You’re Adults Now!

Virginia’s drinking laws shifted during the 1970s creating a new back-campus scenario  (“Timeline”).

There will be no alcohol, anytime, anywhere!

This scenario reflected reality in Madison College dorms in the 1950s (Dingledine, 282,) and played out over and over again through the following decade (Hilton, 45).  However, the 1960s entrance of males as full time in-residence students brought about upheaval and the need for change.  Other colleges across the nation also felt the confines of overbearing social rules.  In 1961, the Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education court decision triggered multiple court cases that recognized the individual rights of college students – especially young women.  Colleges were no longer required to provide substitute parental authority and strict regulations, commonly known as in loco parentis laws (Young, 58).

Students at Madison experienced institutional growing pains as they struggled to gain freedoms against an administration tied to traditional methods for operating a campus (Hilton, 20). Therefore, President Ronald Carrier’s entrance to the college in 1971 brought a breath of refreshing air.  He quickly “eliminated or greatly softened” the lingering regulations and supported a platform for student’s desires (Hilton, 45).  Historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz confirms the changes that took place at Madison in 1971.  Students on a national level “were socially more liberal” (Lefkowitz Horowitz, 248) and no longer monitored twenty-four hours a day.  Suddenly, Madison College students made independent choices.

This 1978 prank reveals the drastic changes in alcohol policies (“Close Encounters”).

Likewise, preferences for student partying shifted from illegal drugs to alcohol as the sixties ended and the seventies began (Lefkowitz Horowitz, 249). Virginia enabled this transition by altering laws that allowed younger students to legally obtain beer.  In the 1930s, Virginia established the Alcoholic Beverage Board (commonly referred to as the ABC), and set the drinking age at twenty-one with the exception of “3.2 percent alcoholic beverages,” that anyone over eighteen could purchase (VA Department of ABC).  For forty years this law remained unchanged.  Then, in 1974 Virginia lowered the legal drinking age of all types of beer to eighteen.  This law would stand for seven more years, until Virginia raised the drinking age to nineteen in 1981, and then back to twenty-one in 1985 (VA Department of ABC).  For a majority of the seventies eighteen-year-old freshmen across Virginia college campuses could legally purchase and drink beer, regardless of its alcoholic content.

The termination of in loco parentis and the lowering of Virginia’s legal drinking age provided a sense of emancipation and created avenues for the legal consumption of alcohol by a majority of students on college campuses across Virginia.  It did not take long for students at Madison College to organize and call for alcohol.


Images Cited:

Cover and top image:  “Timeline of Virginia Drinking Laws,”Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Accessed 3/5/12 from; “Back Campus,” Control #:Aerv207, JMU Historic Photos Online, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. Frame created by Charity Derrow, PowerPoint, April 16, 2012.

“Close Encounters,” The Breeze, April 1, 1978, 13.

Works Cited:

Dingledine, Raymond C. Madison College:  The First Fifty Years, 1908-1958, Harrisonburg, VA:  Madison College, 1959.

Hilton, Fred D. Changing form a College to a University:  Madison College to James Madison University 1971-1977, Harrisonburg, VA:  James Madison University, 1996.

Lefkowitz Horowitz, Helen, Campus Life:  Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1987.

“Virginia ABC’s 75th Anniversary, 1934-2009,” Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Accessed 3/5/12 from

Young, D. Parker, “Student Rights and Discipline in Higher Education,” Peabody Journal of Education 52:1 (October 1974):  58-64.