Z Society

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North steps of the Rotunda, with Z Society logo

The Z Society is a secret society that was founded at the University of Virginia in 1892.[1] It comprises outstanding student leaders who give time, talent, and financial contributions to groups and individuals that exemplify the spirit of the society and uphold the ideals of the university. Additionally, the Z Society encourages and recognizes excellence through a number of honorary dinners and academic awards.

The organization's membership chooses to remain anonymous because of the belief that service, when provided anonymously, provides a unique philanthropic opportunity. After graduation, members may opt to wear Z Society rings.[2] Selection for membership is considered a high honor at the University.

The Z Society contributes significantly to the University through monetary donations, recognition events, such as a First-Year Recognition Dinner, service opportunities, encouragement letters, and major awards such as the Edgar Shannon Award, presented to one student from each school during graduation, as well as the Distinguished Faculty Award, presented to one faculty member from the University every year.

Like the Seven Society and IMP Society, the Z Society is known to paint their symbol around university grounds.


The Z Society was founded in 1892 in the wake of a series of disputes between the Eli Banana society and the faculty and Board of Visitors of the University. According to University historian Philip Alexander Bruce, the society was formed to "skim the cream" from the Elis and T.I.L.K.A.; by his estimation, some 90% of the membership of the Z (or "Zetas," as he refers to them) were "in society," that is, of social distinction.[1]

The Z Society sign in black on the steps to Old Cabell Hall

The early Z Society, along with Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A., was a "ribbon society," one whose members were denoted by a cloth ribbon worn on the lapel.[3] In 1906, it was described as the "most secret ribbon organization,"[4] though by 1969 it was described as "semi-secret."[5]

Over time, the Z Society began a tradition of philanthropy around the school for which they are remembered today. Past gifts to the university include an annual fund for the purchase of books at Alderman Library, established in the honor of University professor, dean, and Z Society member Robert Kent Gooch at his retirement in 1964;[6] a scholarship in honor of University president Edgar F. Shannon, Jr., established in 1973;[7] the Z Society Distinguished Faculty Award, for professors who contributed to the community beyond their academic responsibilities, established in 1972; and the Z Society Award for Organizations, dating from 1971 or before.[8]

In recent years, the Z Society has been outspoken in support of diversity in the University community, symbolically painting its white Z symbols black in response to an alleged 2003 hate crime;[9][10] and writing letters of support to organizations that support Jewish student life at the University[11] and in Charlottesville.[12] In January 2015, the Z Society donated $30,000 to UVA's Faculty Forward program to promote "exceptional teaching, engaged learning and strategic research" at the University.[13]

Otto Warmbier case[edit]

The Z Society received international publicity in 2016 when University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was convicted in North Korea of stealing a propaganda sign from his Pyongyang hotel while on a vacation. Warmbier said he had been promised membership in the society in exchange for the theft. The society denied the allegation and any connection with Warmbier.[14]

Notable members[edit]

Notable members of the Z Society include Gilbert J. Sullivan, director of the UVA Alumni Association; George M. Cochran, Virginia House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia, Supreme Court of Virginia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bruce IV: 100. Note: Bruce is alone among early historians of the University in calling the Z Society the "Zeta."
  2. ^ Irons.
  3. ^ Bruce V:277-279
  4. ^ Patton, John S. (1906). Jefferson, Cabell and the University of Virginia. New York: Neale. p. 307. z society university of virginia.
  5. ^ "Secret Societies Aid University, Honor Community Members". The Cavalier Daily. 1969-09-10..
  6. ^ Dabney, 579-580.
  7. ^ Dabney, 594.
  8. ^ Dabney, 465-466
  9. ^ Sellinger, Alex (2007-02-26). "Years later, Lundy incident casts long shadow". The Cavalier Daily. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
  10. ^ Bland, Beth (2003-03-12). "Show of 'Z'olidarity". Cavalier Daily. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  11. ^ "Z Society's Letter to Hillel" (PDF). 2007-09-23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  12. ^ "Z Society's letter to Chabad". 2006-04-28.
  13. ^ Radovanovich, Juliana (February 1, 2015). "Z Society donates $30,000 to Faculty Forward initiative". Cavalier Daily. Retrieved February 14, 2015.
  14. ^ Ripley, Will (2016-02-29). "U.S. student detained in North Korea confesses to 'hostile act'". First on CNN. Retrieved 2020-09-01.


External links[edit]