JMU: A History

As a historian, I cannot go anywhere without knowing the history of the area and James Madison University is no different.  I recent read the history of JMU and thought I would share what I learned!  JMU is a public university that was founded in 1908.  JMU began as The State Normal and Industrial School for Women which was changed in 1924 to State Teachers College.  The name stuck until 1938 when it was named Madison College in honor of James Madison.  When Madison College achieved University level in 1976, the name was changed to James Madison University.

The quad (where Jackson Hall is located) makes up the original buildings on campus.  These buildings are constructed of Virginia Blue Stone which is native to the Shenandoah Valley.  There have been many structures added to the campus and today there are 102 major structures on campus.  This does not count the recent purchase of Rockingham County Hospital.  This adds 700 parking spaces and several buildings to campus.  The final takeover of the former hospital property will not take place until January 1, 2011.  On the subject of parking – JMU has several parking lots and four parking decks with five levels each.  Commuter students have parking reserved for them in each parking deck and there are several commuter student lots around campus.

JMU in 1937

JMU has a very unique campus.  The views of the Shenandoah are breathtaking, but there are also a few other interesting features.  The one thing that is hard to miss is I-81.  It divides campus in half!  It makes getting across campus difficult because there are few places to cross the interstate (there are only two crossing points, a bridge and a tunnel).  There is also a major railroad line that goes through campus as well.  It is bizarre seeing railroad crossings on sidewalks!  Another major site on campus is Newman Lake.  The lake is man-made, but it adds a level of class to the campus!

JMU has a reputation for sports!  They have teams for football, basketball, soccer, women’s swimming, diving, women’s volleyball, baseball, women’s lacrosse, field hockey, golf, cross country, track and field, and softball.  The mascot is Duke, the Bulldog and he is dressed in royal purple.  Personally, I am looking forward to JMU football games, although the stadium is currently under construction to add a level of suites!  Speaking of reputation, JMU has a reputation as a party school.  With so many students living off campus, there are complexes in town that are known for their parties.  Last semester, a riot broke out during the annual Springfling, police and students clashed.  A similar instance occurred in 2000.  The party flavor is fueled by the 2002 Party School Rankings by Playboy which listed JMU.

Duke Dog

JMU also has been ranked positively, however.  JMU has been ranked #1 in the region (South) for the past 17 years by US News & World Reports.  JMU is also listed 3rd overall (these are the 2011 rankings).  In addition, Forbes has ranked JMU 22nd in the nation among public institutions.  So, it is possible to get an eduction at JMU between the parties!  There are have also been a number of “famous” alumni from JMU and for a list you can click HERE.

Today, JMU is set on 655 acres and is in the center of Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The school colors are purple and gold.  There are 2,600 faculty members and approximately 18,500 students (both graduate and undergraduate).  This means there is a 7/1 student-professor ratio!!  That is a number expected at a private institution, not a public school!

I am looking forward to the beginning of school next week and will keep the blog up to date to the best of my ability!

In my next blog – I plan to give the history of Harrisonburg itself!  Remember, the Civil War was largely fought in the Shenandoah Valley and Harrisonburg has a rich history!



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