As students and faculty step onto campus on a warm, rainy afternoon, a pungent, distinctly JMU smell permeates the air. It is hard to imagine that the odor of dog food or chicken feed that sweeps through the Valley was once a crisp, clean mountain breeze. In fact, the smell was so refreshing that it inspired a 1922 English teacher to forever embody it in the name of the fledgling newspaper at the State Normal School for women at Harrisonburg.
“Nothing here strikes a stranger quite so strongly as our mountain breeze,” Elizabeth P. Cleveland wrote in her proposal, recorded in the March 14, 1983 issue of The Breeze. “It is both inspiring and stimulating. It is full of pep, but clean. It clears the cobwebs from the brain and sweeps morbidness from the heart.”
And so The Breeze got its name.
As the winner of the contest to name the college’s first regular student newspaper, Cleveland earned $2 for her entry, which barely beat out The Campus Cat by a coin toss. Since its first publication on Dec. 2, 1922, The Breeze has weathered name and format changes, funding revocations and management up-heavals, all the while endeavoring to provide students, faculty and staff and outlet for news and opinions for almost 90 years.
The Breeze has grown from a four-column, four-page weekly publication with few illustrations and fewer photos, to a 20-plus page broadsheet newspaper published weekly with full-color photos and graphics enhanced by the latest software technology. Whereas now the paper is distributed to more than 90 locations on and off campus, the paper originally was distributed to women on the way out of the dining hall, according to Bertha McCollum Moore, an assistant editor during The Breeze’s first year.
Like its format, the content of JMU’s student newspaper has changed dramatically over 80 years. The first issues were filled with informal, light-hearted, social news, from gossip reports to summaries of trips, dances and get-togethers. For example, a front-page brief May 9, 1947, began, “A surprise dinner party was given in honor of Miss Myrtle Wilson and Dr. Ruth Phillips on May 7 by the home economics and biology staffs.”
By the 1970s, The Breeze’s content became more sophisticated and controversial as Madison College expanded to become James Madison University. The paper covered perennial topics like parking, tuition and the administration, while keeping tabs on campus trends and opinions.