Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Put Up Your Dukes

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo with hands on knees reminded me immediately of this group photo taken in October 1924 when my grandaunt Velma Davis was a freshman at Harrisonburg Teachers College, now known as James Madison University.
Students of Harrisonburg Teachers College 1924 Massanutten Hike
Massanutten Hike 1924
students of Harrisonburg Teachers College

I wrote about the hike for Sepia Saturday in 2013.

What surprised me most about the hike was that the girls were accompanied by the college president, Samuel Page Duke. He was just 36 years old when he was named the second president of the college and probably about 40 in this photo.
Samuel P. Duke 1924
Samuel Page Duke (1885-1955)
Duke was a visionary. He figured out how to grow the campus and build buildings. He found money when there was none. When the 1924 enrollment far exceeded the school’s ability to house the incoming class, he convinced a developer to build some apartments with the promise that the school would rent them.
Wellington Hall Harrisonburg Teachers College 1924
Wellington Hall 1924
my grandaunt Velma's dorm

Duke also made sure there were plenty of gymnasiums, a swimming pool, and fields for sports. Under his leadership the school grew from 400 students and buildings valued at $500,000 to over 1300 students with buildings and equipment valued at over $2.5 million.

No one thinks about that. What most people remember about President Duke are these 2 things:
  • When the state colleges started growing and offering more than training for teachers, they wanted a new name. Samuel Duke used his influence to push for the name “Madison College” in honor of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. In 1975 the school became a university and adopted the name “James Madison University.”
  • JMU is probably the only school whose athletic teams are named after the school president. Men first enrolled at Madison College as regular session students following World War II. The first men’s basketball team was formed in 1947. The players struck a deal with President Duke: if he would provide them with towels and equipment, they would name their team for him. That is how we became the Dukes. 

As for “Duke Dog,” our mascot, that took some creative thinking. After all, there is little about a “duke” that inspires team spirit. The director of public affairs suggested the English bulldog, the stereotypical pet for British royalty, such as a “duke.” Thus Duke Dog was born.

The first mascot costume was basic.
The Duke Dog mascot in 1973
Now the mascot is all fancy and cuddly in his crown and royal robe.
Duke Dog as he looks today
courtesy JMU The Breeze
The statue looks more ferocious.
from Pinterest

At our lake house, we had fun decorating the basement bar as a tribute to our Alma Mater.

I like to think President Duke would approve.

Get up and hike on over to Sepia Saturday to see what the group is up to.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. So interesting with how it got named! He does sound like a good president for the school and a man ahead of his time!


  2. Brilliant! A perfect photo. Bulldogs are a popular choice for college mascots. Here at UNC in Asheville they have a smaller but still oversized bulldog sculpture outside the athletic center. One day I took my dog for a walk around the campus and when he spotted this giant bulldog he pulled out into the street and barked at the statue.

  3. Glad to see the transition of the school from when your grand aunt (is that the same as a great aunt?) attended and hiked with President Duke!

  4. What a fun and interesting post! That giant statue of the bulldog with the little guy below is adorable! :)