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Popular Questions About VMI History

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alumnicollage The VMI Archives receives many inquiries every week about various aspects of VMI history and cadet life, as well as general questions pertaining to historical records. This page includes answers to some of the perennial favorites. Have a question not answered here? For additional information, contact the VMI Archives. 

When was VMI established?
VMI opened on November 11, 1839 on the site of a Virginia State Arsenal. The initial VMI class consisted of 25 cadets who pursued a three year college level course of studies (a four year course was adopted in 1845). Sixteen of the original 25 graduated on July 4th, 1842. This first group of cadets is referred to as the "Class of 1842."

Was VMI ever a high school or prep school?
VMI has been a college since its establishment in 1839. It was never a secondary school or prep school.

How can I determine if my ancestor attended VMI?
See our information about how to research your VMI Ancestor.

What is the VMI Honor Code?
Since its founding in 1839 VMI cadets have been bound by a code of honorable behavior, although a formal written code was not routinely published until the early 20th century. The cadet-run Honor Court was established as a continuously operating body beginning in 1908. The heart of the honor system is the statement that "a cadet does not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do."  More information.

What about VMI's motto, coat of arms, etc?
Here is detailed information about those and related topics.

What is a "Rat"?
A "Rat" is the term used for new cadets; the designation first appeared in the mid-19th century, about 15 years after the establishment of the Institute, and is still in use today.

What was life like at VMI during the Civil War?
Look at our Civil War Timeline and Popular Questions for answers to common questions about this era.

What are the names of VMI's Superintendents?
VMI has had 14 Superintendents. The term "Superintendent" is synonymous with college president.

What is "Ring Figure" and the tradition of the VMI Class ring?
Cadets receive Class rings during November of their Second Class (Junior) year. Each VMI Class designs a unique ring, and the ring presentation ceremony and the formal "Ring Figure" dance which follows are very significant events in the life of a cadet, second in importance only to graduation. The first VMI ring was designed by the Class of 1848. More information.

Which Fraternities were founded at VMI?

Fraternal societies flourished at VMI in the years immediately following the Civil War. Three were founded at VMI --Alpha Tau Omega, Kappa Sigma Kappa, and Sigma Nu -- and others established chapters at the Institute. In 1885 the VMI Board of Visitors ruled that cadets could no longer join fraternities, based on the belief that allegiance to a fraternal group undermined the cohesiveness of and loyalty to the Corps of Cadets.

Were the Institute's records destroyed during the Civil War?

Although Union troops damaged Institute buildings and looted the library, the records were hidden by Institute staff members and were not harmed. VMI's records are very extensive for all eras, with no significant gaps. VMI has a uniquely large and complete Archives as compared with many schools of similar size and age.

Can you appraise or place a value on my old document?
We do not provide appraisal services under any circumstances. We suggest that you contact your local rare books dealer, historical society, or nearest college or university Archives to obtain a list of reputable independent appraisers in your area.

Are there any books about VMI History?
See this list for published resources.

Has the Corps participated in Presidential Inaugural Parades?
Cadets enjoy a one hundred year history of parade participation, beginning with the inauguration of William H. Taft in 1909. A timeline, with links to images, is available online.