We have three all-campus ceremonies at the College, Matriculation and Commencement, marking important transitions in the lives of our students, and this ceremony, Convocation, which is our family reunion. After a summer apart from one another, this is our chance to see eccentric Uncle Cyrus again, exclaim over Cousin Hannah's new baby, or marvel at the way we all have grown. It is like a family dinner--a time to catch up with one another, to think about the community we create here, the shared history and values that make us a family.
Today, to mark the opening of the 230th school year, we will sing together, tell stories, and, finally, share a picnic supper with good food, balloon art, and perhaps even a game of volleyball or ultimate frisbee. At the picnic, we hope you will have an opportunity to reconnect with your colleagues, your students, your professors, and your friends. Thank you all for participating and for the hard work you devote to making W&J the special place it is.
And let me specifically thank all of those who helped to coordinate Convocation this year. Jim Sloat led this effort, calling on the talents of Katie Twining, Dan Shaw, Billie Eaves, Kyle Simpson, Aaron Weaver and Keri Bailey from Parkhurst, Al Newell, Byron McCrae, Beckie Keenan, Susan Medley, Bob Reid, Mary Beth Ford, Pam Norris, Jay White, our singers, our cheerleaders, our bell ringers, our banner bearers, our jazz combo, Protection Services, and everyone who contributed to the Convocation video. We also thank Cathy Morgan Balfee, our sign language interpreter. Of course, this kind of collaboration happens every day at W&J. That's the kind of place W&J is-a place where everyone is willing to work together, shoulder to the wheel. Convocation gives us an opportunity to take notice of this spirit of community that we all treasure.
And speaking of community, I would like to mark a few comings and goings. Most notably, I would like to welcome our new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, Dr. James White. Dean White is a professor of Physics, who taught at Middle Tennessee State and Rhodes College before going to Gettysburg College, where he served as Associate and then the interim Provost. We are extremely fortunate to have a man of his intellectual caliber, strong character, and robust integrity leading the academic arm of Washington & Jefferson College. Please join me in welcoming Dean White to W&J.
I also want to announce that two of our most beloved professors will be retiring at the end of this academic year. I am announcing this now so that we can all take the time we need to celebrate their long careers with the College and tell them how much they have meant to W&J. Vicki Staton was the first tenure-track female professor to be hired at W&J, and she is the winningest coach in the College's history. She has broken athletic records and shattered the glass ceiling. And she doesn't know the meaning of "work day"-her work begins early and ends late as she shepherds classes, intramurals, and club sports. Her warmth, her competitive spirit, and her talents as a coach have endeared her to students for 35 years. Also retiring from the classroom is John Mark Scott, who has been the mainstay of our Russian department for 38 years. He has been a pioneer in designing international study trips to Russia, Poland, and Ecuador, as well as initiating a partnership among our students and members of the Zuni nation. His office on the fourth floor of Old Main has become a popular place for informal conversation for generations of students. Please join me in thanking both of these dedicated teachers for their years of service.
And so now to the history of W&J.
Last year, I focused on the Civil War period at the College, and this year, I want to focus on the decade of the 1940's, the World War II period and its aftermath. But, for the sake of context, let's begin at the beginning.
Washington & Jefferson College began as three small log cabin schools founded in the early 1780's. These three schools were headed by three Presbyterian ministers, all graduates of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton. The three men came out west separately, but once here, worked together to ensure that young men were prepared to become the teachers and preachers needed to sustain European settlements in this area and establish new communities as the frontier moved farther westward.
Those first students met in cramped and drafty log cabins. It's hard to imagine what their lives must have been like, six of them to a small room that served as both sleeping quarters and classroom. Indian attacks, the threat of starvation if the local crops failed, no running water, no electric lights, and one copy of a book for the entire school. Despite these challenges, those early students left their families and came together to study the Greeks, to learn mathematics, to think about the lessons of history, and to master the art of writing.
