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7

From Depression to World War II

 

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Experiencing record expansion in some areas-mainly student population and physical plant-during the late 1930s, Penn State was unable or unprepared to cope with growth in others. At the same time it was giving the College large sums of money for new construction, the Commonwealth was increasing its regular biennial maintenance appropriation by only marginal amounts. Whereas Penn State had received a biennial allocation of about $4 million and enrolled 4,086 undergraduates in 1929, it got $400,000 more ten years later while enrolling 2,400 more students. As a result, the College kept expenditures for non-instructional purposes to a minimum in order to have sufficient funds to meet basic instructional needs.  

THE DEPRESSION AND THE STUDENTS

A typical casualty in the drive to cut nonessential expenditures was WPSC. The College's radio station was a valuable public relations asset for Penn State, but by the end of the 1920s, its transmitting gear was no longer able to maintain the frequency assigned to it by the Federal Radio Commission and needed to be replaced. Investigators from the FRC admonished College officials that the station would have to cease broadcasting unless the troubles were remedied, but the trustees decided against spending money on new equipment. The Commission had forced the station to share its frequency with another station in Hershey for the past several years, with WPSC on the air during daylight hours and the Hershey station transmitting at night. The arrangement worked to the College's disadvantage since daytime broadcasts reached fewer persons and did not carry so far. The trustee's inability to obtain permission for evening broadcasts may well have influenced their decision to spend no more money on the station, which fell silent in June 1932.  

Student support services were not immune from budgetary stringencies. Students often complained about the inadequacies of the infirmary, for example. Two physicians and seven nurses staffed the infirmary in 1930. Seven years later, when the student population had risen by over 1,300, the health staff had been enlarged by one nurse, and the student: physician ratio was five times greater than that recommended by national college and university health officials. The situation was even worse than these statistics indicated, because facilities at the infirmary in most respects were not comparable to those of a hospital. All serious cases still had to be referred to the Bellefonte hospital, twelve miles away.  

The area in which College logistics lagged behind student demand to the greatest extent was housing. The construction of Atherton Hall temporarily solved the problem of adequate residential accommodations for women. Male students, oil the other hand, faced the most severe housing shortage that had thus far occurred at Penn State. Since the exodus from Old Main in the 1870s, most males had resided in rooming houses in town. The campus building booms that occurred under President Hetzel injected all element of uncertainty into the housing situation, however, because the administration failed to disclose a definite policy in regard to the construction of dormitories for men. The board of trustees had originally voted to spend part of the expected $6.7 million from the General State Authority on more men's dormitories but dropped the plan after the GSA allotment was pared to $5 million. Unable to determine whether the College would build the residence halls if additional GSA money became available, borough landlords and potential landlords were reluctant to build new student housing or improve existing units. Investment in new borough rooming houses fell sharply at the very time enrollment was increasing to record figures. Consequently, students had to make do with housing already available, which often meant living under overcrowded conditions. Near the end of the decade, rooming houses Jammed with twice the number of students they had originally been designed to accommodate were not uncommon. As many as eighteen or more persons had to share a single bathroom in sonic of these properties. A few students banded together in groups of three or four to rent apartments, hoping to make conditions more bearable and save a few dollars by doing their own cooking and cleaning. The notion of renting apartments to students was new to State College. Few apartments existed, and fewer still were offered to either graduates or undergraduates.  

Protest against the overcrowded and unsanitary quarters erupted in the winter of 1938-39, when undergraduate leaders requested the borough's Board of Health to conduct inspections of selected houses. Board president Dr. Joseph P. Ritenour (who was also director of the College infirmary) refused to take any action. Explaining his position to a Collegian reporter, Ritenour was quoted as saying, "The average college student is old enough and intelligent enough . . . to see the unsanitary conditions, fire hazards, and sanitation facilities. He needn't take a room which does not meet standards of cleanliness and sanitation." The matter was really one of simple economics, said Ritenour, and therefore students "won't get to first base until the supply of rooming houses in State College exceeds the demand." The Collegian then launched a full-scale drive to enlighten the community about the unsatisfactory living conditions endured by many students. Leaders of various undergraduate organizations formed an ad hoc Student Health Committee to assist in keeping attention focused on this issue. Soon the College Senate's Committee on Student Welfare began an investigation of the housing situation, and word came from Harrisburg that the Department of Labor and Industry was preparing to send a team of inspectors to State College to look for unsanitary conditions and fire hazards.  

