More Than Lore

Chapter 12: The Great War

Marion Talbot

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THE women of the Faculty met immediately on the declaration of war by Congress to decide upon the measures for giving service to be recommended to the women students. On April 16, 1917, the women students gathered in Mandel Hall to hear the proposals by which they might share in the defense and preservation of the nation. It was a momentous occasion, one of the most important meetings ever held in the University, as well as the most thrilling and solemn. No factitious appeal was made, no time was given to sentimentalism or weak emotion, no flags were shown, no cheers measured the depth of response; but everyone present felt the thrill of patriotism and the genuine significance of the occasion. As the years passed and the conviction grew of the worse than futility

( 202) of war—not only of the World War, but of every war—there could but be regret for the waste of such noble emotions as were shown on this particular occasion. We did, however, the best we could; and as I look back, I think we did not make as many mistakes in judgment or so-called "patriotism" as was the case in some other communities.

It was my responsibility to conduct the meeting. I said that the Faculty women realized that the students wished to give loyal service but were at a loss to know how best to do it. They knew they were not fitted to be war nurses. Many were not interested in making surgical dressings or comfort kits. They had all seen how wasteful and useless much of the knitting had been. I told them how, under the leadership of Mrs. Judson, the President's wife, the. women of the Faculty, the wives of members of the Faculty, and neighbors had been organized as the University of Chicago Women's War Relief. It seemed essential for the students to avoid the mistakes which had been made by women in other countries. One of these was duplication and consequent waste of effort. It seemed best to leave them free to make

( 203) use of any agencies already organized, but we had prepared a special program based on the following principles:

1.The United States is at war and the losses and burdens inevitably entailed will fall most heavily upon women, upon whom also will rest in consequence a large responsibility for the conservation of the physical and human resources of the nation.

2. As the service "at the front" is now recognized to involve routine drudgery and irksome duties with little of the glory or excitement formerly associated with military life, so it must be remembered that the duties of the women may be in large measure humble and laborious, but must be performed in a spirit of loyal and patient service and in that spirit only will they bring their reward.

3. These tasks will not necessitate the neglect of more important duties and obligations.

4. The type of tasks has in view the fitness of women whose training has been primarily that of students preparing in general for teaching or domestic life.

5. The tasks offered are of different grades of severity and of capacity for expansion.

6. The tasks are varied in character to correspond with the different aptitudes of students.

7. The tasks are in general such as may be performed without interference with duties already assumed.

8. The tasks are such that the students may continue them on leaving the University and on taking up work in other communities.

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9. The services which may be rendered are of value in times of peace as well as in times of war.

These principles were presented in printed form and there followed the "Pledge" and program of activities:


Realizing that my country needs the loyal service of all its women, both now and in time of peace, I pledge myself to the tasks I have indicated, by checking individual items, on this sheet; and I will undertake to perform these duties as conscientiously as if I were formally enlisted for military service.

1. I agree to make an effort to increase my physical strength and vigor.

2. I agree to help some young person to increase his physical strength and vigor.

3. I agree to wear a costume adapted to my occupation, avoiding waste and display.

4. I agree to promote economy in food supplies by (a) the observance of rational economy in my personal use of food; (b) organizing groups of women for the study of food economy.

5. I agree to foster the proper use of foods by learning how to prepare them.

6. I agree to aid in increasing the food supply by (a) personally cultivating a plot of land; (b) helping to organize groups of children to plant gardens in unoccupied lots.

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7. I agree to take an active part in some organized movement for the prevention of infant mortality.

8. I agree to take an active part in a child-welfare agency.

9. I agree to inform myself as to approved methods of school nursing and to do all in my power to introduce this means of conserving the health of children in the schools of my community.

10. I agree to help provide for the children and dependent members of the family of a man or woman "at the front" in war or industry.

11. I agree, realizing that vice and alcoholism in increasing measure accompany war, and believing that future generations should be given by birth the best in health and mind that ethical living among men can bestow, to urge that marriage should take place only among those who can show that they are free from any disease which may be transmitted to future generations.

12. I agree to establish friendly relations with persons whose families came to this country more recently than mine, and in this and every possible way to help promote a feeling of international sympathy.

