Liberty and Learning at JMU

Here is a guest post I wrote for the American Democracy Project at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, July 2017

The James Madison statue on East Campus (“Big Jimmy”) is a popular spot for photographs, especially on Constitution Day. Photo courtesy JMU Marketing and Communications.

We take civic engagement very seriously at James Madison University. Originally founded as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women in 1908, this institution has been renamed and rebranded multiple times. President Samuel Page Duke proposed the name Madison College in 1938 in part to commemorate the legacy of the nation’s so-called “Forgotten Founder,” and President Ronald Carrier led the transformation of that institution into James Madison University in 1977. Since then, the link to our nation’s fourth president, the Father of the Constitution, has become more intentional with every passing decade. And that is very fitting since Mr. Madison was one of the young republic’s most ardent advocates for higher education. “Learned institutions,” he wrote in an 1822 letter, “throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty. . . . What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

From the moment they first step on campus, students are exposed to Madison’s political legacy. We aren’t subtle! Madison statues, Madison quotes in public spaces, and Madison logos in university publications complement the classical architecture that defines our historic Quad, the symbolic heart of the institution. As part of Orientation in August, all 4,500+ freshmen participate in a program called “1787,” which includes a 75-minute academic exploration of our ethical reasoning framework, the Madison Collaborative. We annually mark Constitution Day, September 17, with cake, pocket Constitutions from our friends at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, and a free trip to Montpelier, Madison’s home and estate in nearby Orange County.

More than 300 JMU students turned out for a Presidential Election Returns Watch Party on Nov. 8, 2016. Photo courtesy JMU Marketing and Communications.

Two years ago, in tandem with a successful, student-led effort to establish an on-campus precinct, we launched Dukes Vote, a fall voter registration initiative that combines social media posts and mass emails with links to TurboVote, coordinated tabling at locations across campus, and visits to residence halls and general education classes. Students are also encouraged to explore civic tools like icitizen and BallotReady that provide information about issues of special concern and perspectives on candidates running for different offices.

But civic engagement also runs through the curriculum, especially the General Education Program, The Human Community, which is divided into five areas of learning outcomes called clusters. The American Experience area of Cluster Four: Social and Cultural Processes, for example, especially reflects JMU’s long-standing commitment to prepare undergraduates for citizenship. The area came about in 1998 after the Virginia House passed a joint resolution directing the boards of visitors of the sixteen public colleges and universities to review their general education programs to implement a US History requirement. Today, our nearly 19,000 undergraduates choose among three unique, 4-credit courses, either HIST225: US History, POSC225: US Government, or JUST225: Justice Studies. The common outcomes, designed by our own faculty, state that students will be able to identify, conceptualize and evaluate:

  • Social and political processes and structures using quantitative and qualitative data
    • Key primary sources relating to American history, political institutions and society
    •             The nature and development of the intellectual concepts that structure American political activity
    •             The history and operation of American democratic institutions
    •             The history and development of American society and culture
    •             The history and development of American involvement in world affairs.

Deliberative dialogue techniques are used in curricular and co-curricular spaces to foster civic competence. Feb. 8, 2017 D.E.E.P Impact event.

To measure performance on these outcomes, we use a 40-item instrument delivered during 1787 (Freshman pre-test) and again on our annual Assessment Day (sophomore post-test) to thousands of students each year. We are proud to have decades of data showing the value-added by a JMU course to our students’ acquisition of essential civic knowledge. Further, JMU is one of only three Virginia campuses that require a course focused on America’s democratic political heritage. Other areas of the general education program support civic learning with outcomes related to ethical reasoning, critical thinking, scientific literacy, and diversity. In fall 2017, we are launching an innovative version of our required general education human communication course for 200 Honors College students. Designed to incorporate constructive advocacy and deliberative dialogue, this course builds on faculty work with the Kettering Foundation and serves as a pilot for revisions that may soon impact all undergraduates.

