A History of University of Virginia Inaugurations

April 15, 2011 — Teresa A. Sullivan will be inaugurated today as the University of Virginia's eighth president. In preparation for that event, Alexander G. "Sandy" Gilliam Jr., the University's protocol and history officer, prepared a history of presidential inaugurations at the University, an abbreviated version of which follows:                   

The University of Virginia, nearly two centuries after it was founded, is today inaugurating its eighth president. If you are wondering why there have been so few presidents in the University's long history, the answer lies with Thomas Jefferson, the University's founder, who decided for a variety of reasons (one being that in 1825, the year it opened, the University could not afford a president) that there be none. Instead, Jefferson entrusted the administration of the University to a Chairman of the Faculty, who would be chosen by the Rector and Visitors of the University.   

But by the end of the nineteenth century, running an increasingly complex university this way was no longer practicable, and the Board of Visitors voted to establish the office of president. In June 1904, the Board elected to the presidency Edwin Anderson Alderman, then president of Tulane University in New Orleans and already the most distinguished college president in the South.

On September 15 in a ceremony in Cabell Hall, James Morris Page, the last chairman of the faculty, welcomed Mr. Alderman and, after recounting a brief history of the administration of the University, administered the oath of office to Mr. Alderman.

The University wanted to follow the inauguration with an official ceremony to welcome the president, but such an event was entirely new to the University. Instead of rushing into the ceremony, the Board chose to plan carefully and eventually designed a service that would be held on the next Founder's Day, April 13th, that day being the birthday of Thomas Jefferson.

The Alderman inauguration is noteworthy not only because of its importance as the first such occasion at the University, but as a reflection of the times; the excitement, exuberance and sheer fun of the day shines through in all of the contemporary accounts, both the official versions and the newspapers printed the next day. In a time when Virginians still relished such events, the inauguration provided endless oratory, some of it still good to the modern ear, though much was likely bombast and would be considered long-winded nowadays.

Both railroads serving Charlottesville – the Chesapeake and Ohio and the Southern – offered special fares that day and a good many people took advantage of the offer. Students waving pennants marched up and down Main Street between the Upper Station and the University, singing and cheering. Postcards made from photographs taken that day show many spectators gathered on the Lawn.

Heavy rain the night before had turned the unpaved roads around the University into a muck of thick red clay, but on April 13, 1905, the sky was clear and sunny and "the surrounding hills [were] crowned with a haze of blue," according to one press account. 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 ceremonies began at 3:30 when the student body (classes had been suspended for the afternoon), led by the Stonewall Brigade Band from Staunton and the student marshals, marched in two columns from the Rotunda to Cabell Hall. The band alternated between "Dixie" and what the Post reporter called "Auld Lang Syne" but which of course was really "The Good Old Song," the University's own song.

For the first time at a public occasion at the University, some participants wore academic regalia. Mr. Alderman wore the hood of a doctor of laws from the Johns Hopkins University, one of several honorary degrees he had received.

Students were seated first in Cabell Hall and they whiled away the time in the gallery by singing "college songs." It was a day when every student organization at the University had its own cheer, including the raucous "Wahoo-wah," the only cheer from that time that survives. Bleachers were set up on the stage for the faculty; the President, the Board, representatives of other institutions, and all who had speaking roles were on the stage. The stage was packed, as was the rest of the hall. The two leading political figures of the day in Virginia, Governor Andrew Jackson Montague and Senator Thomas Martin, fierce rivals, were there, and the press reported major politicking on the Lawn as the procession formed up.
The new President and his party entered Cabell Hall last and, after music by the University Orchestra, the ceremonies began with a rather long invocation by the Minister of the Epworth Methodist Church in Norfolk, a noted preacher of the day. The Rector, Charles Pinckney Jones, then administered (the entire audience stood at this point) a simple and direct oath of office to Mr. Alderman. At this point, according to the newspaper accounts, a student in the gallery stepped forward and "demanded three cheers: 'Rah! Rah! Rah! Vir-gin-ia! Alderman, Alderman, Alderman'" One press story says "Students and Alumni shouted [this] as one man."

Serious oratory then began with an address by the Governor, a custom that has continued ever since. In what was probably an effort by the ceremony planners to be even-handed, Senator Martin offered greetings from the alumni. Greetings from sister universities followed; they were grouped as "Sister Institutions of the East, the North, the South and the West," so that only four speeches were necessary. The bearers were among the most distinguished American academics of the day: Professor Archibald Cary Coolidge (a descendant of Jefferson) of Harvard University for the East; President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University for the North; Chancellor Walter Barnard Hill of the University of Georgia for the South; and President R.H. Jesse of the University of Missouri for the West.

