a political battle in one of the two societies. In the session of 1874-75, the faculty intervened to temper the divisive proceedings over the choice of debaters and orators. This was to little avail, of course. The divisiveness seems to have helped rather than to have hurt the Hall, for it continued to grow and flourish. Any negative effects on the Society were more probably caused by the contemporaneous flourishing of social fraternities and the Temperance Council — what a motley collection of associations! The literary societies were no longer the kings-of-the-hill at the University. They seemed to have banded together to meet a common enemy. Washington Society members were allowed to attend the otherwise secret meetings of the Jefferson Society, following the precedent set in that fateful spring of 1861. In 1870, the two societies began to hold joint Anniversary celebrations. In 1876, they jointly sponsored Ralph Waldo Emerson as their Finals Orator. The generation after the War Between the States saw many a distinguished statesman serve as the joint societies’ Finals Orators, including President Cleveland in 1888. The Jefferson Society had 160 members in 1871 and was able to maintain such high numbers into the 1890’s; in 1889 alone, the Society admitted 125 new members. The Washington Society was never able to come close to those figures. In fact, the Temperance Council became the second largest student society for a few years in the 1880’s. Throughout those years, the Jefferson Society remained the largest organization at the University. The 1870’s and 1880’s constituted a second golden age for the Hall. One would have been hard pressed to recognize that this was the same society that barely survived the War Between the States.
In 1879, T. Woodrow Wilson became a member of the Jefferson Society. In that year, he was elected Secretary. His minutes remain in the possession of the Society. In 1880, he was elected President of the Hall. Wilson was best remembered for his chairing of a constitutional revision committee. He apparently tried to railroad his revision through the Society, and he succeeded. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to repeat this performance in the Senate with the Treaty of Versailles. The constitution of 1881 altered parliamentary procedure in the Society. Until this time, Jefferson’s Manual had been the authority for procedure; Wilson’s constitution prescribed the use of Robert’s Rules of Order, only five years after it was first published. The next constitutional revision, that of 1887, is notable because it opened the Society’s meetings to the general public, thus ending the Hall’s history as a secret society.
The session of 1892-93 saw political and factional activity in the Hall reach a fever pitch of excitement. The next session saw a collapse of the Society in comparison with the previous two decades. The literary societies now had to compete with a foe far more dangerous to their futures than the social fraternities had ever been: college athletics. The advent of athletic programs at the University at the end of the nineteenth century furthered the decline of the literary societies from their privileged position as centers of student activity. Social life revolved more and more about athletic events, and students were more interested in sports than in the overly factional literary societies. It took a long time for the Jefferson Society to recover from the damage done in the 1890’s, and the Washington Society never fully recovered — its next and last thirty years were ones of an enfeebled existence.
At the turn of the century, the literary societies were biding their time. The membership in the Hall averaged between thirty and forty-five in number between 1895 and 1906. Politics and factionalism faded as interest in forensics renewed. The coming generation was a good one for debating in the Hall, in spite of a smaller membership. In 1895, the Harrison Trophy was established for the annual Jefferson-Washington Society debate. The Hall had already accepted reforms to encourage the art of forensics as early as 1890. In 1907, the Society started to resolve itself into a committee of the whole for the purpose of debate. In 1913, the two literary societies began to head the Virginia High School Debate League. In the same year, members of the two groups formed the Congress of Debating Union for the purpose of devoting themselves solely to debate. The group lasted for seven years. The societies were very active on the intercollegiate debating circuit, but this became somewhat burdensome and the English department took responsibility for various forensics activities. The first quarter of this century saw the rise of oratorical exercises in the Jefferson Society, a development that would lead to the imposition of a speaking requirement upon those who wished to join the Society. The Hall became less a literary society than a debating and oratorical society, a trend that continued unabated until the late 1970’s.
The coming of the First World War in 1917 disrupted life at the University; enrollment fell from near 1000 to 760. The effect upon the University was nowhere near that of the War Between the States or even that of the Second World War. The literary societies weathered the war well; the records of the Hall evidence little concern about the possible effects of the war upon the Society. One gets the impression that the war almost went by unnoticed. This is telling; it reveals how isolated America was from the worst effects of the war, while Europe was sent reeling by a cataclysm of the first rank, to which, in some respects, the Second World War proved anti-climactic. The growth in membership in the Jefferson Society that began in 1906 seems not to have been dampened permanently by the war. That growth was neither continuous nor substantial, yet it was sufficient to keep the Hall active and lively. Nonetheless, the literary societies were almost but a shade of their former selves. In 1916, they abandoned the practice of joint celebrations and joint Finals orators; they gave up what little remained of their former glory as the cynosures of student life at the University of Virginia.
The period after the war was difficult for the Hall. It was disastrous for the Washington Society. The Roaring Twenties were great years for the fraternities and athletics at the University, and this did little to improve the condition of the literary societies. The Jefferson Society chose to combat the competition provided by the Law School’s moot court exercises by holding its own. The Hall’s moot court became popular; it went that of the Law School one better by providing dramatic — and often comic — reenactments of the crimes before the court. The Hall also competed with the fraternities by holding “Pink Nimbus Nights” at the beginning of each semester. This practice continued well into the 1950’s. In 1955, it was said that the “Pink Numbus Night” resembled “a fraternity rush-talk, suffused with the roseate glow of the Society’s consummate perfection and of the ineffable beatitude shared by those so fortunate as to be members.” The Hall managed to hold its own in the 1920’s. In 1925, with great fanfare, the Society celebrated its centenary. The University even cancelled classes for the celebrations. Although the Society was not what it had been in the generations before and after the War Between the States, the very fact that the Hall had survived at all was cause to rejoice.
