VMI Official Records


The VMI Archives is the repository for the Institute's official records of enduring historical, legal, and administrative significance. The Archives staff preserves and catalogs the non-current records of permanent value that are generated by or that document the activities of administrators, faculty, and students of the Institute. A few examples of permanent institutional records are the Minutes of the Board of Visitors; records generated by senior administrators such as the Superintendent; a host of student and official Institute publications such as catalogues, yearbooks, annual reports, and brochures; and photographs and other media.  Official records are distinct from manuscripts, which are collections of personal rather than official institutional papers. Current Institute records remain in the offices in which they are created until they are no longer needed in the course of business. At that time they become non-current, and the records of historical and administrative value are transferred to the Archives for permanent retention. Other records with short-term value are maintained for a specified period conforming to the state's records retention schedules and are then scheduled for destruction.

The Archives staff also oversees the Institute's Records Management Program.

Record Groups

View the Record Groups List

VMI's institutional records are organized using standard archival principles into Record Groups, which are largely derived from the organizational structure of the Institute.  We hold the complete historical records of the Institute, dating to the founding of the school in 1839; there are no significant gaps. All of the important Civil War era records, for example, survived the conflict.  The list of Record Groups reflects the major administrative units at VMI, with smaller related units (subgroups) falling under the appropriate larger organizational unit.  When the Archives was formally established in the mid-1970's, VMI's organizational chart was reviewed and the major Record Groups were created and given a number. For example, records of the Institute's governing body - the Board of Visitors - became Record Group 1; the records of Office of the Superintendent, Record Group 2, and so on. This Record Groups list has since been revised and is periodically reviewed.  In addition to the Record Groups established from the organizational chart, other groups were added that related to types of records or that reflected practical filing arrangement - for example, Publications.  

Access and Research Guidance

Finding the item you need in institutional records can be daunting. Records Groups can contain tens of thousands of individual documents or pages. Institutional records are not typically indexed or cataloged at the item level; rather, larger sets of files have inventories or finding aids, and the inherent logical structure of the files themselves provide guidance. For example, the Records of VMI's first Superintendent, Francis H. Smith, are voluminous, but name indexes are available. If your research topic involves official records, please contact us. Because of our experience in working with the material, we can provide the records that are most likely to yield the information you are seeking.

The Virginia Military Institute is a state agency. Its official, or public, records are governed by provisions of the Public Records Act of the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.  However, some records are closed to research. Access to certain categories of records is restricted because they are covered by various federal and state statutes governing privacy and confidentiality. Examples of restricted records include student records, personnel records, and some other administrative records covered by statutory exemptions. 

A Brief Administrative History of the Institute Archives 

The first VMI cadets matriculated on November 11, 1839 and, from the beginning, the Institute has treasured and safeguarded its records. Archival holdings are extensive, dating from 1839 with no major gaps. Although the Institute was burned by Union troops in 1864, records from the Civil War and earlier eras survived. The first attempt to review and consolidate VMI's archival holdings was made by COL William Couper, a graduate of the Class of 1904 who spent much of his career as a senior administrator at VMI. He pursued a life-long passion for documenting Institute history and was one of the first to recognize the richness of VMI's historical record. By the 1940's he had accumulated some of the most significant records and housed them in an area of the library that became known as "Couper's Coop." However, the Archives was not established as an administrative entity with professional management until the mid-1970's.  At that time, each administrative office was surveyed in order to locate important non-current records, and those were transferred to the Archives for cataloging and preservation. The Archives occupied a hodgepodge space on the 200 level (bottom floor) of Preston Library for many years.  However, a new Archives facility was constructed in 1996 as part of the complete renovation of  the library. Today, the department is a thriving research center that serves not only the VMI community, but a wide range of patrons from around the world. We are located on the 400 level of Preston Library, one floor below the Main (Circulation Desk) level.