Raven Society turns 100
By Matt Kelly
Society members — those Poe aficionados who exemplify
the University’s best in academic achievement and service — have
pondered “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten
lore” over the past 100 years.
celebrate, they had a party. The Ravens, who now number around
4,000, held their centenary banquet March 20 at Memorial Gymnasium,
with pre- and post-dinner receptions at Alumni Hall.
in 1904 as the University’s answer to Phi Beta Kappa,
an honorary society for academic achievement founded in 1776,
the Ravens have built a long and distinguished history of service — funding
four fellowships annually, honoring members of the University
community, maintaining author Edgar Allan Poe’s Range
room and financing a tombstone for Poe’s mother’s
centennial “has been a wonderful opportunity for the
Raven Society to celebrate its history at the University,” said
L. Cameron Howell, president of the Ravens. “We look
forward to fulfilling our mission for another century.”
Society began in a period of renaissance for the University,
according to unofficial U.Va. historian Alexander G. “Sandy” Gilliam,
secretary of the Board of Visitors and himself a Raven. It
was in the beginning of the administration of Edwin A. Alderman,
the University’s first president, that state funding
for the University
was bouncing back following the Civil War and Reconstruction.
The Rotunda had been rebuilt after the 1895 fire, to be joined
by Cocke, Rouss and Cabell halls, which capped the south end
of the Lawn, and U.Va. had instituted a Ph.D. program. Around
the same time, Madison, Minor, Garrett and Fayerweather halls
were built and the University Hospital was established.
place was catching on with the rest of the world, and the faculty
felt it needed something like Phi Beta Kappa,” Gilliam
said. “The impetus for the Raven Society actually came
from some students, and they got faculty involved. The first
initiation was in June 1904.”
McC. James of Baltimore, a medical student who introduced lacrosse
to the school, was the driving force behind the organization,
according to an early history of the society written by Armistead
Dobie, a charter member as a law student who later became dean
of the Law School. Twelve students were inducted, as were faculty
members Richard Heath Dabney, professor of history and economics
and father of historian Virginius Dabney; Raleigh Colston Minor,
professor of law; James Morris Page, mathematician; and Albert
Henry Tuttle, dean of the Medical School. More students were
inducted later that year, and the first alumni were taken on
board in 1905, including Woodrow Wilson, who was then the president
of Princeton University.
founders, looking for a symbolic link with the University,
used the connection with Poe, one of U.Va.’s more famous
alumni. The 50th anniversary of his death had been marked in
1899, with a great deal of fanfare at the University and the
commissioning of the bust that is currently in Alderman Library.
University turned the operation of 13 West Range, Poe’s
room when he was a student in 1826, over to the Ravens by 1906,
though the society could not do anything with it until 1909,
the centennial of Poe’s birth.
the years the Ravens have performed Poe-related services, such
as setting up a tombstone for Elizabeth Poe, the author’s
mother, who had been buried in an unmarked grave in Richmond.
was an actress and died in Richmond leaving two orphan children,” Gilliam
said. “She was buried in an unmarked grave in St. John’s
Churchyard, so in 1912 the idea was broached to the Ravens
about marking Elizabeth Poe’s grave. This was not carried
out until 1928. The main problem was trying to find it.”
Ravens paid to restore the tombstone several years ago.
from their usual members-only tradition, the Ravens, who started
admitting women in 1970, allowed spouses and guests at the
banquet, as they have with other special celebrations. Dinner
included University President John T. Casteen III reading the
toast that Virginius Dabney composed for the society’s
75th anniversary, as well as a poem written for the occasion
by English professor Stephen B. Cushman. Copies of Irby B.
Cauthen Jr.’s history of Edgar Allan Poe at the University
were also distributed.
dinner, the Ravens retired with port and cigars.
learned that at the annual dinners, when the toasting gets
started, that it is best for anyone over 25 to tactfully withdraw,” said
Gilliam, who cited the 75th anniversary banquet, held at the
Cage adjacent to University Hall, as his favorite.
was literally a dark and stormy night, and the wind was howling,
and there was a driving rain, and it really is about the nicest
occasion that I have been to at the University,” he said. “Somehow,
the Cage was transformed. As I remember, we just kept the lights
out and had candles, and you couldn’t see what was around