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William Couper Papers

Identifier: MS-0053
Scope and Content Information

The William Couper Papers document a portion of the life and career of a man notable for his research and publications about the history of the Virginia Military Institute; the Lexington, Rockbridge County and Shenandoah Valley (Virginia) areas; Virginia history and genealogy; Civil War General Stonewall Jackson; and Claudius Crozet.

A significant portion of the papers consist of publication manuscripts (drafts, galleys, proofs), notes, and other material related to Couper's major historical research projects (many of which were published). These include One Hundred Years at VMI, a four volume comprehensive history of the Institute from it's founding in 1839 through 1939; The VMI New Market Cadets, containing biographical information about the VMI students and staff who fought in the Civil War battle on May 15, 1864; Claudius Crozet,a biography of the notable 19th century Virginia Civil Engineer; History of the Shenandoah Valley; and "Stonewall Jackson Day by Day," a chronological account including events, anecdotes, clippings, transcribed correspondence, notes, and maps.

Couper's passion for the history of Lexington and Rockbridge County (VA) is evident in the substantial amount of local history research material found in his papers. Included are notes on a wide range of local history topics, as well as extensive research material (notes and maps) concerning the history of many local properties and the Lexington cemetery.

The papers also include material concerning the construction of Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Couper's speeches and addresses; maps; scrapbooks; photograph albums; and miscellaneous correspondence.


  • 1901-1964


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in the VMI Archives Collections are made available for educational and research use and may be used for non-commercial purposes with appropriate attribution. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of copyright. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information about the use of our collections.


18 cubic feet (36 manuscript boxes; in addition, large items stored in oversized cases)


The papers consist largely of manuscripts (drafts, galleys, proofs), notes, and other research material relating to Couper's interest in the history of Lexington and Rockbridge County (Virginia), the Virginia Military Institute, and the Shenandoah Valley. Other topics include the construction of Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 1917, and General Stonewall Jackson.

Biographical / Historical

William Couper Chronology.
Born November 16 at "Oakland" in Norfolk, Virginia.
Graduated from the Norfolk Academy and entered the Third Class at the Virginia Military Institute.
Graduated from VMI with distinction (Engineering course).
Received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering (railroad option) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1906 - 1917
Worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad at New York City on construction, operating and harbor work; he played a major role in the construction of the railroad tunnels and terminals for NYC.
Published "History of the Engineering, Construction and Equipment of the Pennsylvania Railroad New York Tunnels and Terminals. "
1917 June
Commissioned Major in the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and assigned as Construction Officer at Camp Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina.
1918 March
Promoted to Lt. Col., in charge of the building of the camp that became Fort Jackson.
Completed Army service in March; prepared on request a plan of development for the future of VMI, which was adopted by the VMI Board of Visitors in June.
1920 - 1921
Assistant General Manager of the Associated General Contractors of America
1921 - 1924
Employed jointly by the Texas Company and the Southern Acid and Sulphur Company as an engineer to develop sulphur properties in Brazoria Co., Texas.
Appointed Business Executive in charge of the business activities at the Veterans's Bureau Station at Perry Point, Maryland, where a supply depot, hospital for neuropsychiatric patients, rehabilitation schools and automobile reconditioning shops were operated.
Appointed Business Executive at the Virginia Military Institute.
1931 - 1933
Secretary and Treasurer of the VMI Alumni Association.
Published "The VMI New Market Cadets" (book)
Appointed VMI Historiographer.
1934 - 1935
President of the Association of Military Colleges and Universities in the U. S.
1934 - 1945
Secretary and Treasurer of the Southern Conference (Athletics)
Published "Claudius Crozet" (book)
Published "One Hundred Years at VMI (book) and The Register of Former Cadets
1946 -1948
Vice President and President of the Southern Conference.
Published "A History of the Shenandoah Valley" (book)
Retired from his positions at VMI.
Died February 15 at his home in Lexington, Virginia. Buried Norfolk, Virginia.

William Couper spent the majority of his professional life devoted to the Virginia Military Institute and to the study of VMI, Lexington and Rockbridge County, and Virginia history. His terms as VMI's Business Executive and Historiographer encompassed thirty years, but before, during and subsequent to that period he served in many other official and unofficial capacities. He was a noted authority on local and regional history, and on the life and times of General Stonewall Jackson. At VMI, in addition to his official duties, he was responsible for the initial organization and preservation of the Institute's rich historical holdings, including it's unique collection of alumni biographical and genealogical materials.



The papers are organized into 12 series.
1. Books and Articles by William Couper-- Research, drafts, related materials.
2. Stonewall Jackson Research Materials.
3. Lexington and Rockbridge County (Virginia) History.
4. Genealogy
5. Gen. William Harvie Richardson Subject File.
6. VMI Class of 1904.
7. Fort Jackson, South Carolina, construction.
8. Correspondence.
9. Speeches and Addresses.
10. Maps.
11. Photograph Albums.
12. Printed Material.

Physical Location

Manuscripts Stacks; Oversized case 9; Oversized stacks range (manuscripts)

Related Materials at VMI

Researchers should note that, because Couper served in several different positions at VMI, many of his professional papers are located in various record groups in the VMI Archives. These include records of the Business Office, Alumni Association, and various administrative subject files (e.g. Southern Conference).

Related Manuscript Collections in other Repositories

The Virginia Historical Society (Richmond, Virginia) holds additional William Couper and Couper Family papers.

Items on Loan

In 1974, at the request of the Fort Jackson (SC) Museum, selected Couper papers relating to the construction of Fort Jackson were placed on indefinite loan to the Museum.

Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450