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Volume 9 Issue 4 Spring 2009(2)

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Dressing for Education In Carrier Library

by Julia Merkel

Fashions linked to the history of Madison College in the 1930s and 1940s are making an appearance in Carrier’s historic lobby.


Dress for Education poster
Close-up of gowns and shoes in the "Dressing for Education" exhibit.

Theatre Professor Pamela S. Johnson, and Library Staffers Johlene Hess and Julia Merkel designed and installed a new long-term exhibit this spring, called  “Dressing for Education: JMU Fashions Weather the Thirties and Forties,” located in the lobby’s exhibit cases. The exhibit is open to the public during library hours (please refer to library website for daily hours. The “Thirties and Forties” replaces the previous exhibit, “Dressing for Education: JMU in the Founding Years 1909-1929.”  The exhibit will run through 2010.

The exhibit features women's clothing from the Department of Theatre and Dance's Historic Clothing collection. This collection will have a future home in the new performing arts center.


“Dressing for Education” highlights several parallels between the current campus and its situation in the 1930s and 1940s: the grand opening of Wilson Hall and its auditorium as a state of the art performing arts venue in 1931, the opening of a new Madison Memorial Library in 1939, the campus response to World War II, and the economic effects of the Great Depression on increasingly diversified student body.


A few of the fashions highlighted include: a dress worn by a prominent Harrisonburg citizen, Mrs. Mabel B. Spitzer, to the dedication ceremonies for Wilson Hall; an evening dress worn by alumna, Mary S. Etter, to many social, Lyceum and other formal events on campus in the 1930s, a stunning magenta evening gown donated by former University Relations Director, Fred Hilton, and worn by his mother, Mrs. Etta S. Hilton, and a white linen suit indicative of those worn by collegiate war brides in the 1940s.


The exhibit is peppered with images and ephemera from JMU Libraries’ Special Collections.


Professor Johnson’s research for the exhibit was made possible by a grant from Special Collections’ Margaret Burruss Endowment.


Reba Leiding and Johlene Hess, Editors

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