Friday, March 14, 2014

Sepia Saturday: College Freshman

 Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt highlights beautiful architectural elements such as domes and arches.  When my grandaunts Violetta and Velma Davis attended Harrisonburg Teachers College in the early 1920s, the signature Bluestone and Roman/Greek revival architecture had been the hallmark of the school for ten years. 

Maury and Jackson Halls, Harrisonburg Teachers College, 1920s
These were the first two buildings, built in 1909 as they looked in the 1920s.
Maury (center) was the first academics and administrative building.
Jackson Hall (right) was the first dorm and dining hall.

Arch between Harrison and Jackson Hall, Harrisonburg Teachers College early 1920s.
A pass-through arch connecting Harrison Hall and Jackson.
The opposite arch leads to Ashby Hall.

Twenty-five years later the 6 buildings Violetta and Velma knew had grown to 13, with the arches and columns providing architectural coherence. 

Violetta and Velma made great alumnae assuring that my mother would attend their alma mater too, which had been renamed Madison College. (Today it is known as James Madison University.  Go Dukes!)

Throughout my childhood, every visit to Harrisonburg to see the aunts included a ride through the campus.  Certainly it must have been part of my parents’ secret plot to brainwash me into following in the footsteps of my mother and grandaunts.  My dad would always say, “You’ll go there one day.”  It always sounded more like an order than a shared dream.  But that was ok.  It became my dream too.

I went through the motions of sending my SAT scores to several colleges, just in case Madison didn’t want me.   But as luck and the Davis women would have it, come September 1969, my parents proudly moved me to Madison College.  My high school friend Pat and I elected to room together – a little added security in having SOMEONE familiar close by.  Our dorm was a small dorm, all freshmen women.  There were no co-ed dorms then.

Johnston Hall, James Madison University
Johnston Hall

Johnston doesn’t possess the best example of the arches, but those staircases on the ends are handsome.  Those stairs were used mainly as emergency exits during fire drills, which were a test of our nerves.  They were always scheduled in the middle of the night.  When the resident assistant (aka “R A”) banged the bell with her hammer, we were to grab a raincoat and flashlight and quickly head for the exits.  Then we stood shivering in the cold until given the all-clear to return to our beds. 

Johnston Hall as it appeared 1969

That’s my room, third set of windows from the left on the top floor.  Each room had two bunkable twin beds, 2 desks and chairs, 2 dressers, 2 bookcases, 2 sizeable closets, and 1 sink.  There was a large shared bathroom with enclosed stalls and private showers.  While students who lived in suites dorms felt sorry for us, I liked this arrangement because we didn’t have to clean the bathroom.  Housekeeping did it. 

Pat’s and my room was painted a sickly pinky-brown.  That is, until the pipes froze.  Pat and I returned from class one afternoon to find her side of the room soaking wet with water running down the wall.  We reported the problem and soon we heard those much-awaited voices calling, “Man on the hall.”  That was the polite way for men to enter women’s dorms back then.  They assessed the situation and left.  Pat and I were on our own to deal with wet bedding.  And no heat.  We stayed in the room one night freezing to death.  The next night friends at the end of the hall pushed their beds together and the four of us piled in together. 
Johnston Hall 1969 when the pipes froze
Wendy and Pat loosened wet and damaged plaster
using broom handles.  

It was miserable.  Fortunately heat was restored quickly although new plaster and paint came much later.  The good news was the pinky-brown was replaced with a fresh sky blue.

Aside from that miserable incident, living in a freshman dorm was a great deal of fun.  We made friends quickly with the girls living around us.  There was a beauty queen, a girl legally blind, girls from New York and Pennsylvania and Maryland, Celeste Holm’s pen pal, and LOTS of phys ed majors.  When our friend Nancy made the field hockey team as a FRESHMAN, we saw it as a time to celebrate an amazing accomplishment and honor.  How?  We hung her underwear all over the place.

Nancy Burke 1969 Madison College (now James Madison University)
Nancy - one proud field hockey player!

