Is jmu a feminist institution?

A look at the history of leadership at jmu

Like me, I’m sure you’ve heard the joke “she went to college to get an MRS degree,” more than once. My experience at JMU has actually broadened my ideas as a feminist, so the concept of only going to college to meet a man seems foreign. Nevertheless, the joke, rooted in misogyny and patriarchal oppression, got me thinking about women and feminism in education. It made me wonder, is JMU a feminist institution? Was it ever? Firstly, it is important to acknowledge what we mean as “feminist”. Specifically, in this context, it is how gender norms operate within the institution and if they promote and practice equality. To examine this, we have to look through the history of JMU. As we move forward, try to compare the number of men mentioned to the number of women mentioned. So, let’s take a little trip through time, shall we? 

State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg
Unknown Photographer, piece by Fred Hilton
  • The year is 1908, and JMU is founded as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg. Julian Burruss, a man, serves as the first ever president of this women’s only school that offered today’s equivalent of junior college courses or technical training. Of course, at the time, the women attending were likely upper class and definitely all white. 

    Julian Burruss, JMU Official Website
  • Now 1919, Samuel Duke, a man, has become the new president! During Duke’s presidency, 9 major buildings were constructed, leading to his popularity. A few years pass and now in 1924, the school is renamed “State Teachers College at Harrisonburg”, and remains only for women. Surprise, surprise, another name change comes along in 1938, and the school is now named “Madison College” after, yep you guessed it, James Madison.

    1946: Men can officially now enroll in Madison College as regular day students. One year later, the men’s basketball team begins adopting the nickname “The Dukes” around the same time the women’s teams begin to adopt the nickname “The Duchesses”. 

    The JMU Dukes
    Piece by Martha B. Graham, JMU Official Website,
  • A new president, G. Tyler Miller, a man, comes along in 1949. A notable president, Miller enlarged the institution’s campus by 240 acres, and also won the approval to finally build residence halls for men. Now, Madison College is fully coeducational. 

  • 1971: Ronald Carrier, a man, is the president. Due to the “inequities between women and men in Academe: salary, rank, promotion, policies, and the like,” along with the simple fact that men dominated faculty positions as well as administrative positions, Crystal Theodore and Frances Cavanaugh formed the Madison Caucus for Gender Equality in 1973. The major concern of this group was that “the administration was not making effective use of the abilities of faculty women and administrators, as well as gender-based salary inequality.” This became the only group to advocate for women’s rights on campus, and in May of 1975, was renamed “The Madison College Faculty Women’s Caucus”. This name change was considered controversial because some felt the word “caucus” was “too political”…seriously?!? For more information about the caucus and its incredible history, visit

    In 1977, Madison College is officially renamed to what we know it as now, James Madison University. In 1982, all JMU teams officially become “The Dukes” and “The Duchesses” is dropped :/ .

    It is now 1989 which proves to not only be the year of Taylor Swift but also the year a subcommittee of the Caucus proposed a Women’s Studies program. This proposal was not accepted until 1991 and Women and Gender Studies officially becomes a recognized minor. In 1993, the program sees its first graduate. 

  • Now 1998, Linwood Rose, a man, becomes JMU’s 5th president. Rose achieved a climate that allowed “faculty members to flourish…and alter the lives of [their] students.”

  • Jonathan R. Alger, a man, became JMU’s sixth president in 2012 and continues his presidency to this day. Present-day JMU is a school that I am a student at and I am able to make observations about the institution. JMU is a female-dominated campus (58%) however, it usually does not feel this way. Men’s football dominates any other sport when it comes to advertising and outcome. The last game drew in over 23,000 fans. Very few female sports are spoken about often on campus, and the fans usually consist of friends and family. The social scene, also, seems to be primarily dominated by males. Fraternity parties are a huge section of the social life at JMU and are run by males. The men in the frat decide when to throw the parties, where, and even who to let in. 

Before writing this post, I tried to look up the history of women at JMU and could find barely anything…try it. However, when I found the presidential timeline it became clear why this was the case. JMU’s six presidents since its founding in 1908 have all been white males, despite beginning as a women’s college and having primarily female students to this day. When hearing about the Presidents, did their last names sound familiar? Numerous important halls and buildings have been named after them throughout the years. Not to say that these men did not produce great things and turn JMU into the school we now know and love, but women were never given the opportunity to show what they could have done. Along with all of the presidents, the namesake of the school is a man as well as the mascot, the Dukes. From the very beginning of JMU’s history all the way up until now, the institution is overwhelmingly run by males. Although more work is being put into creating a feminist institution that exemplifies equality today, we are not yet there. 

All facts, images, and information come from the JMU Official Website:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s