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Jefferson Literary and Debating Society

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Jefferson Society
(Jefferson Literary and Debating Society)
FoundedJuly 14, 1825; 198 years ago (1825-07-14)
University of Virginia
MottoHaec Olim Meminisse Iuvabit
Colors  Pink,   Gray, and   Blue

The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society (commonly known as "Jeff Soc") is the oldest continuously existing collegiate debating society in North America. The society was founded on July 14, 1825, in Room Seven, West Lawn at the University of Virginia. Named for founder of the University, Thomas Jefferson, the society regularly meets on Friday evenings at "The Hall" in the Lawn.

The society's members have included several Presidents of the United States, a British Prime Minister as well as governors, senators and congresspeople. Its motto, Haec Olim Meminisse Iuvabit, is taken from Virgil's Aeneid and roughly translates to, "In the future it will be pleasing to remember these things." Its greek name ΦΠΘ, initials for Φίλοί, Πατρίς, θεός (philoi, patris, theos, or "brotherhood, fatherland, divinity"), makes the society the second oldest Greek-lettered organization in the United States.

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Society Members on the Lawn

Membership in the society grew rapidly in the early years after its founding. 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.

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."[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] The Jefferson Society sponsored the magazine for many decades.[4]

Also in 1856, the society expressed its approval of the caning of Charles Sumner by sending Preston Brooks a new gold-headed cane to replace his broken one.[5]


  • The Sully Portrait is one of the only portraits of Thomas Jefferson painted from life. It was painted by Thomas Sully and is loaned to the University of Virginia to be displayed in the Rotunda.
  • Edgar Allan Poe signed a minutes book one evening during which he served as secretary pro tem. His signature was later clipped out by Lancelot Blackford in the 1850s, stealing it, yet also saving it from the Great Rotunda Fire in 1895. Society alumni raised money to buy the signature from a collector in the early 1980s, 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.
  • Thomas Woodrow Wilson signed one of the roll books during his tenure as the Society's President. Furthermore, the Society's minute books also contain many sets of handwritten minutes signed by Wilson when he was the Society's Secretary.

Notable members

Honorary members

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.[17]

Present Day

Room Seven, West Lawn, is maintained by the Jefferson Society, selecting a Fourth Year student to live there. The Society hosts several events throughout the year including its Distinguished Speaker Series,[18] for which it invites prominent scholars and speakers across disciplines to address students. The Society also hosts formal social events including Wilson's Day, the Restoration Ball, and Founder's Day, first held in 1832.


Notes and references

  1. ^ Dabney, p. 12
  2. ^ More, John, History of the Jefferson Society, 1825–1957, noting that the magazine was first mentioned in the Society's minutes in 1865
  3. ^ Dabney, pp. 552, 606
  4. ^ Dabney, p. 181
  5. ^ Puleo, Stephen (2012). The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing LLC. pp. 102, 114–115. ISBN 978-1-59416-516-0.
  6. ^ Harrison, James Albert (1903). The life of Edgar Allan Poe. T.Y. Crowell & Company. pp. 60–61. edgar allan poe jefferson society.
  7. ^ Kraig, Robert Alexander (2004). Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman. Texas A&M University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9781585442751.
  8. ^ Education, United States Congress House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Postsecondary (1975). Sex Discrimination Regulations: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session : Review of Regulations to Implement Title IX of Public Law 92-318 Conducted Pursuant to Sec. 431 of the General Education Provisions Act, Washington, D.C. ... U.S. Government Printing Office.
  9. ^ Miniturn, Molly (2016). "The Jefferson Curating Society: At long last, the oldest student group on Grounds agrees to share a treasure trove of UVA history". Virginia Magazine. Retrieved 2022-06-11.
  10. ^ Wharton, Amy. "Law Library Guides: Our History: Featured Alumni/ae: Scott, Hugh D., Jr., 1922". Retrieved 2022-06-11.
  11. ^ a b c d "Jefferson Society Famous Members (Revised)" (PDF). University of Virginia Board of Visitors. 2013-11-14.
  12. ^ "UVa President John Casteen Discusses School History with Students". 2010-02-01. Retrieved 2014-10-06.
  13. ^ "Virginia is for Lovers: Romance at the University". UVA Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-06.
  14. ^ Gunay, Defne (2004-10-20). "Cavalier Royalty". The Cavalier Daily. Archived from the original on 2011-06-17. 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.
  15. ^ Lindenfeld Hall, Sarah (Spring 2019). "On the Beat: UVA grads find success in journalism". Virginia Magazine. Retrieved 2022-02-10.
  16. ^ "Meet Barbara and Mike Lynn, Dallas' legal power couple". Dallas News. 2014-04-26. Retrieved 2022-03-11.
  17. ^ a b c d HNAI Long Beach Hard Times Tokens Auction Catalog. Ivy Press. 2007. p. 95. ISBN 9781599670744.
  18. ^ "Speaker Series". The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. April 15, 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 18 November 2023, at 23:13
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