This summer will see the launch of the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement, which is charged with coordinating and promoting civic engagement university-wide. The new center is part of a bold strategic plan that calls us to be the national model of the engaged university. At JMU, we have purposefully divided engagement into three distinct, yet complementary components that reflect our long-standing institutional culture and values:

  • Engaged Learning: Developing deep, purposeful and reflective learning, while uniting campus and community in the pursuit, creation, application and dissemination of knowledge;
  • Community Engagement: Fostering mutually beneficial and reciprocal partnerships, ranging from local to global, that connect learning to practice, address critical societal problems and improve quality of life;
  • and Civic Engagement: Advancing the legacy of James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, by preparing individuals to be active and responsible participants in a representative democracy dedicated to the common good.

While we believe that Madison remains an important role model, we don’t want to see him enshrined on a pedestal. Instead, in partnership with colleagues at Montpelier, we designed a civic framework called “I am Madison’s Legacy” that connects contemporary competencies and dispositions to things the historic Madison actually said or did. In the future, we hope this set of six affirmative statements will help faculty and units and organizations across campus recognize what they are already doing to “throw light on the public mind” and protect “the public liberty.” Like Montpelier, where an exhibit on slavery and racism, “The Mere Distinction of Colour,” opened to acclaim earlier this summer, we want students to have an accurate understanding of who Madison was and what did. Only in this way will they know who they are and what they must do.

Fixing #TradCiz (Traditional Citizenship) with #DigCiz and #Civictech

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JMU students hold a commemorative march and speak out every MLK Day. Signs this year featured hashtags, some for actual online conversations, some for imagined ones. Both suggest an emergent mindset regarding social media and political or democratic engagement.

This summer, I have been participating in a #DigCiz conversation that is helping me think more carefully about the relationship between activities in the digital world, especially social media, and activities in the analog world, especially in the American political system. In a recent Tweet, I referred to the nexus between #DigCiz and #TradCiz (Traditional Citizenship) (I think I made #TradCiz up. If not, please let me know). Part of this nexus includes what is called “civictech,” a term used in civic-engagement-in-higher-ed conversations to reference a host of new digital tools designed to boost individuals’ participation in the democratic process. Examples of civic tech that I know are: TurboVote, icitizen, and BallotReady. Organizations promoting these digital tools are many and varied; they range from colleges and universities to community-based non-profits. In From Voice to Influence, ed. by Danielle Allen and Jennifer Light, I read several essays describing the myriad ways in which young Americans are using social media to engage in political acts. What’s fascinating to me is that they often don’t realize that that is what they are doing. Posting a HuffPo piece to a Facebook page, grabbing a digital photo and turning it into a meme, using a hashtag, organizing a demonstration, signing an online petition–these are the sorts of things people do on a regular basis. Yet they don’t think of themselves as political actors capable of effecting change. They have a platform from which to speak individually and collectively (voice), but lack the awareness and ability to act politically (influence).

So this is where I attempt to broaden the #DigCiz conversation from talking about identities and selves and actions in online communities and networks to include more deliberate consideration of identities and selves in face to face political communities and spaces. And actually, this summer’s conversation is already moving in that direction. (It’s just taken me a while to pull together this post.)

There’s a clear thread running through Bonnie Stewart‘s provocative opening salvo (I’m a shit about citizenship); Katia Hildebrandt’s and Alec Couros’s plaintive call for us to move past cybersafety/personal responsibility models of digital citizenship to justice-oriented ones; and this week’s ruminations by Kate Bowles, Maha Bali, Amy Collier, Autumm Caines, Andrew Middleton, Sheila McNeil, and Chuck Pearson, on citizenship and national identity, kith and kin, placemaking and feelings of belonging or alienation. Bali writes:

“I love my country . . . in spite of all that is wrong with it. I just want to fix it.”

What does it take to “fix” a country? Let me be more specific: what does it take to fix a democratic society with a representative government in the digital age?

