Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

The First Ladies of Bluestone Hill
Montpelier Fall 1998

As Judith Rose takes over as JMU's new first lady, the five who preceded her can attest that no job description comes with the role of president's wife. But through the university's 90-year history, some essential qualities have emerged. Five delightful women have imparted a personal legacy of charm, grace, steadfastness and adaptability to JMU.

During the summer of 1908, newlywed President and Mrs. Julian Burruss settled in two upstairs rooms of a home along Main Street next to the State Normal and Industrial School for Women in Harrisonburg. The location allowed the first president to keep an eye on construction.

By September 1909, two buildings connected by boardwalks defined the new campus: Science Hall (Maury) and Dormitory No. 1 (Jackson). The latter housed 64 students, three to a room, the matron Mrs. Roderick B. Brooke in two rooms, and the president and his wife in three rooms. The latter also rated a private bath.

Rachael Burruss interpreted her role with enthusiasm. She enlisted her mother to help fashion identifying bows in school colors for students to wear when traveling. She chaperoned Sunday school outings, including one by surrey and wagonettes to Rawley Springs. And she held supper parties for seniors at Massanetta until Hillcrest provided a closer venue.

Contrasting the vivacious first lady, a stern matron Brooke prowled the night halls for lights on or girls leaving their rooms after hours. One scene clues us to the ebullient Mrs. Burruss. At 2 a.m. one morning, the matron descended on a group in an upstairs room excitedly watching Halley's Comet. One can imagine the girls' relief and matron's surprise to find young Mrs. Burruss among the guilty.

Even after Hillcrest was built as the president's home in 1914, girls were always welcome. The new president's residence held student receptions and faculty dinners and provided seasonal festivities. "Mrs. B." stuffed stockings with candy in December and hid Easter eggs in spring.

The Burrusses left for Virginia Tech in 1919, and Samuel and Lucile Duke moved into Hillcrest. The second first lady proved equally cordial and gracious, but in a quieter, unassuming manner. A well-educated former teacher, she had met Sam in graduate school at the University of Chicago.

The Dukes arrived on their 11th wedding anniversary, three small children and one maid in tow. From 1919 to 1949, Lucile modeled the ideal mother and wife. She taught Sunday school, headed a garden club, helped organize the city nursing service, and entertained students, faculty members, governors and visiting dignitaries.

Formal receptions continued at Hillcrest, girls in long gowns according to rules of the day. New faculty dinners could be served around the dining table, when newcomers numbered in single digits. And both Dukes were avid bridge players and golfers who gathered foursomes for either on the spur of the moment.

A steadfast tower of strength for her husband through demanding decades as the campus expanded, the Teachers College became Madison, and students quadrupled, she eased her own moments of stress in her garden. She told an earlier reporter, "I could get away and work in my garden. Hillcrest was off by itself then. The garden was a private place.

In 1949, her strength was tested. Dr. Duke suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. Named president emeritus, he and Lucile moved to Zirkle House across Main Street, where they observed campus activity until his death in 1954. Then she took an apartment - with a garden. There she remained until her death at age 92 in 1980, outliving her successor.

Third first lady Elise R. Miller graced Hillcrest with charm and friendliness until her sudden death ... in May 1956," according to Raymond Dingledine's Madison College history book. She had been in Harrisonburg six brief years. Faculty members filled the vacuum at campus social affairs, with home economics leading the way.

President Miller socialized away from home. A dinner party at "Buck" Weavers (rector of the board of visitors) sparked a late-life romance. Betty Mauzy of Winston-Salem was one of the dinner guests." In August 1968 their marriage brought Madison College a new first lady.

At Hillcrest only two weeks, she held her first reception. More than 1,100 came. "A freshman girl, brand new to the campus, of course, came in and solemnly shook my hand and said, 'welcome to the campus, Mrs. Miller.' They were the cutest things you ever saw, all dressed up, so polite."

Betty Miller enjoyed the social gatherings but also endured less happy moments. Campus unrest invaded Madison along with other colleges. She watched demonstrations on the lawn, heard the chants, was proud of her husband's strength. He opened dialogues, sometimes compromised but also stood firm, taking one case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It became a landmark decision for college and university rights.

The Millers welcomed retirement in 1971, when Edith and Ronald Carrier stepped in. Creating a home first at Hillcrest, then at Oakview, the former art student enlarged her perspective. She equated creating three beautiful children, a beautiful home, a beautiful life as "all ways of being an artist."

The 1970s dictated yet another essential quality for a first lady - creativity. As the school grew, so did demands on the president's wife. From the 1970s into the 1990s, receptions or gatherings were held virtually every weekend, sometimes to honor a house guest or visiting dignitary or university staff members. Invitations, menus, flowers, music - the countless details to create a seamless evening entertaining strangers as well as friends took wellsprings of creative energy.

Her parents provided her strong values but not her social preparation for the exacting new role. "I had dinners by myself - I remember inviting all these people for dinner - a formal dinner in the dining room, and I did it myself. My mother didn't like to cook, so it didn't come from her. When Ron was vice president at Memphis State, I attended a lot of events at the president's home. I think just pure observation of which fork to use, what food is served and how - trial and error."

Later she called on the cafeteria and Bob Griffin for help. "He was so sweet," Edith recalls. "One time when I had a dinner party, I said, 'I want you to do rice pilaf along with whatever else' and he said,'You lost me already.'" She laughs. "They had never catered anything - just used to serving student meals. So I worked with him pretty hard and we had catering."

Along with hosting numerous events and attending others, she carried the brunt of raising children in a fishbowl atmosphere. The whole family found itself overly scrutinized.

Edith attended every football game, every basketball game, every cheerleading practice, whatever the children were involved in. She went to events that her husband couldn't, official demands increasing his time away from home.

"I think I've never let him down - I've always been here for him. And I'm always available anytime he wants anything done. He draws that from me, and I draw from him his strength. I think his ability to persevere - to keep on, keep on going when I've wanted to give up. He has an amazing sense of strength and agility and vision that just doesn't stop."

That, of course, is another characteristic that ties the legacy of first ladies together. Each exhibited abiding faith in her husband and his vision for the future.

Like them, sixth First Lady Judith Rose will define for herself a role that will assist her husband, President Linwood H. Rose, in meeting the changing needs of the university into the next century.

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