March 26-April 8, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 6
Back Issues
Someone else’s shoes
Raven Society turns 100
Fraser answers call
Research week showcases students’ work
Headlines @ U.Va.
Conference to examine where the arts belong
Ayers wins Bancroft Prize
Davis Parker’s Magnum Opus
Move over, Sigmund
Emily Couric’s political papers now part of U.Va. library collection
‘Telling Moments’ project aids high school Spanish teachers
Expert to discuss new findings on equity in higher education
Students, employees give back to community

Raven Society turns 100

Raven Society By Matt Kelly

Raven 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.

To 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.

Formed 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 grave.

The 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.”

The Raven 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.

“The 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.”

William 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Over 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.

“She 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.”

The Ravens paid to restore the tombstone several years ago.

Breaking 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.

After dinner, the Ravens retired with port and cigars.

“I’ve 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.

“It 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 you.”


© Copyright 2004 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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