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A trip through the Madison Century

History Professor Sidney Bland's remarks to the 2007-08 joint meeting of the JMU faculty and staff

History Professor Sidney Bland addresses the joint meeting of JMU faculty and staff

History Professor Sidney Bland addresses the joint meeting of JMU faculty and staff

President Rose, Vice Presidents Brown, Warner, King and Carr, colleagues, guests, friends:

I invite you to join me this morning for a quick trip back through the Madison Century.

To start, take a moment and look around you! Look around you.

Look to your left! Erase the entire row of Bluestone buildings that you see, together with the structures behind those that honor former presidents Burruss, Duke and Miller.

Now, come back to the top of the Quad. Eliminate the hall to my right (Keezell Hall) named for the six-foot-six giant of a man, Senator George Keezell, whose political maneuverings were absolutely crucial for Madison's beginning. Take away Wilson Hall, opened with great fanfare in 1931. The twenty-eighth U.S. president's widow, Edith Bolling Wilson, headed the celebrity list in attendance that day.

Now, look to your right and blot out everything except the two blue/gray limestone buildings with Spanish tiled red roofs here at the top of the Quad. Dormitory 1 (now Jackson Hall) and Science Hall (now Maury Hall), together with uneven boardwalk running between them and stretching diagonally across the muddy, grassless field, constituted the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg which opened Sept. 27, 1909, initiating the Madison Century. Right over there. That's where it all began!

Dormitory 1 housed students, three to a room and served as the first dining hall, with the upstairs western end of the dorm containing a suite of three rooms and a bath for President and Mrs. Julian Burruss. Science Hall contained several classrooms, the library, a small office for the president and the office of the registrar.

While a reserved man, Julian Burruss took a personal interest in his 150 entering students, seeking to develop "a strong, noble womanly character" and to inspire them "to do as well as to think." Burruss interviewed every entrant, carefully reviewing all academic program cards. Giving specialized, individual attention to its students has always been a feature that has set this university apart. It began early. It continues to this very day.

A school that would be different

From the beginning, then, this institution was identified as unique, and during the first year the student body was repeatedly reminded of its responsibility as pioneers. They were building for the future, and they were creating a school that would be different! That distinctiveness was captured in the prayer of historian John Wayland to the opening Normal School assembly. His words have resonance to faculty and staff as we gather today:

"Bless ALL who have labored for this school hitherto, and ALL who shall labor for it HENCEFORTH in any capacity. Bless the school; may it become a sacred place-a shrine, as it were, devoted to liberty and to truth."

Great drama and celebration preceded this historic beginning. Olympic-style bidding in the spring 1908 General Assembly among 28 towns and cities for the designated site for Virginia's next normal (teacher training) school brought forth all sorts of cajoling, strong-arming, wining and dining. Harrisonburg competed with the best of them. City fathers allayed all safety, health and accessibility concerns of the visiting legislative committee, and, together with Fredericksburg, emerged as the sites for new state normals. A sumptuous feast for the visitors beginning with caviar and including fish, roast beef, fried chicken and spring lamb might have had something to do with the decision too.

A time of educational innovation

The State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg came into being at a time of remarkable educational innovation and experimentation and during a major reform era in American History known as the Progressive period. It was an era of optimism, excitement and exuberance. No one embodied this more than the energetic, often frenetic chief executive of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. The toothy, ebullient president gave hope to the ideal that in education, as in other reforms, the individual could still take charge of his/her destiny and effect personal and societal change. The moment of creation for the future university was a propitious one.

The first students also entered at a critical moment in women's history. Young women were empowered, able now to enter college by the front door, not the side door. They could pursue an education relatively comparable to that of men, and make their mark, not just as teachers, librarians or nurses, but increasingly in the public sphere. Many would go on to address local, state and national issues affecting their homes, their communities and their lives, joining record numbers in clubs and organizations.

Leadership marked by continuity and vision

Julian Burruss was the first in a series of strong and visionary leaders in the Madison Century. Following Burruss were the three decades of the Samuel Page Duke presidency (1919-49), the G. Tyler Miller years (1949-70), the Ronald Carrier era (1971-98) and the virtual decade that Linwood Rose has been at the helm. This institution has had only five leaders in one hundred years, fewest among most all Virginia colleges over the past century. This continuity, commitment and dedication has benefited thousands and thousands of our students.

Numerous key changes occurred during this journey. A major one came under President Duke in 1938, when the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg became Madison College, honoring the nation's fourth president. Duke favored the name in part because he felt it would be appropriate for a coeducational institution, and with the GI Bill right after World War II he moved the school in that direction, enrolling men as day students.

The Founding Father connection

The Founding Father connection remains a crucial one. James Madison was an early advocate of education for women. More importantly, Madison championed "an intelligent and educated citizenry" as the bedrock of human freedom and popular government. President Rose has strengthened those ties by developing several cooperative programs with Madison's birthplace, Montpelier, and by forming the Madison Center to further study of the philosophy and ideals of the Father of the Constitution.

Even greater change occurred in the last half of the twentieth century. G. Tyler Miller led the charge for full coeducation and the construction of men's dorms. He also initiated a graduate program. Taking over in 1971, Ronald Carrier channeled the institution long recognized as the leader in the training of teachers for the public schools through an educational metamorphosis that resulted in the naming of James Madison University in 1977. Always mindful of the student and the future, Carrier fueled academic, artistic and athletic excellence, initiated a doctoral program, and created the College of Integrated Science and Technology, a separate campus located on the other side of Interstate 81. Under current president Linwood Rose the institution is in the midst of reshaping itself once more, ensuring that JMU students are fully prepared to become effective, informed members of a technologically-based conjoined world.

