WVU During World War II and Post-War Growth
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States found itself at war. WVU, like colleges across the country, soon felt the impact of the war.
Male students and faculty enlisted or were drafted into military service. Students in engineering might stay in school but had accelerated programs, with heavy course loads crammed into short periods of time, so they might graduate early and go into the armed forces with better preparation for wartime service.
In the absence of many male students, women became a more dominant and visible force on campus. Sororities and women’s honoraries became some of the most active groups. In 1942, Betty Head became the first female student body president when Peter Yost enlisted in the Navy. In classes, women often knitted for the war effort.
During the war, approximately 300 men of the 48th College Training Detachment lived, trained, and studied on WVU’s campus. Terrace Hall, now Dadisman Hall, was converted into a “mess hall” for these cadets. Dean of Women Edna Arnold (for whom Arnold Hall is named), expected the women students to do their patriotic duty by attending Saturday-night dances at E. Moore Hall to entertain the soldiers.
Women were still required to wear either skirts or dresses to class, since slacks and blue jeans were not permitted. Some female students wore shorts or rolled-up blue jeans under trench coats so it was not obvious that they were disobeying the rules. While men were expected to dress “respectably,” jackets and ties were not required.
In 1941, WVU granted the first graduate degree to the first known African American student. In 1945, Victorine Louistall became the first-known African American woman to earn a graduate degree from WVU when she received her M.Ed. degree. She later returned to WVU in 1966 to teach library science and was the first-known African American faculty member. We have no way of knowing whether other students or faculty “passed” as white so they could attend or work at WVU earlier.
The war ended in 1945, and enrollment skyrocketed to a record high of 6,010 in the fall of 1946 as veterans attended school with financial help from the G.I. Bill. This provided federal funding for those who had served our country during the war. Classes met from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and on Saturday to meet the demand. Students crowded into apartments and residence halls, government-surplus barracks and trailers, and homes of Morgantown families. Five veterans lived on the second floor of the president’s house with the family of President Irvin Stewart (1946-1958, for whom Stewart Hall is named).
1940 view of campus from Westover