Seventy years ago, Augustana College students went to war. The United States Wartime Government Agencies called for men and women in college to make changes to their academic studies and social calendars to better support American war efforts. In Special Collections’ World War II collection (MSS 99), researchers can find a pamphlet used to brief administrators on how to reshape the lives of students during the “war years,” as they were later remembered. “All students, male and female, must be preparing themselves for active and competent participation in the war efforts and supporting civilian activities,” demands the August 28, 1942 issue of the American Council on Education. But what exactly were these preparations? In the years between the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the final surrender of Japan in 1945, Augustana College rearranged classes, extra-curricular activities, and social life to prepare students for the war effort.
Chicago native May Ball, class of 1943, would have spent her first few years at Augustana College studying liberal arts, participating in the tennis team, and spending time with her Sigma Pi Delta sorority sisters. During her senior year, her course work took a thematic shift. Augustana in Wartime: Curricular No.2, 1943 illuminates some of the altered classes: military psychology, elementary radio, aircraft mechanics, economic geology, European Government, map reading and interpretation were only some of the dozens of courses changed to reflect the civilian spirit of wartime efforts. After graduation, Ball went on to serve in the United States Military during World War II. MSS 99 also documents how her decision to enlist came at a time when the challenge of “how and where to fit that big word which is daily growing bigger—Woman Power” was just a beginning conversation. How and where did civilians, college students, and women fit into the American war effort?
By 1942, agriculture—especially the production of food for human consumption—had been redirected to the Food for Freedom program. Many women worked the fields and orchards in the Rock Island area. Likewise, by the time Ball graduated, nearly 50% of all machine operators involved in gun, tank, and armor production were women.
Also on campus during spring term of Ball’s senior year was Glen William (Bill) Lankton, an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In a slim folder of correspondences, housed in Special Collections’ vertical subject file on Rev. G. William Lankton, Lankton discusses his brief time spent on Augustana’s campus. During the later years of war, Augustana College—and many other colleges across the country—hosted College Training Detachments for the U.S. Army. Colleges across the southern and eastern United States hosted women’s WAVES and SPARS training programs. These programs were designed to give qualified women well-paying jobs to replace men in Navy and Coast Guard shore stations. 150 Years of Augustana College: A Timeline shows that the Army Air Force cadets arrived in waves to “study at Augustana as they work to obtain the rank of second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps”.
With early mornings spent marching to class in a pressed uniform, holding drill demonstrations on the athletic fields, and making sure to have the lights in his dormitory off by curfew, Lankton’s college experience was markedly different than that of the civilian students on campus. However, Lankton’s cadets would have participated alongside the civilian male students at Augustana college in “physical toughening” programs, or enhanced physical education classes, which were required several times a week. Direct from Basic Training and fresh from his high school arts program Lankton remembers in a 2003 letter feeling “hardly the kind of misfit the Army was hoping for.” Nonetheless, he and the other 197 cadets spent 4 months during the fall of 1943 eating three meals a day in the Andreen cafeteria and obeying orders from their training officers, one of which included no contact with the girls on campus.
The collective contributions of women, civilians, and college aged students provided a support system for the American war effort in the 1940s. When the war ended, enrollment boomed as returning veterans used the G.I. Bill to cover the costs of their education. By the time the Department of War ended its training program in 1944, over 1,000 cadets had studied and trained at Augustana College.
In what ways have current events impacted your educational experiences?