Jefferson Literary and Debating Society

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The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society
The Hall

Haec Olim Meminisse Iuvabit

Founded 1825
School University of Virginia
Home Page

Officers of the Society, Fall 2015

President Brianna Hogan
Vice President Melissa Murphy
Room Seven Resident Alex Gregorio
Secretary Matthew Diasio
Treasurer Mark White
Historian Jack Chellman
Keeper Yasmine Dessouky
Jefferson Society Seal.png

The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society is a debating and literary society at the University of Virginia. Founded in 1825, it is the oldest organization at The University and one of the oldest continuously existing debating societies in North America.[1]

The Society meets on Friday evenings, mainly in Hotel C of the University's West Range, known colloquially as "Jefferson Hall", "Jeff Hall", or simply the "Hall". In former times it was popularly known around Grounds as the "Jeff."[2]

The Greek letters of the Hall are Φ Π Θ—Phi Pi Theta—which are the initials of the Society's Greek motto: φίλοι, πατρίς, θεός (philoi, patris, theos, or "friends, fatherland, God"). After Phi Beta Kappa, the Jefferson Society is the second oldest continually existing Greek-lettered organization in the country. The Hall's Latin motto, taken from Book 1, line 203 of Virgil's Aeneid, is Haec olim meminisse iuvabit—roughly translated, "In the future it will be pleasing to remember these things."


The Society's main event is the Speaker Series, which invites individuals from various areas to address the Society and its guests each Friday evening during the fall and spring academic sessions.

The Society hosts several formal events annually, including Wilson's Day, the Restoration Ball, and Founder's Day, first held in 1832.


The Jefferson Society was founded on July 14, 1825, by sixteen disgruntled members of the now-defunct Patrick Henry Society in Room Seven, West Lawn.[3]

The Lawn during early Fall.

Membership in the Society grew rapidly in the early years after its founding, and it finally secured a permanent meeting place in Hotel C (originally designed as a dining hall) on the West range. Hotel C is known as "Jefferson Hall".

By 1855, the University of Virginia was the second largest University in the nation after Harvard University, enrolling 645 students. That school year, the Society admitted 155 new members: nearly a quarter of the student body of the University.

Society Members on the Lawn

In the hotheaded antebellum years, the Society could become raucous. Its elections were condemned by the Faculty for "such turbulence as to degrade the reputation of the University."[4] An especially coveted honor was to be selected as "final orator," a post apparently comparable to that of a valedictorian today.

The Society played a key role in establishing student journalism at the University, founding the University Magazine as early as 1856.[5] Later known as the Virginia Spectator, the paper played a major part in University life for a century, with its profile ranging from high seriousness to satire, until being shut down by the president of the University in the late 1950s for obscenity.[6] The Jefferson Society sponsored the magazine for many decades.[7]

Historical possessions[edit]

  • The Society owns the original of one of Thomas Sully's two paintings of Thomas Jefferson, one of the only surviving portraits of Jefferson drawn from life and valued at several hundred thousand dollars.[citation needed] It is on loan to the University and hangs in the Rotunda.
  • A second significant artifact is the Society's Edgar Allan Poe signature. Poe signed the minutes book one evening during which he served as secretary pro tem: a signature that was later clipped out by Lancelot Blackford, a UVa student in the 1850s—stealing it, yet also saving it, as it turned out, from the Great Rotunda Fire of 1895. Society alumni in the early 1980s raised the money to buy the signature from a collector, in honor of their friend and fellow alumnus, James F. Perz. The signature is kept in secure storage as part of the University library's special collections.
  • One of the Society's roll books contains the signature of Woodrow Wilson during his tenure as the Society's President. The Society's minute books contain many sets of minutes written and signed by Wilson when he was the Society's Secretary.

Famous members[edit]

Honorary members[edit]

Thomas Jefferson turned down an invitation for honorary membership in an August 12, 1825 letter, citing his need to avoid altering his relationship with the University and its students.[13]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ University of Virginia - Learn Our Traditions and Lingo
  2. ^ Dabney, p. 110, writing in the context of the Society's 1925 centennial
  3. ^ Patton, 235.
  4. ^ Dabney, p. 12
  5. ^ More, John, History of the Jefferson Society, 1825–1957, noting that the magazine was first mentioned in the Society's minutes in 1865
  6. ^ Dabney, pp. 552, 606
  7. ^ Dabney, p. 181
  8. ^ Harrison, James Albert (1903). The life of Edgar Allan Poe. pp. 60–61. 
  9. ^ Kraig, Robert Alexander (2004). Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman. p. 42. 
  10. ^ "Virginia is for Lovers: Romance at the University". UVA Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-06. 
  11. ^ "UVa President John Casteen Discusses School History with Students". 2010-02-01. Retrieved 2014-10-06. 
  12. ^ Gunay, Dafne (2004-10-20). "Cavalier Royalty". The Cavalier Daily. Retrieved 2006-11-09. I played varsity volleyball, I was in the Jefferson Society, A Chi O sorority, U.Dems and I was also an honor advisor. 
  13. ^ a b c d "HNAI Long Beach Hard Times Tokens Auction Catalog". 2007. p. 95. 
  14. ^ a b "Jefferson Society Famous Members (Revised)" (PDF). University of Virginia Board of Visitors. 2013-11-14. 


External links[edit]