She thought the pair taped to her wall was funny.

She didn’t think it was funny when she found her panties on poles around campus.  It’s a wonder she didn’t beat us all with a hockey stick.  (Granted, we would have deserved it.)

Judging by my photos from that first dorm experience, we must have been in one continuous silly contest. 

Pat Dumire and Eileen Dickey Madison College 1969
Pat and Eileen -- onesies and pigtails

Pat and Eileen both had “onesie” pjs.  Don’t ask me why.  I suppose they thought toddler-style pajamas added just the right amount of quirkiness to nightwear.

In moments of boredom, what could be more fun than letting a floor fan blow up your nightgown?

Pat Dumire, Nancy Burke, Eileen Dickey at Anthony Seeger campus school 1969
Pat, Nancy, and Eileen

Harrisonburg was not the vibrant college town it is today.  Saturdays were LONG with little to do.  We were glad for that playground across the street at the Anthony Seeger campus school (used for training elementary school teachers).

Nancy's head and Pat's feet

This was our idea of superior creativity.  Yeah boy, we were destined to be Madison’s shining stars, for sure. 

My husband and I try to be good alumni, but we couldn’t convince our own daughters to even LOOK at our alma mater.  I wonder if viewing all that beautiful Bluestone and Greek Revival architecture would have made a difference.

For more stories of architectural features, please visit Sepia Saturday.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. If this is a duplicate, please delete. I went looking for how to spell "segue" the verb, correctly...anyway my comment before said something like: Nice segue from arches to college to freshman fun. Thanks for a most enjoyable post, you certainly must have fond memories and you've kept the pictures you took, showing all of us what fun it is to be young and somewhat carefree.

  2. What fun you must have had, and especially what fun you, yourself, must have been in college. Everyone needs to be unabashedly silly once in a while - and not just when you're young, either! Loved your post!

  3. Sounds like you have a lot of fun. I don't, however, hear anything about actually going to class and learning something ;-)

  4. I agree with the others: This sounds like so much fun! I really enjoyed this post. You brought back some of my good college memories. :)

  5. Noting above comment: Going to class and learning something. Is that permissible? Certainly not mandatory!

  6. Moving continents every generation is not conducive to being very good alumni, so I've never had much attachment for the "old school" but you look like you had fun.

  7. Good old college architecture & college fun. I remember RAs. I went to a small Catholic college & our first RA was a nun. You better believe we followed her rules! ha!

  8. Great memories of your college days! I went to university in the town where we lived, so never had the joys of 'living in', sad to say

  9. I remember the day we dropped you off at Madison (JMU) Momma cried the whole way home. =(

    Nothing compares to those beautiful buildings. I'm so glad you went there! You wouldn't have found Moosehead if you hadn't.

    Go DUKES!

  10. Interesting post. It made me realize that I didn't take any photos at my college, which seems strange to me now.

  11. Wow, speaking of fun old times memories, what a treat this was.

  12. This reminded me quite a lot of my own college days (1970-74). I didn’t have a room to myself for two years either, but whata luxury it felt, even though it was not en suite (as they all seem to be these days). It did have a little wash basin though. An enjoyable post.

  13. The tradition of an American university campus emulating the classic universities of Europe - Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Sorbonne, is no longer fashionable. Perhaps because colleges have new monumental architecture like football stadiums and sports arenas.

  14. I lived at home while going to college but do remember "man in the hall!" from visiting my sister at Howard University. I didn't take any college photos either. We just didn't take cameras around all the time back then and not living there, I guess.

  15. What a fun post, Wendy. I'm impressed that you have arches in your family history photos! I love the stone arch between the buildings.

  16. A lovely school, especially that first shot with the snow. I imagine the lights shining from within onto the snow made a beautiful site.

    And I remember those PJs when I was in college. We called them Dr. Dentons.

  17. Wendy, am laughing so hard am crying! Email me: Your playground friend, Nancy B