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Happy Birthday, JMU!

Story by Chris Graham

jmu100.gifIt was coming up on spring, and you could sense the vitality in the air.

And then, suddenly, you could hear it.

At 10:30 p.m. the night of March 14, 1908, a loud noise thundered through the streets of Harrisonburg. It was enough to get dozens of people to pick up their phones to ask the switchboard operator what was going on.

“Then they heard the news. Harrisonburg had gotten a normal. The General Assembly had finally passed a bill providing for the establishment of a normal and industrial school for women at Harrisonburg,” said Linwood Rose, the president of what is now James Madison University, at festivities celebrating the 100th birthday of the school held this morning.

jmu2pic.gifBorn the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, the school graduated its first students two years later, in 1910. Since then, more than 100,000 men and women have been conferred degrees at Madison.

“I shook hands with 65,000 of them. And drank beer with some of them,” former president Ronald Carrier quipped at today’s ceremony.

Teachers, elected office holders, Super Bowl winners, Olympians, productive citizens all have matriculated on the campus in the Shenandoah Valley in the past 100 years, said Jon Offley, the president of the JMU Alumni Association.

“Today, we are gathered here to celebrate the 100th birthday of an institution of higher learning. But we are also celebrating the continuing legacy of what I call the Madison Spirit. It is the spirit that runs through anyone who has been a student here, and it binds us together as one,” said Lee Brooks, the president of the Student Government Association at JMU.

It’s important to think back to the school’s noble beginnings.

“1908 was a special time. It was a time of intense optimism. Thomas Edison proclaimed in 1908, and I quote, ‘Anything, everything, is possible.’ And it certainly was. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series,” Rose said.

“The events and innovations that occurred a century ago marked in many ways America’s entry into the modern world. The normal was part of that flurry of our country’s genius and resourcefulness,” Rose said.

“If you think about it, in 1908, Virginia was doing some good things,” Gov. Kaine said. “Legislation was signed in 1908 that began this university and also contained the initiation of what is now the University of Mary Washington. So there was an effort in the legislature to expand educational opportunities at that time, especially for women, at these two schools.

“This university started at a time when Virginia could not brag about its achievements, economically or educationally. But there was that spark, that spark of the legislature in 1908 that said, We have to do better,” Kaine said.


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