Sheila McNeil says, “Like Kate, . . . I think of citizenship as a formal, bureaucratic process . . . perhaps because I have never really been in a position where it is threatened or rights taken away from me.” Citizenship is not “benign,” as Amy Collier notes. Historically (and still today), it is defined by geographic borders and boundaries (themselves often arbitrary lines on a map), but especially by a sense of shared ancestry (blood) and cultural heritage (values, religion, folklore, foodways, whatever). Kith and kin, place and shared identity–these words still matter. But citizenship also means membership in the civitas, the polity, an entity marked by the exercise of political rights and responsibilities. Whereas some citizens naturally belong, are born into the polity, others are brought in and Others still are excluded from membership. Citizenship is a spectrum.

In the United States as in other democratic societies, rights inhere in individuals. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So many ideas are bound up in this oft-quoted sentence. I like to ponder “unalienable.” I’m convinced that most people don’t fully appreciate what it means. Or if they do, they seek to limit its meaning by narrowing the definition of words like “men,” “equal,” and “creator.” This narrowing started, of course, in 1776, before the ink on the Declaration had even dried, and sadly, persists to the present. (I could write a long post about white Americans’ misguided belief that civil rights were/are gifts they can bestow on African Americans when they feel they deserve them, but I digress.)

It troubles me that so many fully-enfranchised citizens have stopped exercising their rights and responsibilities. I mean, they have opted out of the formal democratic process. That is one of their rights, of course, and it’s mighty ironic. According to public opinion polls, like this one and this one from the Pew Research Center, registered voters are deeply dissatisfied with the party system and deeply distrustful of government, yet another recent poll indicates widespread agreement on certain elements of a strong democracy and a pronounced desire to maintain and preserve them. Meanwhile, the folks at both IDHE (Institute for Democracy and Higher Education) and CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) find that Millennials have especially serious doubts about the health of American democracy. So, what does it take to fix a country?

Bottom line, I agree with hundreds if not thousands of other academics in the US that colleges and universities, especially public ones, have a clear responsibility to reverse these trends. From 2008 until now, I have led civic engagement efforts at JMU, and I am proud of the work that faculty, staff, administrators, and students here have accomplished. But we need to do more to reach young citizens where they are.

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Image from Quick Meme.

Youth have a long history of activism and digital media offers exciting new possibilities. Despite surveys like the ones cited above, online political activity is actually trending upward and is doing so for both conservatives and liberals. Using Henry Jenkins’ concept of participatory culture, Kahne, Middaugh, and Allen argue in From Voice to Influence (35-55) that interest-driven online networks serve as important pathways into political participation. Though clearly different from face to face networks, online versions often develop in participants similar sets of interactive, peer-based practice: investigation, dialogue & feedback, circulation, production, and mobilization. A blog post cannot capture the scope of their findings or their sources, so suffice it to say that “what appears on the surface to be a matter simply of humor or fun . . . may in fact be an appropriation of pop culture for social change (50).

From clever memes and MoveOn petitions to downloadable hip hop dissents or Teen Vogue articles, digital pop culture intersects with political issues and #DigCiz on a daily basis. The challenge is to connect these new activities and networks to time-honored participatory political practices such as voting, engaging in deliberative dialogue, monitoring elected officials, and even office-holding. Several books on this intersection are on my reading list: Zeynep Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas: How Social Media Changed Protest Forever ; Christopher J. LeBron, The Making of Black Lives Matter; and Eric Liu, You’re More Powerful than You Think. The list of such works grows daily.

At JMU, we have used a combination of digital and face to face tools to encourage undergraduates’ civic engagement. Last fall, as the nation geared up for the Presidential election, we sent mass emails on National Voter Registration Day that included a link to TurboVote, a platform that enables out of state students to request paper documents from their home districts and directs Virginians to the state’s online registration system. Either population can elect to receive electronic reminders of deadlines and election day notices delivered right to their phones. Additionally, students with DukesVote manned tables and visited dozens of classes, especially large lectures, to register students using paper forms. Twitter (@JMUDukesVote) enabled us to communicate with other student organizations’ social media accounts to promote local candidate forums, debate watch parties, precinct locations, and return parties (#iVoted16, #DukesVote). Neither icitizen nor BallotReady caught their interest, however, these platforms hold great potential for educating people about public issues and candidate positions. It is slow going. Most Dukes, like most youth, don’t consider themselves political actors, despite their deep and sincere concerns. They feel alienated from their polities, from the civitas. They hunger to make a difference, they are politically active online in their social environments, but lack role models and the political agency needed to effect change in the “real world”. To fix a country founded upon democratic principles, we the people in #highered must develop students’ civic agency and their sense of national belonging. Our kith and kin demand it.