Meanwhile, State College landlords and businessmen urged President Hetzel to take a definitive stand on Penn State's policy on building new dormitories, and student leaders asked the administration to hire a full-time inspector to monitor living standards in off-campus housing. Dean Warnock rejected the idea of an inspector as impractical and probably illegal; but he did arrange a series of discussions between the Student Housing Committee and the Student Placement Bureau, a new organization founded by a number of borough rooming house owners. Members of the bureau agreed to see that their properties met living standards formulated by Dean Warnock and the housing committee. The housing committee voted to give this new arrangement a chance to work, and the Department of Labor and Industry never did carry out any inspections.  

Differences of opinion over housing intensified the antagonism that had been growing between town and gown since 1933. In February of that year, Congress had voted to repeal prohibition and subsequently sent the twenty-first amendment to the states for ratification. It also passed legislation declaring that beer having an alcoholic content of 3.2 percent or less was not an intoxicant and thus could legally be sold at once. Eight businesses in the borough announced their intention to sell the beverage, touching off a bitter and long-lasting debate that pitted students against townspeople and townspeople against each other. College officials did not appear apprehensive that an ungovernable horde of beer-soaked students might descend upon the borough. President Hetzel announced that Penn State would take a stand neither for nor against beer sales, and that personally, he had "complete confidence in the judgment, the good sense, the self-respect, and the loyalty of the students."  

An 1859 state law forbidding the sale of "ardent spirits and malt beverages" within two miles of the College no longer applied to 3.2 beer. Responsibility for controlling sales rested in the hands of the borough fathers, who were quick to put restrictions on the brew, such as limiting the hours during which it could be sold. More drastic measures would follow if the situation warranted, warned State College burgess Eugene H. Lederer. "If the return of beer lowers the present moral standards of the community," he declared, "an ordinance will be passed against its distribution."  

The dispute over 3.2 beer was only a prelude to greater controversy. The states ratified the twenty-first amendment in December 1933, and thirteen years of prohibition came to an end. Governor Pinchot, an ardent "dry," pushed through the legislature a series of strict liquor control laws that put the Commonwealth in the business of selling liquor and wine through a system of about 300 "State Stores" and limited by license the number of retail establishments that could sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises. No State Store was placed in State College because so many of the town's inhabitants had not reached the legal drinking age of twenty-one. Nor did any retail outlet in the borough apply for a liquor license, although five stores continued to sell beer.  

Drinking and drunkenness had been as common at Penn State as on most other college campuses during previous years but because of prohibition, the abuses accompanying intoxication went largely unseen by most people, especially non-students. With repeal, these abuses became more visible. As early as mid-January 1934, the editors of the Collegian-no friend of prohibition-confessed that "the sight of students reeling and yelling about the streets and in beer parlors has become quite common on weekend nights." The paper quoted Dean Warnock in January 1934 as saying that "there has been a progressive increase in the difficulty of dealing with students who have been drinking. The situation has gotten out of hand." Besides beer distributors, whom he accused of selling to customers without regard to their age, the dean of men cited fraternities as major contributors of the drinking problem. Fraternities were flouting authority by serving beer and liquor to minors, he contended, just as they had served these beverages to almost anyone of any age during prohibition. Neither Warnock nor Hetzel believed that the College ought to police fraternities, however, and they left enforcement of drinking laws in the hands of the agents of Pennsylvania's new Liquor Control Board.  

Residents of the borough-most of whom were faculty and support personnel at the College-were alarmed by the seeming upsurge in alcohol-induced student misbehavior. A new burgess, Wilbur F. Leitzell, took office in 1934 with the promise of "cleaning up State College, morally and financially." There followed periodic raids by the burgess and borough police officers on beer parlors believed to be selling alcohol to underage students. Extra police began patrolling the streets on weekends and often arrested a dozen or more undergraduates on a single evening for public drunkenness. On Friday or Saturday nights during the fall, alcohol heightened the usual boisterousness of the student crowds that gathered on borough streets for football rallies, and Leitzell did not hesitate to call in reinforcements from the state police on such occasions. By taking a hard line against student misbehavior, borough officials may have inadvertently worsened the kinds of activities they sought to curb. One evening in September 1938, for instance, a well-lubricated crowd of about 2,000 students gathered at the corner of College Avenue and Allen Street, blocking the intersection, smashing street lights, pulling out parking meters, and breaking store windows. A huge two-story bonfire roaring on the College Avenue pavement produced heat so intense that the brick pavement buckled, costing the borough several thousand dollars for repairs.  

The Hotel State College and, on the ground floor, the Corner Room restaurant, at the corner of South Allen Street and College Avenue.
Hotel State College and, on the ground floor, the Corner Room restaurant, at the corner of South Allen Street and College Avenue.