After about seven years, the log cabin schools became too small, and soon they were transformed into two colleges, Washington College, on whose campus we now convene and Jefferson College, in Canonsburg about 10 miles away. The two colleges were bitter rivals and engaged in what were called the "College Wars" for almost a century. Many times, when the two institutions were struggling to make ends meet, they considered joining together to create one, united college. But, again and again, the rivalry between the two schools prevented their union.
When the Civil War heated up, however, the young men from this region marched off in large numbers to defend their ideals, some going North and others going South, for Washington County was truly split in its sentiments. Although Jefferson College was the more northern of the two schools, the students and faculty there generally sympathized with the South, while the more cosmopolitan Washington College, connected to the East Coast through the National Road, now Maiden Street, sent a higher proportion of its men to the Northern cause.
Soon there were not enough young men to keep both colleges financially solvent, and the two were forced to join or perish. But this was not a comfortable marriage. The merger of the two schools occurred on March 4, 1865, Lincoln's second inaugural, when the country was still deeply divided. In this environment, students of the newly united college returned to share rooms and classrooms with those they had previously tried to kill during the bloody battles of the Civil War. There were sword duels on campus-no one was killed, but blood was shed. Gradually, however, the College healed and a new community was born, a community where you can be sure that there were lively debates, bitter arguments, and searching discussions, but gradually there was also respect.
Less than a hundred years later, war once again greatly impacted this school. The year 1941 brought dramatic changes. At the beginning of the year, W&J was home to a normal enrollment of about 500 students. The class that graduated in May attended a prom featuring Ted Weems and his orchestra, with Perry Como as the vocalist. Six months later, the news of Pearl Harbor shattered the preparations for exams and Christmas. Young Jay-men, as they called themselves, began to receive military draft cards, ordering them to report for military service. Others felt compelled to enlist. Looking back, one alumnus remembered, "Every week would see farewells and another drop in enrollment." The mood changed-practice air raids and blackout drills replaced fraternity parties. When the class of 1942 graduated, instead of flowers, the girls at the prom wore red, white, and blue war stamps fashioned into corsages.
This was the beginning of a decade of uncertainty as W&J's enrollment shrank and grew, shrank and grew as the turbulence of the war drew young men to campus and pulled them away again. For the few faculty and students who weathered the storm, it must have seemed as if every day presented a new challenge.
By 1943, when Italy was declaring war on Germany, the regular student enrollment at W&J was only 125--only 10 in the junior class. (The total student population was smaller than our football team roster this year.) But fortunately, three military groups came to this campus to train. In 1943 alone, The War Training School, the Army Administration School and the Army Specialized Training Program sent more than 1000 soldiers and 150 war workers to take classes here to prepare them for a wide array of war-related jobs by studying Math, Management, Drafting, Radio, Chemistry, Accounting, Metallurgy, and Physics. Ed Sell, Class of 1945 remembered, "Soon the poor civilians were outnumbered. Between classes, you would have to hang on to a friend by the coat tail or you might lose him easier than a friend in Grand Central Station. 'Hup, Two, Three, Four' replaced the Whichi Coax," (Red and Black, April 4, 1946). Imagine-you are the only Biology major, the only history major, the only one on your dormitory floor. Our prize-winning debate team disbanded for lack of membership. Varsity sports were curtailed as the rationing board declared buses could only be used for defense work. Fraternities left their off-campus houses, and their few members lived in Hayes Hall, which stood where New Res now stands. Being a student here must have felt like going to school on an army base.
But gradually, these troops were sent overseas, leaving the campus with no military presence and almost deserted. There were only 60 students enrolled, Old Main stood empty, and the College was in financial trouble. The only reminder left behind by the military was the walkway leading from Old Main down to College Street, which was put in place to connect Old Main where army classes were held to the Headquarters of the Army School and their mess hall at the George Washington Hotel. The Trustees considered closing the college. Ed Sell remembered, "Convocation could have been held in the bookstore with nearly enough seats to go round."