And finally, President Alderman delivered his Inaugural Address. Alderman was a masterful orator, and his address was an important and eloquent speech in which he emphasized the role of the University in the life of Virginia and the nation, as well as the University's responsibilities to both the Commonwealth and to the country as a whole. He also listed his aspirations for the University; most presidents of the University since have followed him in stating the proposed agendas of their administrations. After the singing of "America" by the audience (not "America the Beautiful"; from the rhythm of the verses, it appears to have been set to the tune of "My Country 'Tis of Thee") and the benediction the ceremony ended. It had lasted three hours.

That evening the Lawn and the Grounds of the University "were brilliantly illuminated by hundreds of Japanese lanterns," according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. At 8:15, five hundred students assembled on West Range and were given torches and, according to the Times-Dispatch, "scores of amusing transparencies." Torches and transparencies were carried to the Lawn where the students gave a drill at 8:30, "an opportunity for the display of wholesome undergraduate enthusiasm," the Alumni Bulletin noted later. Afterward, the crowd of several thousand went to the north portico of the Rotunda where fireworks "afforded a dazzling spectacle."

Some six hundred guests – far more than the fire marshal would permit today – assembled in the Rotunda for the Installation Dinner (this was the Stanford White restoration of the Rotunda after the 1895 fire; the original Dome Room, now restored and reopened in 1976, did not exist). Tables on the main floor were arranged in circles in the manner of the dinner given to the Marquis de Lafayette at the Rotunda in 1824.

There were eight toasts. One newspaper account said the speakers were still at it at midnight. (One of the speakers was President Angell of the University of Michigan. It is fitting that one of his successors, President Mary Sue Coleman, is reviving this Ann Arbor-Charlottesville tie by speaking at President Sullivan's inauguration today.) The highlight of the evening was Mr. Alderman's extemporaneous response to the toast "Our President." In it he announced $713,000 in gifts to the University, including $100,000 from John D. Rockefeller for the establishment of a school of education in memory of J.L.M. Curry, which of course led to the University's Curry School of Education.

John Lloyd Newcomb (1934)

When President Alderman died in April 1931, his assistant, John Lloyd Newcomb, an alumnus, a member of the faculty since 1905, and then Dean of the School of Engineering, was made Acting President. On October 6, 1933, the Board elected him President.

The Great Depression was at its height, money was short, and Mr. Newcomb disliked ceremony. His inauguration was a simple affair, included in the Commencement Exercises at Finals on June 12th the following spring. Governor George Peery was already scheduled to speak at Commencement, so he could appear at both the Inauguration and the Commencement and deliver one speech. There were to be no official delegations and no representatives of sister institutions at the inauguration.

Heavy rain began that morning, so the procession down the Lawn was cancelled, and the Exercises moved to the Memorial Gymnasium. The Rector, Frederic W. Scott, performed the brief and simple ceremony of installation, President Newcomb made a short speech, Governor Peery spoke in a way appropriate to both the inauguration and commencement, and the Commencement Exercises proceeded as usual.

President Newcomb in his brief address spoke of his appreciation of the event's lack of pomp. "It is a source of great satisfaction to me," he said, "that this induction is of simple form, for it enables me to speak in an informal fashion which might be lacking in good taste under other circumstances."

Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr. (1947)

President Newcomb announced his retirement in the spring of 1947, and the Board of Visitors elected Colgate W. Darden, Jr., an alumnus of the University, a recent Governor of Virginia, and a former member of the United States House of Representative. He was inaugurated as the third President of the University on October 1, 1947, on a beautiful, though crisp, day.
The form of this ceremony has been used at presidential inaugurations ever since, with a beginning procession down the Lawn from the Rotunda to Cabell Hall. The event was held on the Lawn, with the speakers on the platform of a temporary acoustical shell that had been erected in front of Cabell Hall for the ceremony and for a concert by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra to be held later that day.

In what stands to this day as probably the best music played at a presidential inauguration at the University, the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of the great Eugene Ormandy, gave a concert on the Lawn at 3:30. They played, not surprisingly, Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture," but also Brahms' Third Symphony and a piece on Don Quixote by Richard Strauss.

Edgar Finley Shannon Jr. (1959)

Edgar F. Shannon, Jr., a member of the English faculty, was elected fourth President of the University of Virginia in February 1959 and was inaugurated on October 6th, "a midsummer day which delayed its appearance until autumn," as the Alumni News observed.

An unusual aspect of the ceremony was a speech by Geoffrey R.G. Mure, the Warden of Merton College of the University of Oxford, the college President Shannon had attended as a Rhodes Scholar. In Mure's elegant speech, he recalled long-standing ties between Jefferson and Old Mertonians, reminding the audience of the gift of a pinnacle from the 15th century tower of Merton Chapel, which had been presented to the University in 1927.