A "fellowship of doers"

But James Madison University is much more than the sum of its administrative leadership. When Madison's peers spoke of him as "The Father of the Constitution," he made it clear that the document was "the work of many heads and many hands." The same can be said for this institution which bears his name. This university throughout its history has consisted of an alliance of many, a community, a "fellowship of doers," to borrow a phrase from Theodore Roosevelt, all committed to a common purpose. It is those faculty and staff who have gone before, and those who sit in this audience now, whom we celebrate and honor as the lifeblood of the Madison Century.

Numerous faculty members have been recognized by having buildings named for them. These include Professors Anthony and Seeger, Chappelear, Cleveland, Converse, Eagle, Frederikson, Garber, Gifford, Hanson, Hoffman and Huffman, the Ikenberrys, the Johnstons, Logan, Moody, Shorts, Varner, Warren and Wayland. But the efforts of many have gone unsung. Many have not been thanked enough. Only one building on campus, for example, honors a staff person, the Frye Building, named for Lou Frye, longtime operations supervisor of the Physical Plant. Yet who among us does not appreciate, on a daily basis, and just now, the setting in which we find ourselves. Parents and students alike consistently identify the beauty of the surroundings, the attention and detail to upkeep of campus, as impacting the choice to attend this university. One of the enduring images of the Carrier years is that of the president and Junior Higgs, perhaps more responsible than any other for the natural beauty of this campus, strolling the grounds, vigorously engaged in flower and tree planting decisions. Higgs has a grove of trees on the CISAT campus named for him.

We have always celebrated teaching at this university. Two examples will suffice to illustrate the exceptional ability, dedication, energy and achievement that have been the hallmark of Madison faculty throughout its history. These examples also speak to love of school, loyalty, continuity and an intangible which we can label Madison family.

Examples of the Madison family

The link between the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg and James Madison University is personified by Althea Loose. Present at the first faculty meeting of the Normal, she was also here seven decades later when Governor Mills Godwin signed the bill creating James Madison University. Loose taught physical education, Latin and German. After her marriage to popular Normal chemistry and physics professor, James Johnston, and a short teaching hiatus, Althea Johnston returned to head the physical education department from 1919-47, but for one year. She created a power house in women's basketball, with six undefeated teams. Her undefeated 1929 team doubled its opponent's score in every game, ending the season with a blistering 90-6 victory over rival State Teachers College at Fredericksburg (now the University of Mary Washington). Johnston was one of five individuals named to the JMU Athletic Hall of Fame in its first year. Johnston Hall honors both wife and husband. Althea Loose Johnston, who died in 1984 at age 99, was the last member of the original Normal School faculty. Her legacy includes a succession of accomplished women in Madison sports, outstanding physical education leaders, including Lee Morrison, Pat Bruce and Marilyn Crawford, and numerous Johnston descendants, including Alison Montgomery Johnston, a member of the Class of 2006, who have kept alive Althea Loose's accomplishments and her spirit

Even closer to a dynasty at James Madison University has been the Dingledine family, with the lives of four generations of Dingledines leaving a mark on the formation, direction and character of the institution. The first Dingledine lobbied the General Assembly for better teachers before there was a State Normal and Industrial. Father and son were history professors, though Dingledine Senior started at the Normal in 1913 in mathematics. Both also held several positions of leadership in Harrisonburg city government. Dingledine Junior was instrumental in establishing the Madison College Honor System. He became head of the history department when it separated from the social sciences in 1965, serving until his retirement in 1984. In shaping these remarks, I gratefully acknowledge my debt to Dingledine's authoritative history: Madison College: the First Fifty Years, 1908-58.

But it was Dingledine Senior's wife, Agness Stribling, known affectionately to generations of students as "Mama Ding," who may have had the most lasting influence. As a student Stribling was president of the school's first student government organization. The Normal's youngest faculty member when she came in 1917, her first duties including meeting arriving students at the train station. For years she served as dormitory hostess, sorority house mother and, from 1952 until her retirement in 1967, alumnae secretary. The Dingledine Senior home was a gathering place for professors and students alike. In 1919 the two began offering an annual $10 prize (the prize the equivalent of an average week's pay for a public school teacher) to the best senior essay in Elizabeth Cleveland's Literary Epochs class. Dingledine Hall was named for "Mama Ding" in 1970. "Whether you knew her or not," wrote grandson Tom Dingledine, recent donor, with his wife Karyn, of $2.6 million for endowed scholarships bearing the family name, "you are a part of her family - her Madison Family."

All Together One

It is this Johnston and Dingledine spirit and dedication, this connectedness that uniquely binds Madison community members, faculty and staff, with one another through the decades. We are, in the words of the current university theme, All Together One. The Johnston and Dingledine histories are but part of our larger story. We have all been at times, to quote from one of Theodore Roosevelt's more famous addresses, "the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause."

So as we gear for battle once again, prepared to fight the good fight, spend ourselves in a worthy cause, work our special magic with students--the magic of learning, let us remember the rich heritage that has brought us to this place. And later in the morning, when we all share in cake and celebrate the Madison Century, we might echo Mayor O.B. Roller's toast when the city's lobbyists returned in triumph in 1908, a toast to "the proudest moment in the history of Harrisonburg."