Taking Office: Inaugurations of Virginia’s Governors, 1942-2010

Library of Virginia

Every four years, on the Saturday after the second Wednesday in January, Virginia’s three highest elected officials – the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the attorney general – are inaugurated. Witnessing the event will be both houses of the General Assembly, a large company of invited guests, and members of the news media. In a ceremony that has not changed significantly since the 1930s, the new governor and his colleagues will take an oath of office to support and defend the state’s constitution and execute the laws of the commonwealth.

No Higher Honor
Former governors gather at the State Capitol, 16 January 2010, for the inauguration of Bob McDonnell: (L to R) Charles Robb (1982-1986), Linwood Holton (1970-1974), Doug Wilder (1990-1994), George Allen (1994-1998), Bob McDonnell (2010-2014), Tim Kaine (2006-2010), Gerald Baliles (1986-1990), and James Gilmore (1998-2002). Citation: Virginia. Governor (2010-2014 : McDonnell)
Plans for the inauguration begin shortly after the November general election. Workers construct a platform for the administration of the oath of office on the south portico of the Capitol and bleachers for spectators. Invitations, tickets, and inaugural programs and printed and distributed.

Governor Mark Warner had five different passes for his inaugural in January 2002: Staff, Press, Talent, Vendor and Caterer.

Invitation and ticket information for the inauguration of Governor Thomas B. Stanley on 20 January 1954.

Audio clip: Governor Thomas Stanley’s inaugural address, 20 January 1954, WRVA radio
The inauguration is an official function of the General Assembly. In December 1941, Governor-elect Colgate W. Darden, Jr. and Lt. Governor-elect William Tuck, requested that the inauguration be moved from the south portico of the Capitol to the north side. This prompted a lengthy response from Colonel E. Griffith Dodson, Clerk of the House of Delegates, stating why he opposed the move.
Many of the activities associated with gubernatorial inaugurations today had been established by the 1930s. The retiring governor drove to the governor-elect’s hotel and escorted the new governor to Capitol Square. The new governor entered a joint meeting of the two houses of the General Assembly in the chamber of the House of Delegates. Then the entire legislature and invited guests moved to the south portico of the Capitol where the governor was sworn in and delivered his inaugural address.

It is traditional that the outgoing Governor meet with and present the incoming Governor the keys to the Executive Mansion.

Governor Tim Kaine gives the keys to the Executive Mansion to Governor-elect Bob McDonnell in the State Capitol building.

The inaugural ceremonies begin at noon with the administration of the oaths of office in this order: the Attorney General-elect, the Lieutenant Governor-elect, and finally the Governor-elect. It is followed by the Governor’s inaugural address. Governor William M. Tuck (1946-1950) pauses during his inaugural address to acknowledge applause from the crowd. Tuck’s inauguration was the first to be televised in the commonwealth.

Video clip: John S. Battle takes the oath of office as Virginia Governor in 1950, with former Governors William Tuck and Colgate Darden in attendance.

Mills Edwin Godwin, Jr. (1914-1999) was the only modern two-term governor of Virginia. He served as a Democrat from 1966-1970 and as a Republican from 1974-1978. Video of Godwin's 1966 inauguration.

Abner Linwood Holton (1970-1974) was the first Republican governor in Virginia in a century.

Audio of Governor Linwood Holton taking the oath of office, 17 January 1970, WRVA.

The Holton administration focused on improving and reducing the cost of governmental services to the state’s citizens and reducing the number of departments reporting directly to the Governor.

Governor Tim Kaine was inaugurated in front of the reconstructed Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg, 14 January 2006.

After the oath of office is administered, the Governor signs his oath of office. This is an image of Governor Tim Kaine's oath from 14 January 2006.

A grandson of slaves, Lawrence Douglas Wilder (1931– ) was sworn in as governor of Virginia on 13 January 1990. Wilder made history in 1985 when he became the first African American elected to statewide office, and was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 1986. In 1989 he was the nation's first elected African American governor. Witnesses to the inauguration were the new governor's daughter, son, and daughter-in-law, flanking him, retired United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell (1907–1998), who administered the oath of office, at the right, and retiring Governor Gerald L. Baliles (1940– ). Wilder's inauguration as governor in January 1990 was doubly notable in that the first woman to win election to statewide office, Mary Sue Terry, was sworn in on the same day as attorney general of Virginia.

Collage of photographs from Governor Doug Wilder's 1990 inauguration. Includes Lt. Governor Don Beyer & Attorney General Mary Sue Terry.

Inaugural Events & Fund Raising
Today, events associated with gubernatorial inaugurations include a church service, a parade, the swearing-in, receptions, and balls.  As campaigns have increased in cost, inaugural committees have turned to marketing to use inaugural balls and receptions as a means to raise funds. The inaugural committee for Mark R. Warner in 2002 offered three tiers of sponsorship packages: Governor’s Circle, Old Dominion Sponsor, and Commonwealth Sponsor. Each package offer included tickets to various inaugural balls, concerts, and receptions

The inaugural committee for George F. Allen in 1994 recognized the public’s insatiable desire for memorabilia and offered a catalog of keepsakes including inaugural boots and a watch.

WRVA news report on Governor George Allen's inauguration, 15 January 1994.

Recent governors have created websites to share information about inaugural events and activities. Image: snapshot of archived homepage of the Kaine Inaugural 2006 website, captured 16 January 2006.

What's Past is Prologue
Inauguration day marks the end of one gubernatorial administration and the beginning of the next. While a new governor takes office every four years, the traditions and ceremonies of that day symbolize continuity in the transfer of power in Virginia. Image: Governor Bob McDonnell carries First Lady Maureen McDonnell over the threshold at the Executive Mansion, 16 January 2010.
Credits: Story

Research, text, and arrangement by Barbara Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator, Education and Programs Department; Roger Christman, State Records Archivist, State Records Department; and Brent Tarter, former editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Editing and assistance from Sonya Coleman, Digital Collections Specialist and Julie Campbell, former editor of Virginia Cavalcade.

Imaging by Paige Buchbinder and Mark Fagerburg, Photo & Digital Imaging Services Department and Roger Christman, State Records.

All images from Manuscripts & Special Collections (Personal Papers Collection and Prints and Photographs Collection) and State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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