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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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The C-Shop as mess hall, undated

The C-Shop as mess hall, undated. World War II brought an influx of uniformed students to campus for advanced technical training. Photograph by U. S. Army Signal Corps.

 

Democratic student activist, Orientation Week, 1960.

Democratic student activist, Orientation Week, 1960. In the midst of a heated presidential campaign, posters for John F. Kennedy appeared next to those promoting the reelection of his Senate colleague, Paul H. Douglas, former Professor of Economics at the University. Photograph by Albert C. Flores.

The Student Voice

War, Peace, and Politics
The onset of American involvement in World War I brought students into direct engagement with issues of national foreign policy. Swept up in a patriotic surge, 550 students joined the newly formed University detachment of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and carried on active training in infantry drill. A student ambulance company was organized under the auspices of the American Red Cross and saw action on the front in France. More than sixty students lost their lives in the war, some in combat and others from disease.

Intense student activism continued in the 1930s. When the University itself was investigated by Illinois stale legislators in 1935 for supposedly harboring subversives on its faculty, students supported President Hutchins's staunch defense of academic freedom. Later in the decade, students demonstrated against the ROTC and rallied against fascism and war as international conflict in Europe threatened once again to involve the United States.

Students were not of one mind, of course, when it came to formulating an opinion on the war in Europe. The Socialist Club was unequivocal about its opposition to war, and in 1936 and 1937 it attempted to secure student involvement in national and international student strikes against "the men who can plunge the world into conflict." Other students who opposed the war led relief drives for citizens whose countries had become embroiled in the hostilities.

President Robert M. Hutchins made his position known when he spoke out publicly on January 23, 1941, against the country's drift into war. Hutchins's speech in turn motivated students in the Youth for Democracy club, which wanted more assertive American action, to hold an Aid-to-Allies rally in the Field house. Although many students differed with Hutchins, few doubted that students and the administration were ultimately on the same side, striving for similar goals. When Pearl Harbor finally brought the United States into the war, male enrollment dipped precipitously as enlistments and the draft pulled students by the hundreds into service. The campus itself was inundated by students of a different type as trainees of the Army Specialized Training Program and other military courses took over residence halls, dining rooms, and athletic fields for the duration of the war.


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