Lee Park

In May 2017, citizens of Charlottesville, VA, home of the University of Virginia, staged a candle-lit vigil to counter an earlier torch-lit rally by white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue memorializing Robert E. Lee. Leaders of both demonstrations used social media, chiefly Facebook and Twitter, to organize their events. Image from The Daily Progress.

 

 

Confederate Heritage at JMU

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This building commemorates noted 19th century scientist and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned his commission in the US Navy in 1861 to serve as a commodore in the Confederate navy. After the Civil War, he briefly lived in Mexico, where he tried to create a slaveholding colony for exiled Confederates. He eventually returned to his home state, Virginia, and accepted a position as professor of meteorology at Virginia Military Institute. A strong advocate for public higher education, he helped create the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech). Photo by author.

Talk of Confederate heritage seems to be everywhere these days. As a public historian who studies, teaches, and writes about this subject, I find the sudden resurgence fascinating and repellent at the same time. Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, put it well when he said, Confederate statues “are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.” I make a similar point in my forthcoming book, Race, Place, and Memory: Deep Currents in WiImington, NC, which includes an analysis of monuments and memorials in that city. But my interest is more than academic. Every day, I go to work in a building that long served as a Confederate monument. To be clear, my views on renaming/removing/contextualizing such monuments are still evolving—I take no position, not yet. Since few people at JMU know the history of this campus, I offer this post as a starting point for others interested in this topic. My study of this institution’s past is very much a work in progress, and I hope to offer additional information later.

The Lost Cause on Bluestone Hill

Built in 1909, Maury Hall opened just in time to welcome the first class of students enrolled at the State Normal and Industrial School for Women. At that time, the building was called Science Hall and it was the sole academic structure: it held the president’s office, the library, the bookstore, and all of the classrooms. Many of the students came here to become teachers and partake of an innovative curriculum designed to meet a shared standard or ‘norm’. The only other buildings of note at the Normal were a dormitory, which housed a student dining room in the basement and a modest second-floor apartment for the president and his family, and a former farmhouse that accommodated the female faculty.

These buildings were seated on a gentle rise just south of the town of Harrisonburg. The architect, Charles Robinson, stipulated construction with local limestone, a distinctively dark, blue-gray rock that soon gave rise to the campus nickname “Bluestone Hill.” With their white, classical elements and red tile roofs, the structures had an unusual yet striking appearance. As enrollment grew, additional dormitories followed.

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“Bluestone Hill” as it appeared ca. 1915. From left to right: Science Hall (Maury), Dormitory 1 (Jackson) and Dormitory 2 (Ashby). JMU Special Collections.

In 1917 the trustees of the Normal approved a recommendation from a faculty member to rename its academic buildings for Confederate heroes. Science Hall was renamed in honor of Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Virginia-born scientist (the “Father of Oceanography” or “Pathfinder of the Seas”) and commander in the Confederate Navy. His biographer John Grady notes that Maury was a controversial figure while alive, but by this date, thanks especially to his daughter’s 1888 memoir, he had become widely romanticized as a “great benefactor if his race.” Similarly, the original dormitory became Jackson Hall in recognition of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate general who led the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and a second dormitory became Ashby Hall in honor of a local Confederate cavalry officer, Turner Ashby, of nearby Port Republic. Together, these structures memorialized not only the specific deeds of these three men, but a particular interpretation of the Civil War—an interpretation that the faculty and administration expected the future teachers to pass on to Virginia schoolchildren.

