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Society Ties

A History of the Jefferson Society and Student Life at the University of Virginia
Thomas L. Howard III and Owen W. Gallogly. Foreword by John T. Casteen III

BUY Cloth · 392 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939810 · $29.95 · May 2017

Society Ties is a history of the University of Virginia’s oldest student organization, the Jefferson Society. Founded in 1825, the Society has counted the likes of Woodrow Wilson and Edgar Allan Poe among its membership and continues to be one of the largest and most active student organizations on Grounds. Society Ties is more than just the story of the Jefferson Society, however; it is a history of student life at the University of Virginia. The book explores what motivates students during their time at the University and how they experience the ineffable place that is Jefferson’s Academical Village.

Although there is a growing body of scholarship on the history of the University, little attention has been paid to student life, with a focus instead on administrative and institutional developments. The Jefferson Society has received less attention still—though similar groups at other institutions have received significant historical treatment—largely because no historian has until now been granted access to the Society’s archives.

Society Ties addresses both of these gaps, recounting in unique depth and vibrancy the history of the University from a student perspective. Generations of students have passed through Hotel C on the West Range and gone on to be statesmen, writers, and intellectuals. Society Ties offers fresh insight into how these students’ formative experiences shaped their later impact on the world. It tells the stories of young orators practicing at politics, aspiring authors setting their pens to the pages of magazines and newspapers in pursuit of the beauty of the written word, young men grappling with the questions of integration and coeducation, and why even today students gather, as they have for almost two hundred years, on West Range to discuss the important issues of the day.

Society Ties also comes at a critical time in the study of the history of American higher education, as the legacy of our academic institutions come under increasing scrutiny. Questions about the role of race, gender, and privilege in higher education underscore our obligation to enhance our understanding of this rich history. This book seeks to do just that.


In Society Ties, Thomas Howard and Owen Gallogly offer an extraordinarily valuable and illuminating history of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. Since its founding in 1825, the Society has been a central institution at the University of Virginia, shaping the experience of every generation of students. The authors offer unique perspectives not only on student life in Charlottesville but also on social and cultural developments in American higher education. The first members of the Jefferson Society were, with Thomas Jefferson and their fellow students and faculty, "founders" of the University. Society Ties shows how these founders and their successors made the University of Virginia the celebrated institution it is today. Society Tiesthus is no narrowly focused exercise in antiquarianism or institutional self-celebration–Howard and Gallogly are making an important contribution to American historical scholarship.

Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor, Emeritus, University of Virginia

There is a grand tradition that far too few know about–and even fewer have experienced–of literary societies at America's great universities and colleges. The University of Virginia’s Jefferson Society is one of the oldest and most venerable of these societies, which have rich intellectual–and sometimes mysterious–traditions to go along with them. In Society Ties, Thomas Howard and Owen Gallogly trace the ideas and activities of the Jefferson Society and its members, who have come to the Society to debate politics and morality for nearly two centuries. Their subjects include such diverse figures as Edgar Allan Poe and Woodrow Wilson, from its origins in the 1820s to the twenty-first century. Through tracing changes in education and American society at the Jefferson Society, this story of one venerable literary society becomes the story of our nation's growth and transitions through Civil War, world wars, and the civil rights revolution. Few institutions can tell us so much about ourselves over the past two centuries.

Alfred L. Brophy, Judge John J. Parker Distinguished Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law

Howard and Gallogly, who both served as presidents of the Jefferson Society, do anice job of placing the history of the Jefferson Society within the context of largerdevelopments of the University of Virginia and elite American higher education.They demonstrate an especially deep familiarity with the classic scholarship of collegestudent literary societies, which was mostly based on organizations at men’s collegesin the East before the Civil War.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

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