But, mercifully, the war was coming to an end. The Germans surrendered in May 1945 and the dropping of the atom bomb brought the Pacific war to an end 3 months later. Those who had interrupted their college years to serve in the army wanted to resume their studies. Many others, who had never had the opportunity to go to college, could now do so, thanks to the new GI Bill, offering a college scholarship, low-cost mortgages, and subsistence allowances to all those who had served in uniform. And, of course, there were high school graduates also applying to W&J. The College suddenly swelled. In one year, the enrollment at W&J skyrocketed from 143 to over 1100 in 12 months. To accommodate the demand, the College began admitting students both at the beginning of the semester and mid-semester.
By January 1946, the Red and Black ran an editorial entitled "Jay Pulls Through," and at the start of the 1946-47 school year, The Red and Black headline shouted, "Freshman Class Largest in History. Mammoth Enrollment." About 75% of these incoming students were veterans, and about half of them were married. A student who had just graduated wrote back, "Poor Old Main! Just think of 2400 feet pounding the floors of that old building!"
Can you imagine the changes on campus? The faculty doubled in size to meet the teaching needs, and the chapel in Old Main was converted to a cafeteria. Classes met six days a week to allow the GIs to complete their education in half the time. And there was a severe housing crisis. A Red and Black editorial bemoaned, "There are not teachers enough, or classrooms enough, or books enough, or knives or forks or spoons or anything else enough." Freshmen had to sleep in the gymnasium (now the Swanson Wellness Center) in double-decker bunk beds donated by the Pennsylvania National Guard. Almost 350 students were forced to find rooms in the community, and they were not happy about it. One student wrote that he had no running water and was using a radiator as his desk. In anticipation of the large class, ground had been broken that summer for new housing, but it took almost a year to relocate army barracks from upstate New York to the area where Henry Gymnasium now stands. Two barracks housed freshmen men in bunk-bedded rooms, and 16 others were converted to create one and two-bedroom apartments for married couples. Students who lived in "Splinter Village," as the married student housing was called, remember that the walls were so thin that two families could converse without leaving their own apartments.
Think how the conversations in class must have changed as theoretical discussions of politics, business, ethics, medicine, and law were altered by the addition of students who had seen their comrades killed and maimed, who had spent sleepless nights wondering if they would be alive at dawn and who had been forced to confront the gut-wrenching knowledge that they had killed another living, breathing human being.
Veterans and alumni told harrowing stories. John Ebert, for example, class of 1942, returned to visit his Phi Psi brothers and told the story of being on the destroyer USS Dickerson when it was hit by a suicide plane. He went over the side of the ship as it caught fire and was picked up by an American vessel. However, realizing that he was the most senior officer who had survived the attack, he returned to the ship to fight the fire onboard for about 7 hours before ordering the ship sunk.
Even as the vets returned, reports arrived of the deaths of alumni and classmates. Let me give you a sense of what students were reading in just one single issue of the Red and Black. Donald Tangeman was killed in the Pacific; Jack Marshall died of his wounds in the East Indies; Howard Boren was killed in a plane crash while training at Quonset Point Air Base in Rhode Island, Edward Johnston was killed in a crash in England; and Myrl R. Stuler, remembered as a strong football player and ATO member, killed in the South Pacific. All too often, students read of their classmates missing in action, whose deaths were now presumed, although no remains had ever been found. Captain John Aiken survived but was being treated for malnutrition as a result of the starvation diet he received in a German POW camp. Perhaps the saddest death reported was that of Captain Donald Snoke who was being transported as a POW on a Japanese ship, when the ship was sunk by American forces. All in all, 84 W&J men had lost their lives in World War II.
To lighten the mood, one returning student, Mel Brewer, wrote a poem on his military experiences "somewhere in the Philippines":
Have you ever sat out to see a show
While the rain soaked your shirt and trousers, Joe?
Have you ever labored with sweated clothes
Or stepped on a lizard with naked toes?
Have you ever stood till you thought you'd choke
In line for a beer or a glass of coke
Only to hear the familiar shout
"We're sorry, guys, but we've just run out"?
To be a little more specific
Have you ever been in the South Pacific?
