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Student Organizations

Hundreds of student organizations of all types have existed at the university since Virginia Tech was founded in 1872. Some lasted for mere days; others lasted longer and had a lasting influence on the university. Only the more important or historically significant student organizations—student organizations today number more than 600—are mentioned here. They are listed in chronological order.

1872‑Literary Society: Virginia Literary Society; split into Sophsonian and Philomathian Societies in 1873. Sophsonian changed its name to the Lee Literary Society in February 1873; Philomathian changed its name to the Maury Literary Society in May 1873.

The 1896 Bugle on pg. 87 provides a short history of these two groups.

The first organization of what is now the Maury Literary Society was effected early in the session of 1872-73. It was then styled the Virginia Literary Society, and it held its meetings in the College Chapel, which was then the center room on the first floor of our present Machinery Hall.

Two factions soon appeared in this Society and a division resulted—one party withdrawing and forming what was known as the Sophosonian Society. The Sophosonian Society soon took the name of the Lee Literary Society, which it still bears. The name of the Virginia Society was changed to that of the Philomathian Society in February, 1873. This name in turn was dropped the following May and that of Maury was unanimously substituted.

The societies now held their meetings in two lecture-rooms on the third floor of this same building, the present machine shop.

These lecture-rooms served them for halls until June, 1879, when the Maury-Lee Hall, the present Lee Hall, was thrown open for their joint use.

From the beginning the founders, though surrounded by adverse circumstances on every hand, steadily advanced the work of the Society and at the close of even their first year’s existence as a society they held a celebration which was a phenomenal success.

The Maurys of the later period, before the Society was established on its present foundation, were equally hampered by surroundings; but, judging from the continual successes of their public exercises, they were none the less true and loyal to their standard. Among those we take pleasure in mentioning: Hon. Claude A. Swanson, of of Pittsylvania; Hon. Isaac Diggs, of King William; Hon. H. L. Maynard, of Norfolk; Judge T. H. Wilcox, of Norfolk; Judge A . R. Heflin, Rev. R. E. L. Aylor, of Front Royal; Rev. G. W. Dyer, of Danville.

The obtaining of its present commodious hall was a long stride in the advancement of the society. But it was then only furnished with a president’s desk and with seats consisting mainly of benches without backs, and the hall was appropriately supplied with furniture, at a later date, only by the most heroic sacrifice on the part of its members.

ln the session of ’88-89, a new constitution was adopted, which, with revision the present year, is now the fundamental law of the society.

Since the reorganization of ’85-86, the interests of the Society have been continually on the advance. It is now in a thriving condition, and is achieving excellent success in all departments of its work, and gives promise of great results.

The “hall” mentioned above wasn't an actual separate building, but space in the Second Academic Building, per the history of the V.P.I. from its opening until the close of the 1904-05 term was written by G. C. Stone (Class of 1908): “The first and second floors of the Second Academic Building were assigned to the Departments of English and Modern Languages; while the third floor was devoted to the Library, and the halls for the Lee and Maury Literary Societies.”

The first student to register at Virginia Tech—William Addison Caldwell—was a member of the Maury society. The Lee and Maury societies worked together to establish the first student publication, The Gray Jacket, in 1875. The societies merged in 1928 and folded in 1929.

1873‑Social Fraternity: The Epsilon chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha was established on Nov. 11, 1873. Secret societies were prohibited at the college after Jan. 1, 1880. The chapter was re-chartered on Feb. 27, 1971, and recognized by the university in 1972.

1873‑Religious Organization: The Christian Club was succeeded by the Young Men’s Christian Association during the 1882‑83 session. In 1965 the YMCA merged with the Young Women’s Christian Association but retained the YMCA name. Sue Ann “Susie” Shertzer became the first female student to be elected as its president in 1967; she was the only woman in the country to head a chapter of the organization. The YMCA still exists and operates from offices at 1000 N. Main Street, in the former Radford Bros. grocery store. The space houses the Y Thrift Shop, classrooms, and offices. The offices were moved from the Lucy Lee Lancaster house on Washington Street on the edge of campus. Lancaster, one of the first five women to enroll at Virginia Tech in 1921 and a long-time librarian at the university, donated the house to the Y.