In 1927, the Woodrow Wilson Society was founded. In 1928, it was no more. In 1929, the Washington Society succumbed and ceased to meet. It had never fully recovered from the crippling effects of the trends of the previous thirty years. The onset of the Great Depression dealt a fatal blow to the Washington Society. The disbanding of the Washington Society left the Jefferson Society as the only literary society at the University of Virginia. In 1932, the Washington Society was revived, but it did not survive the session. It was revived again in 1939 as a faculty and student organization, but this society had disbanded by 1942. The Jabberwock Society, a quasi-literary secret society, was founded in 1939 and survived into the 1950’s. While the Depression years were not good ones for other literary societies, the Jefferson Society was experiencing another golden age.
The stars of the “renaissance” of the 1930’s were Robert Musseiman and his “machine.” Musselman effectively ran the Hall in the second half of the decade. In 1935, a major constitutional revision was made under Musselman’s supervision. The two major innovations of this constitution were the institution of probationary membership, which heretofore had not existed, and the creation of the present program format. Probationary requirements included a presentation of a passing speech; this constitutionalized the practice of having applicants for membership address the Society, which arose in the 1920’s. The new program structure was instituted to encourage discussion and to limit the need for secret sessions during meetings. The constitution of 1935, in essence, created the Jefferson Society of today. in all, the 1930’s were an intensely political and creative decade for the Society, and it was during that decade that the modern Hall was born.
The Second World War greatly disturbed the life of the University community. The existence of the Jefferson Society was threatened as it had not been since the War Between the States. Many of our records for the period have been misplaced, and there is doubt as to what occurred in the Society during the war. The University became a naval training compound, and enrollment dropped to near 1300 from a pre-war high of near 3000. The transient nature of the student body posed a problem for the Hall. New members were hard to recruit. There are rumors that the Society stopped meeting for a couple of years during the war, but it is doubtful that this happened. We have complete minutes of the meetings through the early months of 1943. After that, we have only a rough log for the meetings of the next three years. The records are incomplete, yet the fact that they exist suggests that the Society continued to meet, although not necessarily on a weekly basis. The meetings that were held were usually short — they often lasted for no more than two or three hours. After the war, it is recorded in the minutes that members of the Society were concerned about the paucity of applicants for membership and about the future of the Hall. Fortunately, the arrival of war veterans to study at the University after the war came quickly enough to bolster the Society’s membership rolls before a disaster occurred.
The end of the 1940’s saw a revitalization of the Hall. In 1948, Benjamin C. Moomaw donated money to the Society and created the fund for the annual Benjamin C. Moomaw Oratorical Contest. The 1950’s, often referred to as the “beer keg era,” were a decade of continued recovery and growth. The Hall was able to secure many notable speakers, including William Faulkner and John Dos Passos. Jefferson Hall was renovated in 1957 and the University of Virginia Magazine was revived by the Society in 1956. The Hall again became a boisterous center of social activity at the University and thrived.
The 1960’s were a time of change at the University, and the Hall changed with the times. In 1964, in order that the Rotunda might be restored to Mr. Jefferson’s original plan, the Society co-sponsored the first annual Restoration Ball with the University Guide Service, and has continued to do so since that time. Also in 1964, the Society was granted a permanent room on the Lawn: the founding room, Room 7. In 1965, the Society became the first student organization at the University to admit black students as members. In 1969, during the University’s sesquicentennial year, an attempt to allow the admittance of women as members in the Hall failed by one vote. In 1970, the University of Virginia began the co-education of women in her undergraduate schools; she was the last public university to do so in the nation. The advent of co-education seems to have worsened rather than to have improved the chances of admitting women as members of the Hall. On 15 February 1972, after much heated debate and political bargaining, women were permitted membership in the Society. Barbara Golden of Florida became the Society’s first female member.
The 1970’s were good years for the Hall. In 1975, the Society celebrated its sesquicentenary with much ado. The Hall began an annual literary contest, now the Jefferson Literary Contest. In 1978, the Choyce amendment was adopted, allowing probationary members to present original short stories or a debate instead of the traditional probationary speech. Interest in things literary increased, abating a long trend of ignoring them. The Hall remained active in student politics; the now-defunct College Council was largely a creation of, and some would say largely an instrument of, the Society. Collation of the Hall’s long alumni lists was successful, and the Society began the publication of an alumni newsletter in 1980. In 1979, the Washington Society was revived, largely due to the efforts of a number of Jefferson Society members. In 1982, the Jefferson Society joined the American Association of Collegiate Literary Societies. It was discovered that the Jefferson Society was the largest collegiate literary society in the United States. As of this writing, the future of the Hall looks bright. What the rest of the decade and century hold for the Society remains to be seen. Whatever happens, the history of the Hall indicates that the Jefferson Society will most probably survive and thrive.
“We cannot mold the Hall as masters of a material thing. But we can influence its development from within as a spiritual thing. In this sense we are all somewhat pioneers in an experiment which I hope will never be finished — and which has given us a history for which we have to take no backseat to any other collegiate society in the nation. We are continually in a new age, and yet we are in the same age, able to maintain proper and useful ties with the past. You can only influence the Hall’s development if you recognize and respect it as a thing of the spirit.”
R. Taylor Hoskins, 14 May 1965