13. I agree to study the various proposals which have been brought forward for the establishment of a Society of Nations and organized common peace and to do all in my power to build a new social order based, not on mutual distrust and selfish competition, but on confidence and good will, upon the spirit of service and cooperation.

14. I agree, provided my scholarship and health are adequate, to register for one of the following courses, each to count as a half-major, and taken without fee:

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I. "Social Service in War Time."

II. "Food: Conservation and Production."

III. "First Aid."

I elaborated many of these suggestions and explained their significance. I urged the students to use their influence to support all agencies for social welfare which had had a serious setback in other nations and to see to it that children be kept in school and the child labor laws not be broken down under the guise of the country's needs. I pointed out that it was for the old to counsel and for the young to act, and told how impressed we were with the power and influence young women represented in the national crisis; and I ended by congratulating them on their opportunity to conserve the nation in the noblest sense. The meeting closed with the singing of "America." It was a very solemn procession that wended its way to classrooms, libraries, and laboratories. Almost immediately requests came pouring in from colleges and high schools for copies of our program, and then letters telling with gratitude of the help we had given.

Arrangements were made for the immediate registration of students in the new courses. In

( 207) spite of programs of study which were already heavy, 86 registered for "Social Service in War Time," 30 for "Conservation and Production of Food," and 130 for "First Aid." A branch of the Red Cross was established at the University and made use of the interest of the students in promoting its special activities. The making of war supplies under careful supervision, active service at infant welfare stations, weekly meetings for the study of the prevention of infant mortality and the promotion of child welfare, and weekly addresses describing various ways by which college women could aid in preserving and promoting right conditions in education, health, labor, and international relations during war were other activities in which the women students took part.

It was natural that the normal social life of the students should break down. The number of men students fell off, and the majority of those who remained in the University were drafted into the Students Officers' Training Corps and put under military discipline. It was not strange or unanticipated that some of the measures adopted were futile and wasteful. A rather amusing instance occurred when Lexington Hall was taken

( 208) over for use as a mess hall. Early in the morning the whole Corps was marched to the Hall for breakfast with military precision; but, as only one section at a time could be accommodated, ranks were broken . and the hungry left-overs, many of them chafing to be about their business, made themselves as comfortable as they could sitting on the curbstone until they could enter the Hall, when the breakfasted group would take their places on the curb. Then, when all had been fed, all marched away. But sitting on the curb gave no occupation except to stare up at Beecher Hall. As this was the time of day when the women students were rising, they had to do some gymnastics to roll out of bed, creep along the floor in their night clothes, and do some sleight of hand to get the windows closed without being seen by the United States Army. My suggestion to the commanding officer that, if it was not practicable to assign those who had breakfasted to other tasks, they might be required to sit on the opposite curb with their backs to Beecher Hall was received courteously and the necessary orders issued. In consequence it was no' longer necessary to keep up the "daily-dozen" habit.

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It is commonly believed that a military uniform has a special attraction for women regardless of who occupies it, but there was no evidence of this at the University. The women simply went about their business and paid no attention to members of the Corps either as individuals or as companies.

The University was almost immediately brought face to face with a difficult problem. Organizations and individuals seeking the help of large numbers of women in carrying on their various activities turned to the University as a source from which, without much trouble to themselves, they could secure promptly the services of intelligent and efficient young women. Appeals came in in rapid succession. Now it was for one hundred "girls"—a word taboo in the University —to dance the following- evening at the Soldiers and Sailors Club; then it was for ninety women to take the place of men in the Ordnance Division of the War Department; or for fifty women to go to the railroad station to meet and welcome incoming troops; c' for a group to organize for the conservation or platinum (women who practically never saw even gold!). It was necessary to

( 210) formulate a general policy. This was done speedily by the older women. We decided first that under no circumstances would we encourage women students to undertake outside activities which would interfere either with their health or with duties to which they were already pledged; and second, that the University would not place the students under official compulsion to participate in any of the undertakings proposed. We made these requests known, and left the decision to the students and their parents. If, for instance, we were asked to provide Sunday dinner and entertainment in private families, we would reply that the University could not interfere with family arrangements. We felt the less loath to take this position when we learned how bored or self-conscious the men often were on finding themselves in unwonted social surroundings and how they often greatly preferred some free time to use as they felt inclined. We organized, however, a series of social affairs at Ida Noyes Hall and sent word to Fort Sheridan and the Naval Training Station that men would be welcome at certain times. Even for this service we were careful not to make a general appeal to the women.