The veterans were, in the words of one student, "grateful that the war was over, we were not in a VA hospital, and still in one piece." Social clubs were formed for wives of students, but pep rallies were poorly attended.
The traditional students still strove to carry on as usual, however. The football team was reformed. They lost their first game 25-0, but soon their new starter, Dan Towler, was leading them to victory. (Dan Towler would go on to play for the Los Angeles Rams and become the NFL's leading rusher in 1952.) Dancing classes resumed, and fraternities sought new pledges. The one remaining Fiji managed to convince 4 men to pledge, while the Phi Delts expanded their membership to 6 by adding two pledges. The debate team could once again compete nationally, and some of the stars from the 1943 basketball team returned to revive that sport. In April 1946, the Junior-Senior Prom was held at the George Washington Hotel, with the first big name band in four years. Interestingly enough, the Red and Black editors advised the band not to play that new "hot swing music." They warned, "That kind of pandemonium to which few students like to dance has as much place at a formal as a symphony does at a jitterbug contest."
Gradually the veterans graduated and the traditional students once again dominated the campus. By 1947, the majority of incoming freshmen had had no military service. While it had seemed inappropriate to subject worldly veterans to traditional "freshman hazing," the high school graduates who entered in 1947 were once again forced to follow the "freshmen rules" and required to learn "Whichi Coax" and fight songs like "Good Ole W&J." Upperclassmen could stop a freshman at any time and ask to have a song sung or a cheer yelled. If the freshman did not know the words, he would have to wear a large sign announcing his inadequacy or stand on a dinner table and sing. "Dinks" returned to campus-beanies worn by all freshmen that had to be tipped whenever a freshman passed a faculty member or upperclassman. Although W&J students could enroll in ROTC or in summer military training, and many did, the College seemed to have returned to a peacetime rhythm of hard studying complemented by good fun, sporting contests, and dances.
There was, however, a dark side to this period. Veterans who had liberated Jews from concentration camps were forbidden to join fraternities that excluded Jews and Blacks. Jewish students who wanted to attend medical school faced quotas that limited how many of them could be admitted, and Black students faced even deeper prejudices. In this environment, W&J's Dr. Clarence Dieter, who ran the pre-medical program, became nationally known for his commitment to getting any qualified student into medical school--regardless of their race or religion. And he was extremely successful, attracting large numbers of Jewish and Black students to W&J. Racial segregation became a problem when students went into town. Imagine how confusing this was for Kurt Teil, who entered W&J as a freshman in 1947 after escaping from Germany before the war, then fighting with the Allies to liberate Germany from the Nazi's. As a Jew, he knew the power of prejudice, and he was appalled when a black friend of his was refused service at a soda fountain on Main Street. Another group of white students had to rent an entire restaurant so that they could bring in their black friends for a birthday party. It was years before the civil rights act would be passed, but W&J students were already breaking color barriers in this town. (Teil will be on campus this fall, by the way, to talk to some classes about his experiences during the war.) As the Red and Black editors proclaimed, "We will fight all racial or group prejudices. There is in this school a fine cross section of the world."
By 1950, the enrollment had returned to a more normal 800 students or so who were blessedly ignorant of the horrors of war in the muddy trenches of Europe or the jungles of New Guinea. The period of the Second World War had changed the school permanently, however. Education was no longer just for the rich or the white or the Protestant. W&J was enrolling students from all walks of life, all religions, all races, and even students from Greece and China. Higher education as we know it today, higher education as a goal for all students, was firmly defined. The veterans who dominated this campus for a few short years also brought a renewed sense of urgency to W&J. They strove mightily to prepare for careers that their parents could never have dreamed of. They took charge of their lives and their educations, and they transformed themselves through W&J. Having survived horrific conditions on the battlefields, they knew how precious it was to be able to take time to learn, to debate issues, and to build a life and rebuild a country. They are models for us all.
There have been other defining moments in the College's history-moments that changed our sense of ourselves. This year at Homecoming, for example, we will mark 40 years of coeducation at W&J. But for over 230 years this college has proved true to its motto: Juncta Juvant: Together We Thrive.