Establishing Our Identity: George Mason’s Fairfax Campus

George Mason College, Fairfax Campus, ca. 1965 George Mason University photograph collection #R0120 Box 1, Folder 11. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

This post is part of a four-part series detailing the history of George Mason University from the student perspective. Our initial post, Before We Became George Mason University: Our First Campus at Bailey’s Crossroads, can be read here:

In August 1964 George Mason College moved from Bailey’s Crossroads to its permanent location just south of the City of Fairfax. Students assisted Craig Movers of Oakton with the 12-mile move, transporting some of the items from the old building to Fairfax in their own cars. The four buildings, named North, South, East, and West, were the first educational buildings in Virginia to be built with central air conditioning. Mason opened on September 14 to 356 freshmen and sophomores. Lacking dining facilities, the college hastily created one, the Canteen, in the basement of the South Building, just below the biology and chemistry labs. Along with the aroma of food, students sometimes experienced the smells of chemicals being mixed just above them. The Canteen was renamed The Ordinary in 1967.

George Mason College Canteen from Advocate, 1965 George Mason University Yearbook collection, R0132, Box 1. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

In 1965 Director Robert Reid instituted a mandatory dress code. At that time Mason students mostly dressed like their counterparts at Charlottesville, wearing coats and ties or skirts and blouses to class. Occasionally, some wore jeans or sweatshirts, but those students were in the minority. When Reid announced that casual attire was no longer welcome in the classroom at Mason, protests ensued. Strongly-worded letters to the editor of The Gunston Ledger were accompanied by instances where male students came to class in skirts and females dressed in jackets and ties, claiming they were following the letter of the law. The dress code was quietly rescinded later.

George Mason College, decal, ca. 1970 displaying the school colors chosen by students in 1965. George Mason University memorabilia collection Box 5. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Key parts of George Mason’s identity were forged during those first years at Fairfax. In February 1965 students chose green and gold as Mason’s school colors. A few months later the first George Mason Day took place. It was a half-day of speeches by administrators and presentations of academic awards to students. Mason became a 4-year degree-granting college by 1966, as enrollment increased to 840. Greek organizations appeared, beginning with fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon in 1964. 1967 saw the addition of fraternity Delta Tau Sigma and sorority Lambda Tau Omega. Mason’s Class of 1968, fifty-two strong, was the first graduating class to receive baccalaureate degrees, and the Patriot became Mason’s mascot that year.

Procession, George Mason College First Commencement, June 9, 1968
George Mason University photograph collection, R0120, Box 1, Folder 25
Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries


Cover of publication George Mason College Patriots: Fall Winter Sports Schedule, 1969-1970. George Mason University Athletics records, R0002, Box 17, Folder 3. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

A small number of students and faculty protested the Vietnam War, participating in draft card burnings and teach-ins on campus. In October 1969 over 600 students, faculty and staff signed a petition to Chancellor Lorin Thompson asking that Mason allow students time off to attend the Moratorium to End the Vietnam War Rally in Washington, D.C. on October 15. The petition, when unrolled, was over 12 feet in length. Although Thompson denied the request, about 300 skipped class or work to participate in Moratorium-related rallies in Washington and Fairfax, anyway.

Student representative from the George Mason College Vietnam War Moratorium Committee presents Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with petition asking college administration to excuse members of the campus community from classes on October 15, 1969. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

By 1970 enrollment was 2,390, and a building boom had begun on the Fairfax Campus. The first to be constructed was an academic building, later named Thompson Hall after Chancellor Lorin Thompson. By 1972, when enrollment hit the 4,000 mark, several other building projects had either broken ground or were in the planning stages.

The Special Collections Research Center has mounted an exhibit entitled: “We Are Mason: A Student History” celebrating George Mason’s 50th Anniversary and the role students have played in its history. Please visit for more information.

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