Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Samuel Page Duke (5 September 1885–25 April 1955), president of Madison College (later James Madison University), was born in Ferrum, Franklin County, and was the son of Virginia Grey Ward Duke and Thomas Page Duke, a Methodist minister. After attending the Bedford campus of Randolph-Macon Academy, he matriculated at Randolph-Macon College in 1903. A member of the baseball, football, and track teams, he graduated with a B.A. in 1906. Duke spent the next two years teaching at Willie Halsell College, a Methodist school in Vinita, Oklahoma. On 26 August 1908 in Georgetown, Texas, he married Linnie Lucile Campbell. They had one daughter and three sons.

Duke returned to Virginia in 1908 as principal of the high school in Chase City, where he also managed the state's summer school for teachers in the area. In 1910 he moved to Richmond and was principal of an elementary school for four years, while also receiving an A.M. from the Teachers College of Columbia University in 1913. In the autumn of 1914 Duke joined the faculty of the State Normal School for Women at Farmville (later Longwood University) as head of the education department and director and principal of its teacher training school. Two years later he served as a vice president of the Virginia State Teachers Association, and in March 1917 he was appointed editor of the Virginia State Teachers Quarterly, a position he held for about a year. In 1918 Duke became the state supervisor of high schools. At a time when the majority of Virginia's students did not finish high school, Duke advocated opening more schools, including junior high schools, in underserved regions. He wanted to increase the number of high school students accepted to institutions of higher education, although he also believed that rural schools should offer a separate, more practical curriculum for students not bound for college.

In July 1919 the Virginia Normal School Board elected Duke, a longtime advocate of professional training for teachers, president of the State Normal School for Women at Harrisonburg. He took up his post on 26 August and quickly began expanding the facilities to accommodate more students. Duke chaired a committee that in January 1922 recommended to the board that the state's normal schools become teachers colleges with two- and four-year curricula to provide more-advanced instruction for students. Two years later the normal school became the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, and in 1927 Duke secured its accreditation by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States (later the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools).

Duke believed that strong public schools were an integral part of American democracy and often stated that "no school can ever be much better than its teachers." To that end he continuously pushed for increased salaries to attract the best faculty and for higher educational standards in training teachers. He highly valued a liberal arts background, and in 1928 he supported the conclusion of a legislative commission that the Harrisonburg school be converted to a liberal arts college for women in connection with the University of Virginia. That plan was never implemented, although for a few years early in the 1930s the two institutions provided joint credit for extension work offered through the teachers college. Duke helped persuade the State Board of Education in 1935 to authorize the state's four teachers colleges to enter the liberal arts field and offer B.A. degrees. At the time of his retirement the Harrisonburg school offered A.B. and B.S. degrees, as well as degrees in education and music, and he was exploring the possibility of offering graduate courses. In March 1938 the General Assembly changed the school's name to Madison College, a name suggested by Duke to honor James Madison, fourth president of the United States.

During Duke's thirty years at Madison, the campus grew dramatically. The number of students increased from about 300 annually to about 1,300, and it often had the largest enrollment of any of the Virginia teachers colleges. Men began to be admitted as regular students in 1946, although they could not reside on campus. The number of faculty members tripled to more than 80, about a third of whom held doctorates. Duke constantly worked to improve campus facilities. He requested increased funding from the General Assembly and applied for federal loans and grants to construct badly needed dormitories, a library, administrative and classroom buildings, science laboratories, and a gymnasium and indoor swimming pool. At the 1944 celebration of Duke's twenty-five years as president of the college, state educators lauded his work in improving the standards of education for Virginia women.

In 1931 Duke joined the editorial board overseeing the official publication of the American Association of Teachers Colleges (later the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education). He chaired a committee to study teachers' issues as part of the State School Study Commission and also was a member of a State Board of Education committee that recommended increasing teachers' salaries. He sat on the board of trustees of Randolph-Macon College from 1930 until 1950. For his many accomplishments in education, Duke received honorary degrees from Hampden-Sydney College (1931) and Bridgewater College (1946). He served on the board of trustees of Rockingham Memorial Hospital (later Sentara RMH Medical Center) for almost thirty years, for part of that time as president.

A sports enthusiast throughout his life, Duke played golf, fished, and delighted in leading his students on hikes up Massanutten Peak. While attending a University of Virginia football game in Charlottesville, he suffered a brain hemorrhage in September 1948. He resigned as president of Madison College, effective 1 August 1949, after which he was named president emeritus. Samuel Page Duke died at his Harrisonburg home on 25 April 1955 and was buried in the city's Woodbine Cemetery. Since 1947 James Madison University's athletic teams have been known as the Dukes, in honor of the school's second president. Duke Hall opened on the campus in 1967.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in John W. Wayland, ed., Men of Mark and Representative Citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Virginia (1943), 120–121 (portrait), National Cyclopędia of American Biography (1891–1984), 45:592–593, and Richard Lee Morton, comp., Virginia Lives: The Old Dominion Who's Who (1964), 286–287; Birth Register, Franklin Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; marriage date confirmed by county clerk, Williamson Co., Tex.; annual reports in President's Office Papers and some correspondence in President Samuel Duke Papers, both James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.; publications include Duke, "Are Our Rural and Small Town High Schools Democratic?" Virginia Journal of Education 9 (1915–1916): 118–120, 354–359, "Supervision of Our High Schools," ibid. 11 (1918): 338–341, "The Rural Junior High School," ibid. 12 (1919): 348–350, "Harrisonburg State Normal School," ibid. 15 (1922): 275–279, "Harrisonburg State Teachers College," Commonwealth 3 (Aug. 1936): 19–21, and "The Effect of the War upon Virginia Teachers Colleges," Madison Quarterly 4 (1944): 105–111; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 30 Apr. 1944; Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, 24–26 May 1949; Richmond News Leader, 25 May 1949; Proceedings at the Ceremonies Honoring Samuel Page Duke's Completion of Twenty-Five Years as President of Madison College (1944), quotation on 31; Raymond C. Dingledine Jr., Madison College: The First Fifty Years, 1908–1958 (1959), esp. 128–181, 222–254; obituaries in Richmond News Leader, 25 Apr. 1955, and Harrisonburg Daily News-Record and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 26 Apr. 1955.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Marianne E. Julienne.

How to cite this page:
Marianne E. Julienne,"Samuel Page Duke (1885–1955)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Duke_Samuel_Page, accessed [today's date]).

Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.

facebook twitter flicker youtube tumbler tumbler pinterest instagram view more