1875-Publication: The Gray Jacket was established by the Lee and Maury Literary Societies in 1875 and was published irregularly until the last issue was published in January 1906. Today, the oldest student publication is The Bugle, the student yearbook, first published in 1895.

1881-Musical Organization: The Glade Cornet Band, comprised of cadets and townspeople, was succeeded in 1892 by a cadet marching band, which, in turn, became Band Company the following year. Band Company still exists and is popularly known as the Highty-Tighties. In 1974 a civilian band, the Marching Virginians, was formed and became the largest university band in Virginia.

1891-Athletic Organization: The name of the VAMC Athletic Association was changed in 1896 to the VPI Athletic Association and again later to the Virginia Tech Athletic Association, which still exists.

1892-Drama Organization: The earliest known theatre event occurred in 1876 when The Old Virginia Minstrel Troupe, comprised of students, presented performances. A formal group, the VAMC Thespian Club, was organized in 1892-93 and changed its name to the VPI Thespian Club in 1896. It folded in the late 1920s. Female students organized their own Coed Dramatics Club, probably in 1930.

1893-Curricular Club: Known as the Engineering Club, this organization folded in 1908. The oldest existing curricular club is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, established in 1915.

1894-Sectional Club: The Richmond Club was organized on Jan. 6, 1894, but did not exist as long as the Pittsylvania Club, organized later the same year. Both clubs are now defunct.

1893-Dance Club: The German Club still exists but not as a university organization. It now operates from a clubhouse near campus.

1895-Choral Organization: The glee club has been known by several names through the years: Tech Minstrels, Apollo Club, VPI Men’s Glee Club, Varsity Glee Club, Virginia Tech Showmen, and The Techmen. The choral ensemble dates from 1895.

1908-Student Government: The corps of cadets adopted a constitution for student government in June 1908. The corps group merged with the Civilian Student Body in April 1966 to form the Unified Student Body (now Student Government Association).

1921-Honor Society: A Virginia Tech chapter of the national overall-scholarship honor society Phi Kappa Phi was established in December 1921 and still exists. The university earned a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1976.

1923-Special Interest: The Amateur Radio Association, established in 1923, is now known as the Virginia Tech Amateur Radio Association, which operates a club station with the call sign K4KDJ.

1927-Extra-curricular, Recognition: Tau Beta Epsilon recognized publications leaders. In 1930, it was succeeded by Pi Delta Epsilon, which merged nationally in 1975 with Alpha Phi Gamma, another honorary journalism society, to form the Society for Collegiate Journalists.

1932-Curricular, Recognition: Alpha Zeta was formed to foster leadership in agriculture and is still active.

1937-Extra-curricular, Military: Saber Club became Scabbard and Blade in April 1938 and is still active.

1948-Service Organization: Virginia Tech’s Zeta Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, organized in 1948, still exists.

1966-Service and Leaders Sorority: Chi Delta Alpha, initially called Alpha Kappa Gamma, was the first service and leadership organization formed for women students. Today, the sorority provides a channel for women students to serve the local community.

1968-Student Union: Student Union Board of Governors succeeded the Student Center Board and oversaw the extracurricular activities of the Student Union Program.

1969-Virginia Tech Rescue Squad: Organized by four students—Thomas Spain, Bobby Smallwood, Wayne Modena, and Richard Paul—to provide emergency medical care on campus, the rescue squad was approved by the Commission for Undergraduate Student Affairs in 1970. It initially responded to emergency calls in members’ personal vehicles using medical equipment purchased with private donations. Today, 40 members trained in basic and advanced life support operate a fleet of four advanced life support-equipped ambulances, one advanced life-support quick-response vehicle, and other support vehicles. Received the 1988 Leo F. Schwartz award for national EMS agency of the year, 2000 Governor’s Award for Excellence in EMS, 2007 Stars of Life Award from the American Ambulance Association, and 2008 Student Organization of the Year Award from the Virginia Tech Department of Student Activities. Commendations have come from President George W. Bush, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Administrator R. David Paulison, and Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell. The crew received commendations for its actions on April 16, 2007, the date of the campus mass shootings, from the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and from the state investigatory committee looking into the tragedy.