In a paper called “White and Black and Bluestone: Racing History at the Normal, at Madison, and Beyond,” I explored the emergence of a distinct Bluestone identity that reinforced white privilege by inculcating respect for traditional southern womanhood, pride in Virginia’s unique past, and reverence for the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Well known to historians, the Lost Cause ideology held that the south had only lost the Civil War because of inadequate manpower: The Confederate cause was just, white southerners were virtuous people, and slavery was a benign institution that benefited an inferior, black race. Like David Gold, who has studied the Lost Cause at several southern women’s colleges, I found at the Normal a strong desire to honor the local Confederate heritage of the Shenandoah Valley as well as that of Virginia and the south, broadly. Campus buildings played a critical role in this effort because of their fixity and permanence. Even so, a pro-Confederate, profoundly racialized attitude informed almost every aspect of daily life at the Normal–from the curriculum to the school song and planned excursions to local battlefields.

The Curriculum

The curriculum offered the most obvious way to promote the Lost Cause, and it did so on multiple levels. Textbooks, for example, became increasingly race conscious during the early 20th century. Fearful of the sudden influx of Eastern and Southern European and Asian immigrants, American textbook authors celebrated the contributions of early settlers from “native stock,” a term meaning chiefly the English but also Germans, Scots, Scot-Irish, Dutch, and sometimes French settlers (but only Protestant Huguenots). These filiopietistic narratives reflected broader shifts in the instruction of history, which under the so-called Progressive school became more “usable,” more practical and civics-oriented, and less academic. At southern colleges, administrators and faculty made an overt effort to link the popular cult of the Anglo-Saxon to the south’s distinctive racial system and culture and thereby restore regional pride.

Operating on a quarter system, the Normal offered a four year high school diploma, plus several two-year, post-secondary, professional tracks. These prepared students for certification as kindergarten, elementary, or high school teachers. All students on the professional track were required to take courses in six core subjects: English, Math, Geography, History and Social Sciences, Foreign Languages, and Natural Sciences. Early bulletins provide course titles, descriptions, and lists of required textbooks.

Within the core subject History-Social Sciences, Normal students had limited options set by the faculty. Each student had to take a two-quarter integrated sequence in ancient, medieval, and modern European history (which only included France and Germany). They also took one quarter of English History, a quarter of US History methods, and one quarter of US History. In the US content course, the emphasis was “industrial, economic, and political progress,” and the assigned texts were John Fiske, US History for Schools (Houghton Mifflin,1895) and Edward Channing and Albert Bushnell Hart, Guide to American History. Fiske’s book was one of the most popular texts in this era: it went through thirteen editions!

A well known public intellectual, Fiske taught philosophy and history at Harvard and was a devotee of Herbert Spencer, whose ideas about the eventual decline of non-white races he spread through his own writing and speaking engagements. While scientific racism did not characterize his textbook, which was geared toward children, his prose did privilege the white perspective in its treatment of actions taken against enslaved persons, freedmen, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants.

Channing had a similar approach. Also a professor of history at Harvard, he helped develop the idea of an “American” race as a new category. In his works, English colonists were the most important because they contributed so much of the nation’s language, culture, customs, and laws, but he acknowledged other Anglo-Saxons, too, who by “process of assimilation” strengthened the “American” breed. The Guide was a useful companion to the Fiske text because it was a reference work designed to serve the needs of primary and secondary teachers. It listed various topics, offered a summary, and followed each one with a bibliography. Note that these cursory texts did not serve the history methods course, but the content course. At the Normal, all “subjects were taught from the standpoint  of the student being able to teach them, rather than from merely acquiring knowledge.” Apparently, the faculty didn’t want to tax the students’ female minds too much.

Virginia history was a popular elective. Here, the text was Mary Turner Magill’s  History of Virginia for Use in Schools, first published 1881 and extensively reprinted. Magill lived in Winchester, VA, where she and her mother ran a private school after the war. The women were very successful in attracting pupils because they capitalized on their close,personal relationship to Stonewall Jackson. Magill, described by a Winchester historian as a “fierce Confederate,” dedicated fully one-third of her 374 page book to a certain four year period, with the Shenandoah campaign of 1862 receiving its very own chapter. Her goal, simply stated in the preface, was to give Virginia’s children “a record so full of honor … that they may well be proud of it.”