( 211) We selected a considerable number whose social experience and understanding and whose good judgment and well-bred manners we could trust, and then gave them the option of helping in carrying out the plan. In every case they were friendly and courteous, and we never saw a case of forwardness or laxity of conduct. We had ample evidence that the students were giving their co-operation in social affairs in the city quite generously; but it was always on an individual or family, not official, basis.

During the summer it became evident to the university as a whole that much work which had been undertaken by various committees was overlapping, and a scheme was proposed to President Judson whereby a series of committees was organized to make efficient use of all types of service which members of the University could render. Miss Elizabeth Wallace was made chairman of the Committee on Women Student Activities, and she thereupon organized the Woman Students' Training Corps, whose members signed the following pledge:

As a member of the Woman Students' Training Corps I promise:

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1. That while in college I will prepare myself for some essential occupation whereby I may serve my country efficiently in my own home or elsewhere.

2. That after leaving college, and during the major portion of long vacations, I will practice an essential occupation for the duration of the war.

3. Furthermore, I pledge myself to support the President of the United States, to honor the flag, and to uphold by my acts and influence the best ideals of American womanhood.

As a loyal member of the University of Chicago, I hereby pledge my faith.

Date: Signature:

This Corps engaged in different activities, but one of its best results was the discovery and development of individual gifts of leadership. Later it was reorganized and became the Federation of University Women.

Shortly after the close of the war it gratified me intensely to make known to the women students the following letter from the Acting President of the University:

CHICAGO, December 16, 1918


I do not know that any proper occasion will present itself to say to the women of the University what I should nevertheless like in some manner to convey to them, namely, my warm appreciation of the remarkably fine way in which

(213) they have carried themselves throughout the past quarter. The conditions have been in many particulars exasperating, and such as to interfere seriously with the legitimate work of the institution. I have yet to hear of any serious complaint, however. The women seem to have accepted the situation in a wholly fine spirit, to have subordinated themselves as far as possible to the exigencies of the military situation, and to have made themselves useful in a great variety of ways.

I trust the coming quarter will see a restoration of our normal equilibrium, and of the οppοrtunities which the women of the University have heretofore enjoyed.

Yours very truly,


It must be admitted, however, that this admirable record was followed by a reaction similar in nature to that which took place in every one of the warring countries and which astonished and shocked the world. The period of self-control bore fruit, however, and no such general breakdown in decent standards of social life was evident at the University as was common in other large cities the world around.

Shortly after the close of the war, an incident occurred which was of interest in its implications. The La Verne Noyes Foundation, valued at a million and a half dollars, was established July

( 214) 5, 1918, by the munificent gift of Mr. La Verne Noyes. It provides tuition fees for students who (i) shall themselves have served in the Army or Navy of the United States in the war for liberty into which the Republic entered on April 6, 1917, providing that such service was terminated by honorable discharge; or (2) shall be descendants by blood of anyone in service in the Army or Navy of the United States who served in said war; or (3) shall be descendants by blood of anyone who served in the Army or Navy of the United States in said war, provided that such service was terminated by an honorable death or an honorable discharge. The first public instructions in regard to the filing of applications were characterized b the use of masculine terms: "men," "he," "his," etc. I straightway wrote to the Dean in charge of the fund, asking if women would be eligible. He replied in his characteristically blunt way, "Nο," with the idea "how absurd" permeating the seeming ultimatum. I then inquired directly of the War and Navy departments as to whether women had served in the war in the Army or Navy, and was informed officially that they had served in both. Before these replies

( 215) came, I kept the question open by correspondence with the Dean and other authorities, feeling perhaps unduly confident that I was showing more moderation in my phrases than was my correspondent. The matter was closed to my satisfaction by an official administrative ruling that there would be no distinction of sex either in progenitor or scion, though I think these are not the exact terms used in the statement which is officially on file.


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