1972-Student Co-op: The Virginia Tech Student Cooperative Association opened in 1972 to sell discounted merchandise to students, who bought shares in the co-op for $5 each. The store was located on Main Street. It no longer exists.

1972-Musical Variety Group: Stanley G. Kingman and Paul Breske organized a group of students to sing and perform as the New Virginians. Within a year of its organization, the group had cut and released a record. As a result of the severe budget cuts in the early 1990s and with the costs and complexity of the organization’s productions in mind, the New Virginians morphed into the Jazz Choir, which had fewer members and had a successful 10 years, winning the Downbeat Award for the most outstanding jazz choir in the nation for two consecutive years. It folded during the budget cuts of the early 2000s.

1972-Residence Hall Organization: The Residence Hall Federation was organized to fill the need for an effective dormitory governance system. In 1974 it was decentralized into individual residence halls, allowing more effective student participation.

1972-Half-time Entertainers: The 15-member TECHniques began performing at halftime for home basketball games. The idea for the performing group, described as “a pom-pom girl group with choreography and routines,” came from James D. Hallihan, the freshman basketball coach.

1974-Civilian Marching Band: Roger C. Heath organized a civilian band of about 40 students that is known as the Marching Virginians. Two years later, James Sochinski became director, followed by D. Harry Price, the first full-time director, in 1981. Price is credited with bringing the band to its large size and quality. Price was succeeded as director in 1986 by Dave McKee, who retired in 2018. Polly Middleton, who served as the assistant director of the band and as the associate director of athletics bands from 2011 to 2016, became the full-time director in June, 2018. The Marching Virginians band has performed at all home football games, a number of away games, and a number of bowl games as well as the 200th Anniversary of the Constitution Parade in 1986 and several professional football games.

Choral Organizations: The first student choral organization was a male singing group known as the Glee Club, organized in February 1895. Name changes for all-male singing groups down through the years have been the Glee Club, 1895-97; VPI Mandolin and Glee Club, 1897-1910; Tech Minstrels, 1919-31; Apollo Club, 1936-37; VPI Glee Club, 1938-64; VPI Men’s Glee Club, 1964-65; Varsity Glee Club, 1965-69; and Varsity Glee Club and Stage Band, 1969-71; followed by the Virginia Tech Showmen.

During the 1920s and 1930s women students were denied participation in the men’s singing groups, so they formed their own glee club.

The first mixed voice group was organized in 1966 and was known as the University Choir. It changed its name to University Singers in 1972, and another University Choir was established to sing more serious choral works. A smaller mixed voice group, the Techsingers, was also organized in 1972 to sing popular songs. An all-women choral group was established in 1972 and was known as the Techmates.

Drama Organizations: Many drama groups, both official and unofficial, have existed on campus over the years. As early as 1876, the Gray Jacket reported on a student drama group: “The Old Virginia Negro Minstrel Troupe gave entertainments on the nights of the 28th and 29th of April. Messrs. Floyd, Ker, Nelson, Price, Handy, Shepherd, Jeffress, Costin, Caskie, and Ainslie exhibited considerable theatrical talent.”

The first official drama organization was the Thespian Club, 1892-1901. It received some competition from another group, Puffs and Queues, for two years, 1896-98. Other student drama organizations have included the Dramatic Club, 1926-33; Coed Dramatics Club, by 1929; Tech Players, 1935-38, succeeded by Maroon Mask, 1938-present; Alpha Psi Omega (Virginia Tech chapter of the National Theatre Honor Society), 1937-38 and 1941-present; Musicals for a Cause, 2004-present.

Publications: A Student Publications Board was established in 1932 to control student publications and their finances. A Students’ Finance Board assumed financial responsibility from 1935 to 1948, when the Publications Board resumed financial responsibility. The Publications Board, composed of both students and faculty, elected the business and editorial heads of all student publications. The name of the board was changed to Media Board in 1983. It dissolved its seat on the Commission on Student Affairs in 1989 and was recognized as a student organization. In 1998, student media became part of the Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech (EMCVT).