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Dr. John Wayland and students gathered at the New Market battlefield in 1912. This site appears to be part of the Bushong farm, where in 1864 teen-aged cadets from the Virginia Military Institute slogged through a field so muddy that it sucked the shoes off their feet. Although many cadets died, the charge succeeded and helped Confederate troops secure a victory that day. JMU Special Collections.

All of these books were chosen by Dr. John Wayland, who directed the history curriculum at the Normal until 1931. A Shenandoah Valley native, he received his doctorate from UVa in 1907 and eventually authored more than thirty books that mainly focused on local and state history. In keeping with his German heritage, his work especially celebrated the German immigrants who helped settle the Virginia backcountry, but he also acknowledged the English and Scots-Irish. A highly influential figure, for whom another dormitory was later named, Wayland also chaired the excursions committee.

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Dr. Wayland and students on a 1910 excursion to the Turner Ashby monument. As pilgrimages to sacred sites associated with the Lost Cause, these field trips served an important didactic purpose but they were also opportunities to socialize and build school identity. To commemorate them, Wayland often arranged formally staged photographs that appeared in early yearbooks and personal scrapbooks. JMU Special Collections.

Bulletins and faculty minutes indicate the didactic function of these field trips. Each year, Wayland took students to the “hallowed site where the gallant Ashby fell in 1862” (a monument near the campus), as well as the spot “where the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe crossed Blue Ridge in 1716” (Swift Run Gap). Other popular nearby destinations were the “old home of Abe Lincoln’s ancestors,” which nodded toward the national reconciliation project, and “the place where young Daniel Boone spent a year of his life,” which echoed efforts to celebrate early settlers. Confederate battlefields, however, were paramount, especially Cross Keys,  “where Jackson won an important victory” and the so-called “field of lost shoes” at New Market battlefield.

Student Organizations and Activities.

Like other Normal schools in Virginia, Harrisonburg’s offered students myriad opportunities to socialize. The young women had a German Club, an Arts Club, and a Kindergarten Club, just to name a few. Most organizations had a clear co-curricular function. The Shakespearean theater troupe, for example, reinforced required courses in literature and English History and celebrated an idealized Anglo-Saxon heritage. Similarly, the Normal boasted two literary societies, which students established in the very first quarter session. They named one for Confederate veteran and poet Sidney Lanier, who once spent six weeks at a resort near Harrisonburg, where he wrote one of his early volumes. The other, however, honored General Robert E. Lee.

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Hand-lettered and illustrated program for a Lanier Literary Society event in 1918. Besides the Confederate emblems, note the content. JMU Special Collections.

Both literary societies decorated their posters, programs, and yearbook pages with Confederate symbols like battle flags, kepis, and cavalry swords. Beginning in 1910, the Lee Society joined the local chapter of the United Daughters of Confederacy (UDC) for annual receptions. On January 19,1913, the anniversary of Lee’s birth, the ladies of the UDC presented an actual Confederate battle flag to the Normal, care of the Lee Society. To honor the courage and sanctity of Lee was, of course, to honor the courage and sanctity of his “country,” Virginia, the students’ home state. Thus, in 1918 the Lee Society published a special, inspirational poem called “The Spirit of Lee;” it appeared in the yearbook beneath a photo of the famous “Recumbent Lee” memorial sculpture at Washington & Lee and expressly connected Virginia’s call to arms in 1861 to the nation’s call in World War I.

Another popular Lost Cause activity bears noting: each year, the Virginia Military Academy cadets re-enacted a march made in 1864, when a group of young cadets walked from Lexington to New Market, where they aided a stunning Confederate victory in 1864. As the cadets passed the campus, the Normal’s female students lined the main road to wave and cheer them on. (The re-enactment of the march remains a famous custom for modern VMI cadets.) In the Progressive-era reenactments, cadets assumed the role of heroic defenders, while Normal students played their loyal, protected ladies.

