Welcome to the Madison Campus in the 1970s!

A sampling of senior portraits from the Bluestone (1976). The entire yearbook can be accessed electronically at www.archive.org, sv “Bluestone.”

This site explores what everyday life was like on this campus during a pivotal era. Many scholars now contend that the 1970s was a time of greater change for this country than the 1960s. Among other things, the decade witnessed struggles over school desegregation, affirmative action, and Women’s Liberation. There was a profound energy crisis caused by an oil embargo, a political crisis caused by Watergate, and an unprecedented economic recession marked by high unemployment and declining wages. Americans often found solace in the era’s distinctive pop culture–in discotheques, through “blockbuster” films like Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever, or from television comedies like All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Important trends began in the 1970s, too, including the breakdown of the so-called “liberal” consensus that had defined political life since the New Deal, the dramatic growth of the Sunbelt, and the rise of a new form of Christian fundamentalism marked by televangelism, megachurches, and political activism. By 1980, the New Right had emerged as a force to be reckoned with and yuppies loomed on the horizon.

The 1970s also brought significant change for this institution. When the decade opened, Madison College was a small school with about 4,000 undergraduates, mostly women from Virginia. A student protest in 1970 showed that undergraduates here were not immune to the frustrations felt by their counterparts at Berkeley and Kent State. In particular, many students chafed under strict parietal rules and regulations that had been in place since the 1950s. After Dr. Ronald C. Carrier assumed the presidency in 1971, curfews and “call-downs” went out, while frats and football came in. Academic programs shifted as well with the addition of new majors, departmental and college reorganizations, and an expanded faculty. As a result of these and other transformations, by 1979, the newly-christened James Madison University matriculated about 8,000 men and women from across the nation and offered both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The old “teacher’s college” had become a modern “multiversity” poised for even greater success.

Using the menu bar, above, you can find a series of digital exhibits that together recreate the texture of campus life in the “Mad Seventies.” Each exhibit was created by a different student enrolled in HIST337: Local History Workshop in 2013. Exhibits may be “toured” in any order. The Sources page lists some of the materials the students used and serves as a good starting point for further research.

Please direct comments and questions to the instructor, Dr. Meg Mulrooney, Associate Professor of History.

Acknowledgements: Sincere thanks to the Center for Instructional Technology, which provides critical support for this site, to Special Collections at Carrier Library, which preserves important archival material from the university, and to the many alumni and employees of the university who graciously shared their memories of the 1970s.