VMI History Timeline

Chronology of Significant Events

1839 March 29
The final version of the Virginia legislative act establishing a military school on the site of the Virginia State Arsenal in Lexington
1839 November 11
VMI opens; 23 students matriculate and begin a 3 year course of study. Francis H. Smith assumes command as Superintendent.
1842 July 4
The first graduation (16 students); these cadets followed a 3 year course.
Incoming cadets enrolled in a four year course
The first out-of-state cadet is enrolled (from Louisiana).  However, the first significant number of non-Virginians did not arrive until 1858.
1861 -1865
Civil War. Of the 1,973 alumni who were living at the beginning of the Civil War, 1,865 served (94.5%). Of those, 261 died (172 killed or mortally wounded in action, 89 from other causes while in service). Approximately 19 served in the Union Army.  See detailed timeline for this era.
1864 June 11
Federal troops, under the command of General David Hunter, entered Lexington. The Corps retreated to a camp in the Blue Ridge near Balcony Falls. VMI was burned the next day by Hunter's soldiers. On June 25 the Corps returned to Lexington, only to be furloughed two days later.
1865 September
VMI reopens and begins to repair war-damaged buildings
Francis H. Smith retires after serving 50 years as VMI’s first Superintendent 
The Honor Court is established as a formal continuous body, although the honor system at VMI has a much longer history
Degree options broadened to include Liberal Arts 
Army ROTC unit is established (Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry)
VMI celebrates Centennial (100th anniversary)
VMI sends hundreds of alumni and current students to fight in World War II.  During postwar years adapts curriculum to accommodate returning veterans.
Air Force ROTC unit established
Racial integration.  Five African-American cadets enroll in September.
The mandatory commissioning policy is explicitly established by VMI Superintendent LTG Richard L. Irby - in 1972 the VMI Catalog carries for the first time the statement "If offered at graduation, a commission must be accepted with its obligation for active duty."  Although this idea was a widely accepted part of VMI culture prior to this date, and enrollment in ROTC classes was already mandatory,  the requirement to accept a commission was not codified until 1972. (Mandatory commissioning was abolished January 27, 1990)
Navy ROTC unit established
VMI celebrates Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary)
Mandatory Commissioning policy abolished by Board of Visitors  (January 27, 1990 BOV meeting).
1990 March 1
The U. S. Justice Department files suit to require the admission of women to VMI. For the next 6 years the case known as U.S. v. Virginia will be heard at various levels
1996 June 26
The U. S. Supreme Court rules on U.S. v. Virginia, requiring the admission of women to VMI
1997 August
The first women matriculate at VMI