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An image from the 1917 yearbook, The School Ma’am, showing the Senior Minstrels dressed for one of their skits. JMU Special Collections.

Other activities, like minstrel shows, proclaimed Normal students’ attitudes about white supremacy/black inferiority. The 1917 yearbook featured a multi-page spread on the Senior Minstrels. That year, a group of black-faced white women, some of whom played black men, staged a skit called “A Dark Night at the Normal.” The four featured characters, Sambo, Tambo, Bones, and Fitznoodle, also offered a variety of musical performances as part of the show. Significantly, the young women were invited to perform at the Virginia Theater downtown at a community-wide Lee celebration on January 19 and again on campus on January 22. The following year, the Junior class staged a ‘vaudeville’ featuring a performance by two women in blackface. It was part of a larger skit called “The Booster Club of Blackville.” Characters featured included “Abraham Lincoln Washington, running after chickens,” and “Alexander Thicklips, pork chop inspector.” Minstrelsy deeply permeated popular culture in this era. As scholars like Grace Elizabeth Hale have shown, in consuming caricatured images of blackness, Americans became more self-consciously white.  What’s important to note here is that these students were not merely consuming—they were actively creating minstrel shows which they proudly performed and to which they attached their own names and identities. And minstrel shows remained popular on Bluestone Hill through the 1950s, as yearbooks attest.

Beyond the Normal

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The Normal had two school songs: the official one, Bluestone Hill, and the unofficial one, Shendo Land. Written by Dr. John Wayland and set to the tune of Dixie, Shendo Land was fondly remembered by students, who sang it for many decades.Commencement program, 1912, JMU Special Collections.

As I’ve indicated, this study is very much a work in progress. Like other scholars of American higher education, I’m especially interested in how administrators and faculty (past and present) shape an institution’s racial climate by what they explicitly promote and tacitly allow to occur on campus. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Normal’s president, Julian Burruss, its Board of Trustees, and faculty like John Wayland shared a common sensibility that they promoted among their female students through curriculum, student organizations, and even the physical structures. And the women students were not passive recipients of their Bluestone identity. They actively participated in its construction. While there are indications that some pushed back, alumni records indicate that most students then seemed to understand and embrace the Lost Cause and its racialized and gendered hierarchies. Consider that the school’s official alma mater until 1931 was “Bluestone Hill,” but students preferred the unofficial one, called “Shendo Land.” Sung to the tune of Dixie and written in a racist dialect, it began: “Oh, I wish I was at de school in Shendo/ Good times dar don’t seem to end, so/ look away, look away, look away, Shendo Land/.” Together, five verses gently satirize strict rules regarding male “beaux,” the bluestone buildings with their “bumptious” red tile roofs, and the faculty, while celebrating the absence of mosquitos, the noise of the railroads, and the swish of a basketball. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of their ditty, but it clearly seems a form of cultural inversion–through ridicule, the song worked to affirm their racialized, gendered  identity and to ground it a specific geographic place. Their complicity is important to recognize because nearly 500 women had graduated by 1920 and several thousand more after that. From the Normal to Madison College, alumni took their certificates and their Bluestone identity with them as they fanned out across the state, teaching generations of white children who became generations of white parents.

Selected Secondary Sources

Dingledine, Raymond. Madison College, 1908-1958.

Frost, Dan R. Thinking Confederates: Academia and the Idea of Progress in the new South.

Gold, David. Students Writing Race at Southern Public Women’s Colleges.” History of Education Quarterly, 50, no. 2 (May 2010): 184-203.

Graves, Karen. Girls Schooling in the Progressive Era.

Hale, Grace. Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South.

McCandless, Amy. The Past in the Present: Women’s Higher Education in the Twentieth Century American South.

Moreau, Joseph. Schoolbook Nation: Conflicts over American History Textbooks from the Civil War to the Present.

 

Riley, Karen. “Fair and tender ladies v. Jim Crow,” American Educational History Journal, vol 37, issue 1/2 (Sp 2010): 407-417.

Stronger, Patricia A. and Irene Thompson, eds.. Stepping Off the Pedestal: Academic Women in the South.