That afternoon, in the McIntire Amphitheatre, the Philarmonia Hungarica played Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony, an overture by Carl Maria von Weber, and some Bartok and Kodaly. The Philarmonia, which was very popular in the United States and in Western Europe at that time, was made up of Hungarian musicians, chiefly from the Budapest Philharmonic, who had fled their homeland in the wake of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Frank Loucks Hereford Jr. (1974)   

The fifth President of the University, Frank L. Hereford, Jr., an alumnus, a distinguished member of the Physics Department (he had worked on the Manhattan Project as a student), and Provost of the University, was inaugurated on October 9, 1974. In the procession were delegates from sister universities (but only institutions in Virginia) and learned societies, but there also were representatives of alumni clubs, more faculty than usual, and a considerable number of students, including the basketball team and officers of the principal student organizations. Even though the Rotunda was undergoing restoration and was under scaffolding, the procession started there as usual to march to the area at the steps of Cabell Hall, where the inaugural exercises were held. During the procession the Concert Band played the "Jefferson Festival March," composed by Professor Walter Ross of the Music Department especially for the Inauguration.

After Mr. Hereford took the oath of office, Governor Mills Godwin noted, "While it would be difficult to overstate the importance of this occasion in the spectrum of higher education in Virginia, it is perhaps instructive to note that the University managed to survive for its first hundred years without any president at all.

"In fairness," he went on to say, "I must add that under a succession of extremely able men it has become an internationally known institution of higher learning and a repository of Virginia tradition instilled in generation after generation of the leadership of this Commonwealth."
Robert Marchant O'Neil (1985)

When Frank Hereford was elected President of the University, he said that he would serve ten years from his inauguration in October 1974 and then would return to full-time teaching. The University's first Capital Campaign, launched by Mr. Hereford, did not end until December 1984, so he agreed to stay on until mid-summer, 1985.

The Board of Visitors elected as the sixth President Robert M. O'Neil, a legal scholar and Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin System. Like Presidents Alderman and Shannon, he was not an alumnus of the University, having received all of his degrees from Harvard University.

President O'Neil's Inauguration, scheduled for October 2, 1985, was planned to be similar to the Darden, Shannon, and Hereford inaugurations, but heavy rain once again forced the ceremonies to be moved, this time to University Hall, and the president's reception for students on the afternoon of Inauguration Day was moved to the Memorial Gymnasium.

Professor Walter Ross of the Music Department composed a piece, "The Silver Mace," for the processional as he had done for Mr. Hereford. Officers of a number of student organizations marched in the procession, and the Chair of the Honor Committee, the President of the Student Council, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and the President of the Class of 1986 were included as members of the Presidential Party. After Mr. O'Neil's address, the University Symphonic Band played "Commonwealth Salute," composed for the occasion by Professor Judith Shatin of the Music Department.

The Inauguration for the first time coincided with the University's Fall Convocation, at which Intermediate Honors are presented and the Thomas Jefferson Award is given to an outstanding member of the faculty.
John Thomas Casteen III (1990)

John T. Casteen III was elected the seventh President in March 1990. He was President of the University of Connecticut at the time, but he had been previously Dean of Admission at the University and Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth. He is an alumnus of the University, having received three degrees here.

Mr. Casteen was inaugurated on October 6, 1990; as with President O'Neil, his Inauguration coincided with the Fall Convocation. Fortunately the weather was flawless, and the ceremonies were held on the Lawn in front of Cabell Hall. Professor Walter Ross of the Music Department once again composed a piece for the occasion: "Fanfares on Medieval English Melodies," which was played by the University Winds and Brass Ensembles as part of the processional.

After taking the oath, President Casteen addressed his plans as president, but his speech was more personal than most, in that he talked about his own education at the University and the teachers who influenced him, many of whom were in the audience.

Casteen's speech was followed by a performance by the University Singers of Randall Thompson's "Testament of Freedom," composed in 1943 when Thompson was Chair of the Music Department. Then the Fall Convocation parts of the program began. Later that afternoon, President and Mrs. Casteen received students and their parents at Carr's Hill, a reception that combined elements of the Inauguration and Parents' Weekend.

The evening before, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation had entertained the President's guests at a cocktail party at Monticello. The weather was perfect and the sight from the mountain of the full moon rising was unforgettable. The guests were then transported to the West Range where costumed members of the University Guide Service met them and led them to the Lawn. The Lawn was illuminated with torches and luminaries leading up to the south portico of the Rotunda. There, one of the student a capella groups, the Virginia Gentlemen, serenaded the guests as they went in to dinner.


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