Monday, November 14, 2016

Faculty Service During World War II

On March 19, 1942, the News Bureau at Woman’s College (now UNCG) released a letter to faculty stating that the organization was “compiling information on the college’s contributions to the war effort.” The letter went on to request that faculty members respond with a list of their individual involvement in the war effort as well as the names of any relatives who were serving in the United States Military. The responses varied in their tone and complexity.

Guy Lyle
“As you know I am serving as state director of the Victory Book Campaign.” Library Professor Guy Lyle reminded crisply. “This takes up pretty much all of my leisure time.” Professor Lyle’s background as a librarian at numerous academic and public libraries made him an obvious choice for leading an organization whose mission was to boost the spirits of troops by providing them with reading materials.

Sociology Professor Mereb Mossman was even briefer in her response: “I am training chairman of the Greensboro C.D.V.O.” She was referring to the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office which was established in 1941 to keep up public morale and involve ordinary citizens in defense planning.

Mereb Mossman
Hygiene Professor Victoria Carlson wrote a long, detailed response to Nell Craig, director of the News Bureau. She explained that her brother was in the service and that she lectured to eight sections of her Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick classes. This class was modified to reflect wartime caveats. Many professors altered their classes during World War II in order to offer students and community members the skills that were needed for a nation at war.

In the same vein, Ruth Fitzgerald lamented that she was “physically unable to take on any extra work.” A professor of education, she joined Professor Carlson in increasing her work load on campus. These increases were sanctioned by Frank Porter Graham, President of the University of North Carolina System, who believed that heavy sacrifice was demanded of everyone in the university from the top down due to the war.

While some professors joined or led organizations and others taught additional classes, faculty contributed to the war effort in a myriad of ways. These paths to service could be as simple as knitting clothes for soldiers, planting a victory garden in the community, or as involved as joining the military themselves, something a few Woman’s College faculty actually did.

Victoria Carlson
This outpour of faculty support for the war effort, encouraged and facilitated by the university administration, is significant for two reasons. First, there is noticeable (public) unity among the faculty about the nation’s involvement in and goals for World War II, a feature that would be lacking in more recent wars, mostly noticeably the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the involvement of students and faculty alike at an all-girls college demonstrates the social effects that the War brought to the United States. Necessity would shatter glass ceilings as women raced to fill the positions left behind by drafted men. Additionally, involvement of faculty in reaching and helping laymen and women on the home front enforced the image of Woman’s College as a source of civic communitarianism. The school’s service as a bridge between the citizens of the community and a wealth of intellectual, yet practical knowledge helped ready the school for its transition into a co-ed university in 1963, and will guide the university’s future well into the twenty-first century.


This post was written by UNCG alumni Joseph Winberry (Class of 2013).


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