On two occasions, a change in the name of the institution now known as James Madison University created some ambivalence on the name that should appear on diplomas.
The bill authorizing Madison College to change its name from Madison College to James Madison University was signed on March 22, 1977, by Governor Mills E. Godwin. The name change was effective July 1.
Members of the May 1977 graduating class were given the option of having their diplomas read “James Madison University” even though the institution was still named Madison College on the date of the ceremony (May 7). If the graduate did not provide a specific request, the diploma read “Madison College.”
Of those receiving diplomas in the May 7 ceremony, 1,050 received diplomas saying “ Madison College ” (1,001 bachelors degrees and 49 masters degrees). The remaining 94 graduates (76 bachelor's degrees and 18 master's degrees) opted for “James Madison University.”
That graduation ceremony was also the last ceremony in which genuine sheepskin diplomas were used. Beginning with the first James Madison University ceremony in August 1977, parchment diplomas began to be used. August graduates did not have an option on the name on their diplomas.
A few May 1977 graduates later asked the registrars office to replace their “ Madison College ” diplomas with a “James Madison University” one. Some sheepskin diplomas were kept by the registrars office for that purpose.
In 1938, the Virginia General Assembly bill changing the name of the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg to Madison College was signed by Gov. James H. Price on March 8. The name-change was to officially take effect on June 12 – six days after the scheduled graduation ceremony. However, special provisions were made to allow the college to place the new name Madison College on the diplomas of the graduates of the Class of 1938 who marched out of Wilson Hall on June 6.
The matter was more clear-cut in 1924 when the State Normal School for Women changed its name to the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg. That name change took place in February, well before that year's graduation so students had the new name on their diplomas.
Sources: Carrie Moyers, Student Records Manager, Registrar's Office
Polly Long, retired Registrar Madison College : The First Fifty Years, 1908-1958
by Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine Jr.