Samuel Page Duke


Samuel Page DukeSam Duke would have made a great coach or a terrific banker, but it was Madison's good fortune that education was his passion. A graduate of Randolph Macon and Columbia University's Teachers College, Duke came to Harrisonburg in 1919 from Farmville Normal School where he headed the education department. He soon earned a reputation for being fair, frank, frugal and fervent — especially about sports. Young, athletic and personable, the 33-year-old Duke was seen all over campus, at sporting events, meetings and programs. He built buildings on a shoestring, played on faculty teams and eventually lent his name as the school's sports moniker, the Dukes. Sam Duke holds the record for the longest tenure of any JMU president — he had so much to do. Duke took a small normal school and changed it into Virginia's largest teachers college -- one he proposed should be named Madison College. Despite having to battle the Great Depression, World War II, a fickle General Assembly, the status quo and a changing social landscape, Duke embraced change and kept the school pointed exactly at its future. When ill health ended his tenure suddenly in 1949, he and Mrs. Duke moved into Zirkle House, across Main Street from the Quad. That way the former president could still see the campus that he, his administration and faculty had transformed. During 1952 graduation ceremonies, perhaps the last he attended before his death in 1955, the entire gathering rose in his honor. It was a fitting tribute to a man who defined change.

Tenure: 1919-1949
Name: State Teachers College at Harrisonburg (1924),
Madison College (1938)

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Published: Thursday, August 28, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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