Virginia Military Institute

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School Name Virginia Military Institute
Established 1839
School type Public University
Address Lexington, VA 24450-0304
President Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, VMI Class of 1962
Location Lexington, VA
Enrollment 1,333 undergraduate
Carnegie Classification Baccalaureate Colleges – Liberal Arts
Type four-year college [awards bachelor's and possibly associate degrees, but no graduate degrees]
ROTC Programs Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy
Mascot Kangaroo: Keydets
Website (

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The Virginia Military Institute (VMI), located in Lexington, Virginia, is the nation's oldest, and some say, the toughest, state-supported military college in the United States. It is currently the nation's only classical state military college, meaning all VMI students are cadets. It was referred to as the "West Point of the South" by General John J. Pershing and President Abraham Lincoln. The loyalty of VMI alumni to their institute is demonstrated by VMI's $272 million endowment,[1] ( the largest per student endowment of any public college or university in the United States.

The Virginia Military Institute is a unique military and educational experience. VMI is known for its strict Honor System: cadets are "not to lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do." There is only one possible punishment for a violation of the Honor System: immediate expulsion.

The freshman student is known as a "Rat", and walks a prescribed line in barracks while in an exaggerated form of attention known as "straining." The Rat experience, called the Ratline, is intended to instill pride, discipline, brotherhood, and a sense of honor in the students. The Rat faces many challenges and must memorize rules, school songs, and points of history related to the school.

VMI excluded women from the Corps of Cadets until the fall of 1997, after a court order requiring it to do so. Unlike any other U.S. military academy or college, however, the Institute requires that female cadets adhere to the same strict physical regimen as male cadets. Like their male colleagues, current female cadets must maintain crew cuts or shave their heads as rats, but are allowed to grow their hair longer as upperclassmen. Female cadets are also forbidden to wear makeup or jewelery as rats. They must go through the same strict physical courses and technical training as the male cadets. The cadets at VMI believe firmly in "One Corps, One Standard". They expect the same from every cadet. The Virginia Military Institute supports ROTC divisions of all military branches. While four years of ROTC is a requirement for all cadets, accepting a commission in the armed forces is optional; the majority of cadets enter the civilian workforce upon graduation.


Early history

On November 11, 1839, the Virginia Military Institute was founded on the site of the Lexington state arsenal, and the first cadets relieved the enlisted personnel on duty. Under Major Francis H. Smith, superintendent, and Colonel Claudius Crozet, president of the Board of Visitors, the corps was imbued with the discipline and the spirit for which it is famous. The first cadet was Pvt. John Strange.

The Class of 1842 graduated 16 cadets to the ranks of the first alumni. Living conditions were poor, and hardship was the keynote of cadet existence until, in 1850, the cornerstone of the new barracks was laid. In 1851 "Stonewall" Jackson became a member of the faculty and Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. Under Major Jackson and Major William Gilham, VMI infantry and artillery units were present at the execution by hanging of John Brown at Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1859.

Civil War Period

The Institute played an invaluable part in the training of the Southern armies and in actual participation in battle. Many cadets, under General Thomas J. Jackson, were sent to Camp Lee, at Richmond, to train recruits. VMI cadets ranked among the best officers of the South, and several distinguished themselves in the Union Forces as well. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was reported to say, "The Institute will be heard from today," attesting to the leadership provided by alumni of the school for the battle. On May 15, 1864, the cadets fought as a independent unit at the Battle of New Market. Only three military schools have ever done so: École polytechnique in France, Chapultepec in Mexico, and VMI.

The Institute was shelled and burned on June 12, 1864, by Union forces under the command of General David Hunter, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. The destruction was almost complete and the Institute could not reopen for classes until October 17, 1865. It is said that Confederate General Jubal A. Early burned the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in retaliation.


VMI fields 15 teams on the NCAA Division I level. The sports include baseball, basketball, men's and women's cross-country, football, lacrosse, men's and women's rifle, men's soccer, swimming, men's and women's indoor and outdoor track, and wrestling. Women's soccer moved to full varsity status in the fall of 2003.

Perhaps the most famous athletic story in VMI history was the two-year glorious run of the 1976 and 1977 teams basketball teams. The 1976 squad advanced within one game of the Final Four before bowing to Rutgers in the East Regional Final, and in 1977 VMI finished with a school record 26-4 mark and reached the "Sweet 16" round of the NCAA tournament.

VMI has the third smallest enrollment among NCAA Division I institutions, behind only Centenary and Wofford. Approximately one-third of the Corps of Cadets plays on one of VMI's intercollegiate athletic teams making it one of the most active athletic programs among its student body. Of the VMI athletes who complete their eligibility, 92 percent receive their VMI diplomas.

Throughout most of the 20th century, VMI athletics teams competed as a member of the Southern Conference and played a large role in the rich history of one the nation's oldest college athletic conferences. It joined the Big South Conference in 2003.

Notable graduates

VMI has produced more General and Flag Officers than any other state military college in the United States (Commandants of the Marine Corps, Generals of the Army/Air Force, Commanding Generals of the Army Corps of Engineers, etc). VMI's graduates also include Nobel Prize winners, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, Pulitzer Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, Senators, Congressmen, CEOs, and countless others who have attained the highest distinctions and achievements in society. Below are just a few:

Related articles


  • Ronald Reagan stared in the film, "Brother Rat", which was filmed at VMI. Originally a Broadway hit, the play was written by two graduates of VMI.
  • The New Mexico Military Institute is the nation's oldest state-supported co-educational college preparatory military high school and junior college, founded in 1891 in Roswell, New Mexico. It was inspired by VMI.
  • Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity was founded in by cadets at Richmond, Virginia on September 11, 1865. Sigma Nu Fraternity was founded by VMI cadets in 1869.

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External links

Template:Big South Conferencede:Virginia Military Institute


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