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Fashions and Social Change

The 1970s at James Madison University, like the rest of the United States, was a time of great change. Madison College was not immune to the political frustrations plaguing the country during this decade: there were major protests against the war in Vietnam, Nixon’s presidency, and guest speakers such as Senator Harry Byrd who had a pro-war platform. One thing that liberated Madison college students was that they were also no longer chafing at the restrictions imposed upon them since the 1950s. When Dr. Ronald Carrier became president in 1971, curfews and call downs were eliminated while fraternities and the football team were established.

JMU during the 2010s has been a time of vast political change and polarization, feminist movements such as Me Too, the legalization of gay marriage, and the breakdown of toxic masculinity. There are six sections (or juxtapositions) to this exhibit that show how masculinity, feminism, party culture, LGBTQ+ rights, and civil rights have evolved here at JMU.

Exhibit created using JuxtaposJS by students in HIST 396 Introduction to Public History

Cheerleading and Masculinity

In 1973, the JMU cheerleading squad was composed of only women, including only one minority student. While originally started as a male sport, cheerleading quickly evolved into a predominantly female occupation. For the past couple decades, cheerleading itself evolved as an athletic endeavor, which resulted in changes of public perceptions and uniforms. The social revolutions of gender that has happened since 1973 has helped with these changes.

Fast-forwarding 40 years from 1973 to 2015, we can see that there are now five men on the JMU cheer team, taking over a large percentage of the team. This showcases a major change in how “Masculinity”  andhow the idea of masculinity has changed over the past several decades  on the campus of JMU and that men on the cheer team is more acceptable now than it was in the 1970s. There is more of an acceptable spectrum for men to express themselves and not feel confined into predetermined roles based on society. 

In terms of fashion, both pictures have uniforms for the cheer team to wear. In the 1973 photo, the cheer team wears high socks, pleated skirts, and white sweaters with purple stripes that were embroidered with “Dukes”. The 2015 cheer team wears mostly purple and there are two versions of the uniform due to the presence of men on the team, the Men wear white and purple shirts with “JMU” embossed in gold with purple bordering, purple pants, and white tennis shoes. The Women also wear white and purple tops with “JMU” in gold with purple bordering, but wear purple skirts with small triangles of white with gold lining on the sides instead of pants, also they have the white shoes too.

Protests On Campus

In 1973, JMU students held an anti-war protest when the campus was visited by Senator Harry Byrd, a pro-war conservative. The demonstration was a continuation of other anti-war protests that had occurred on campus beginning in 1970s against the war in Vietnam. Despite this being a peaceful protest, several students faced charges for rioting and disrupting Senator Byrd’s visit. The charges were dismissed.

Since the 1970s, protests on campus have become far more acceptable. In 2014, JMU was host to a Black Lives Matter protest that occurred in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The students laid on the ground to represent the body of Michael Brown, while holding “Black Lives Matter” signs. The students were also joined by a faculty member, Tammy Castle. Unlike the 1973 protest, these peaceful protesters faced no initial changes from the university. Protests are a part of campus life at any college, even JMU, while previously protests were ignored and the protesters arrested the University has changed its initial attitude to students attempting to upset the status quo.


Party life and Fashion at JMU

With only a slight glance at the two different photos, one can tell that there has been a vast change to the party fashion here at JMU. Looking at the photo from 1975, the fashion is typical of the 1970’s, with the high necklines and double layering of the shirts. The clothes they donned were not flashy, and the group pictured seem to be wearing more muted and subdued colors. They did not have on any loud accessories, and simple seemed to be the pervasive theme. Fraternity culture wasn’t as established as it is today, so most of the social night life in the 1970’s was still dominated by students frequenting bars and restaurants. When the school later became more oriented around greek life, a switch happened in what the students would wear when going out at night.

We can obviously see this metamorphosis from looking at the photo that was circulated in the 2013 Blustone. The students are dressed way more liberally, and the women have necklines lower than those we see in the 1975 photo. The colors they wear are far brighter and their accessories are loud and quite more prominent. The fact that this was published in the school yearbook tells us that their attire was routine for a night out. With the hub of social night life in the 2010’s being converted to a more fraternity-esque scene, there came a change of fashion along with it.

Feminism at JMU

The 1970s was the time of Second Wave Feminism. First Wave Feminism began in nineteenth and early twentieth century and focused on the legal issues surrounding women, primarily the right to vote. Second Wave Feminism began in the 1960s and lasted for two decades and focused on issues such as sexuality, reproductive rights, legal inequalities such a the wage gap, and family. In the picture from 1979, male students seem to be mocking the progress women had made by wearing headbands and posing their bodies in suggestive ways. Feminism in the 1970s at JMU was complicated by a multitude of factors: its history as a female only institution, location in the American south and the cultural heritage of the region, a conservative student population, and the fraternity and party culture.

In the picture from 2018, three JMU students are demonstrating their support for the Me Too movement and taking part in Fourth Wave Feminism. This wave of feminism has been about having more female representation in leadership positions, greater liberation, calling out assault and harassment, and bodily autonomy. Fourth Wave Feminism has had an enormous impact, most likely due to social media and the mass numbers of women speaking out of injustices they have endured. JMU has had several high profile sexual assault incidents and, for some of the incidences, faced national criticism of how they were handled. Students have not remained silent and have fought against these injustices.


In 1969 the New City Stonewall riot was the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement seen today. It would still be decades until the LGBTQ community would have the right to marriage and many stigmas still hang on to this marginalized groups.

In the 1970s, sexual orientation was generally not talked about in wider society, JMU seems to have been no exception. While JMU in the 70’s began to be less conservative in surprising students sexuality, even going so far as to give out condoms, it was still only acceptable for heterosexual couples. While some students would have most likely accepted, support, or been LGBTQ, these were fringe groups. The lack of acceptance is obvious from the lack of records about the movement at during this time. Today there are LGBTQ clubs and general acceptance of the community on campus. While there is almost more to be done to improve any society, JMU has come a long way in the LGBTQ movement.


Bluestone, 1973,. Harrisonburg (Va.): James Madison University, p. 235.

Bluestone, 2015. Harrisonburg (Va.): James Madison University, p. 168.

Flynn, Erin. “Students call for justice with #BlackLivesMatter demonstration” The Breeze, December 4, 2014. accessed April 25, 2019.

Kohl, Emily. “1973 Protest: Anti-War Demonstration,” The Mad 70’s. accessed April 29, 2019.

Bluestone, 1975. Harrisonburg (Va.): James Madison University, p. 27.

Ottis, McKenzie. “Indivisible Tuscany”. JMU News. Accessed April 25, 2019

Page 63, 1979 yearbook: Bluestone, 1979,. Harrisonburg (Va.): James Madison University, p. 63.