VMI Official Records
The VMI Archives is the repository for the Institute's records of enduring historical, legal, and administrative significance. The Archives staff preserves and catalogs the non-current records of permanent value that are generated by or that document the activities of administrators, faculty, and students of the Institute. A few examples of permanent institutional records are the Minutes of the Board of Visitors; office files of senior administrators such as the Superintendent, Dean and other officials; student records older than the most recent 20 years; a host of student and official Institute publications such as catalogues, yearbooks, annual reports, and brochures; and photographs and other media. Official records are distinct from manuscripts, which are collections of personal rather than institutional/administrative papers.
The Archives staff administers the Institute's Records Management Program. Current Institute records remain in the offices in which they are created until they are no longer needed in the course of daily business. At that time they become non-current, and the records of historical and administrative value are transferred to the Archives for permanent retention. Routine records with short-term value are maintained for a specified period conforming to the state's records retention schedules and are scheduled for destruction.
View the Record Groups List
VMI's institutional records are organized using standard archival principles into Record Groups, which are largely derived from the organizational structure of the Institute. We hold the complete records of the Institute, dating to the opening of the school in 1839. The list of Record Groups reflects the major administrative units at VMI, with smaller related units (subgroups) falling under the appropriate larger organizational unit. When the Archives was formally established in the mid-1970's, VMI's organizational chart was reviewed and the major Record Groups were created and given a number. For example, records of the Institute's governing body - the Board of Visitors - became Record Group 1; the records of Office of the Superintendent, Record Group 2, and so on. This Record Groups list has since been revised and added to. In addition to the record groups established from the organizational chart, other groups were added that related to types of records or that reflected practical filing arrangements.
Access and Research Guidance
Reminder: The Archives houses only non-current/non-active/historical records.
Finding the item you need in institutional records can be daunting. Records Groups can contain tens of thousands of individual documents or pages. Institutional records are not typically indexed or cataloged at the item level; rather, larger sets of files are indexed, and the inherent logical structure of the files themselves provide guidance. For example, the Records of VMI's first Superintendent, Francis H. Smith, are voluminous, but name indexes are available. If your research involves official records, please contact us. Because of our experience in working with the records, we can provide the records that are most likely to yield the information you are seeking.
The Virginia Military Institute is a state agency. Its official, or public, records are governed by provisions of the Public Records Act of the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The majority of public records are available for inspection by citizens of the Commonwealth whether still held in the offices that created them or in the custody of the VMI Archives. However, access to some categories of records are restricted, because they are covered by various federal and state statutes governing privacy/confidentiality.
Current/active records are not housed in the Archives; they remain in VMI's adminstrative offices; to request an active record, follow the instructions here.
A Brief Administrative History of the Institute Archives
The first VMI cadets matriculated on November 11, 1839 and, from the beginning, the Institute has treasured and safeguarded its records. Archival holdings are extensive, dating from 1839 with no major gaps. Although the Institute was burned by Union troops in 1864, records from the Civil War and earlier eras survived. The first attempt to review and consolidate VMI's archival holdings was made by COL William Couper, a graduate of the Class of 1904 who spent much of his career as a senior administrator at VMI. He pursued a life-long passion for documenting Institute history and was one of the first to recognize the richness of VMI's historical record. By the 1940's he had accumulated some of the most significant records and housed them in an area of the library that became known as "Couper's Coop." However, the Archives was not established as an administrative entity with professional management until the mid-1970's. At that time, each administrative office was surveyed in order to locate important non-current records, and those were transferred to the Archives for cataloging and preservation. The Archives occupied a hodgepodge space on the 200 level (bottom floor) of Preston Library for many years. However, a new Archives facility was constructed in 1996 as part of the complete renovation of the library. Today, the department is a thriving research center that serves not only the VMI community, but a wide range of patrons from around the world. We are located on the 400 level of Preston Library, one floor below the Main (Circulation Desk) level.