Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 114 / Number 1
The Virginia Historical Society: The First 175 Years, 1831–2006
- Melvin I. Urofsky, pp. 2–208
On the afternoon of 29 December 1831, twenty-eight men braved the snow and cold to meet in the old House of Delegates chamber of Thomas Jefferson's Virginia state capitol in Richmond. They had come together to create the Virginia Historical Society. After approving a constitution and electing officers, the group also chose Richmond's most illustrious citizen, Chief Justice John Marshall, as the first president of the society, and they elected Virginia's only living former president, James Madison, as the first honorary member.
In this new account, historian Melvin I. Urofsky traces the fortunes of the VHS across 175 tumultuous years. During the Civil War, the society's meager collections were dispersed and nearly lost, its small endowment invested in Confederate bonds.
For the first third of its life, the VHS moved its library and artifacts from one rented facility to another. Several times over the years, the institution came close to disappearing, only to emerge anew, meeting the varying challenges of the times.
Those perilous early days are a distant past in the society's 175th year, when it dedicated a new wing, the third building expansion in a decade and a half.
An institution, of course, is more than buildings and their contents. It is created, maintained, and pushed forward by men and women who have a vision of what it should be. The VHS has been fortunate, from the time of its founding until the present day, in the people who have been its leaders. Over the years, they have ensured that the society has remained true to the vision of the founders: "To collect, preserve, and interpret the commonwealth's past for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations."
• Index to Volume 114, Number 1