Who’s Counting? Mason Notes Major Anniversaries This Year

Posted: October 15, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Fairfax Campus
This iconic vista of the Fairfax Campus with the Johnson Center at its core did not exist 50 years ago when University College, the forerunner of George Mason University, was established. Mason celebrates that 50th anniversary this year.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

George Mason University is an institution that celebrates a lot of anniversaries.

A few years ago, Mason celebrated a bricks-and-mortar anniversary — the 40th year since the Fairfax Campus opened at its current location with four buildings. But there were other significant dates in the university’s history even before then. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint when Mason really began — it depends on where you start.

You could go back to 1949, when the University of Virginia (UVA) began offering evening classes at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., calling it their Northern Virginia Center. Or perhaps 1956, when the Virginia General Assembly authorized a branch college of UVA in Northern Virginia that evolved into Mason as it’s known today.

Anniversaries to Be Noted at Convocation

The next significant date, which the university is marking at the fall Convocation on Oct. 17, is the 50th anniversary of when the new branch, called University College, opened in the former Bailey’s Crossroads Elementary School building on Columbia Pike with an initial student body of 17.

George Mason College
George Mason College in the former Bailey’s Crossroads Elementary School in the 1960s.
University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

Enrollment steadily grew, and by 1960, the school was renamed George Mason College. In 1959, a 150-acre tract of land that had been purchased by the Town of Fairfax (later City of Fairfax), was officially deeded to UVA for a permanent home for the college, and work on the master plan began in 1960.

Student Lounge in Bailey's Crossroads
The Student Lounge in the Bailey’s Crossroads building.
University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

More dates to celebrate: Construction commenced in 1963, and by August 1964, four buildings (Finley, East, West and Krug), which still stand, were completed. The Fairfax Campus was formally dedicated in November 1964.

Mason campus circa 1964
Nineteen sixty-four, the year the first buildings on the Fairfax Campus were completed, is one of the historical dates that George Mason University celebrates. This year, the university marks two other important anniversaries — a 50th and a 35th — at Convocation.
University Libraries Special Colllections and Archives

But the story of beginnings doesn’t end there. Mason officially became George Mason University and a separate entity from UVA in 1972. That anniversary — the 35th — is being marked this year at Convocation as well.

The House Bill 210 that separated George Mason University from UVA was actually signed on April 7, 1972. That day is commemorated each year as University Day, and it is traditionally the day on which long-term employees are recognized for their service to the university and the commonwealth.

signing of HR 210
Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr., signs H-210, the bill which separated George Mason College from its parent institution, the University of Virginia, on April 7, 1972. Pictured with him, from left are: Student Government President James Corrigan, George Mason University Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson, George Mason University Advisory Board President John Wood and Student Senator Anne O’ Grady.
University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

In the years between these major anniversaries, the college grew by leaps and bounds, in enrollment, in faculty and in number of buildings. The school also began conferring undergraduate and graduate degrees for the first time.

More Anniversaries Ahead

Whatever date you start with, it’s apparent that George Mason University has come a long way in a short time. Only 50 years ago, Mason had a student body of 17. Today, it is one of the largest universities in Virginia, with an enrollment of more than 30,000. Fifty years ago, the school had one building; today, there are 160, and more under construction.

In 1957, there was no campus. Today, there are three campuses, as well as the Loudoun facility, in Northern Virginia, and an international campus in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. In 1957, Mason was a two-year college; today, it offers 159 degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including law.

There are a variety of online resources for more information on Mason history and traditions. The history of the university is documented in detail by University Libraries Special Collections and Archives, including an electronic documentary history. For current facts and figures, see the Factbooks, which are produced annually by Institutional Research and Reporting.

Another source of Mason history, facts and traditions, is the Traditions Committee web page, traditions.gmu.edu.

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