 

Increased or at least more open use of alcohol fit in with the trend toward more relaxed social codes during the 1930s. The rules and regulations governing student social life were determined primarily by President Hetzel, Dean of Men Warnock, Dean of Women Ray, and the College Senate Committee on Student Welfare. The paternalism inherent in this arrangement-pretty much the norm at most colleges and universities-was softened by frequent consultations with the students. Undergraduates did not waste time, for example, in indicating to Hetzel upon his arrival from New Hampshire Just how much they detested compulsory chapel. The president took this attitude into account, as well as the anomaly of a state institution compelling attendance at a religious function, when he recommended to the board of trustees in July 1927 that weekday chapel services be discontinued. Where the trustees had in the past refused to consider student petitions on the question, they almost routinely consented to Hetzel's proposal and directed that it be made effective with the upcoming fall semester. The inability of Schwab Auditorium to seat more than one-third of the student body at one time added a practical problem to compulsory chapel. Hetzel leaned heavily on this argument in appealing to the more tradition-minded trustees that the time had arrived to make Sunday services voluntary. Again the trustees agreed, and mandatory attendance at Sunday chapel ended with the close of the spring semester in 1930.  

Another effort to bring official regulations more in line with student desires and practical realities involved the automobile policy. Dean Warnock's office had never been able to enforce effectively the regulation prohibiting the students from bringing their cars to the College. Some students openly defied the regulation, while others got around it by falsely citing the need for a car because of emergencies at home or part-time jobs. In spite of the depression, automobiles were more firmly entrenched than ever as part of the campus social scene. Warnock and Hetzel therefore asked the board of trustees to lift its ban on student autos, and beginning in September 1936, any undergraduate could keep a car, provided he or she obtained a College permit. Over 254 permits were issued during the first week of the semester.  

The Corner Room lunch counter
The Corner Room lunch counter was a familiar sight to generations of Penn State students.

 

College authorities also maintained a liberal policy with regard to the social activities of fraternities. Only the most flagrant violations of school policy, usually in regard to alcohol, met with disciplinary action from the dean of men. In 1931 regulations were changed to permit coeds (excluding freshmen) to attend fraternity parties unchaperoned until 10:00 P.M. Fridays and Saturdays (10:30 for seniors). After discovering that this privilege was often being abused, Warnock appealed to the Interfraternity Council to take remedial action. When that failed, the dean modified the policy to permit women to visit fraternities for only two hours on Fridays and Saturdays and then only at meal times. Furthermore, no alcohol was to be consumed while the women were present. Under no circumstances did the College permit women to visit men's rooming houses or dormitories except for approved lounge areas.  

Students of the 1930s took a decidedly more casual approach to college social life than had their predecessors. In 1930 and again in 1937, undergraduates voted to eliminate some of the most irksome features of freshman customs, in order to make them more fun and less ritualistic. First-year males were no longer required to wear coats and ties and black socks while attending classes and could begin dating after Thanksgiving recess. Wearing green dinks was still obligatory, as was carrying a freshman handbook at all times and keeping off the grass. The Women's Student Government Association adopted similar modifications in its customs and, with the approval of Dean Ray, instituted more liberal dating codes as well. By the mid-1930s, women from the upper three classes were being allowed to remain out of their residence halls until 1:00 A.M. on weekends. More restrictive hours governed the social lives of freshmen, who were permitted to have dates only on weekends and only at functions approved by College officials. At the insistence of Dean Ray, the WSGA stood its ground on smoking and drinking, refusing to sanction either one, but the effects of this ban were questionable. Any coed could purchase cigarettes in town, and after repeal, two-thirds of all female undergraduates taking part in a Collegian survey admitted they imbibed at least occasionally.  

Students took full advantage of the more liberal regulations governing social life. At the same time, they approached their education with a seriousness of purpose not seen before. The frivolity of the 1920s had yielded to a deep concern about the impact of the depression at home and the rise of totalitarianism and subsequent threats to world peace abroad. For the first time in peace time, foreign affairs became a central issue for discussion on college campuses throughout the country. Americans of all ages were becoming disillusioned with the fruits of World War I. If that conflict had truly been a war to make the world safe for democracy, how could one explain Hitler, Mussolini, and other dictatorial regimes that were coming to power around the globe? Why should the world be preparing for another major conflagration? As the individuals who would be in the front ranks of the armies fighting a second world war, college students had special reasons to be anxious about the answers to those questions. Some students believed positive steps had to be taken if the United States was to avoid becoming entangled in another war that, if history was any guide, would cause only grief and suffering without resolving any important issues.  

Anti-war demonstrations became common events on American campuses by the mid-1930s. On April 12, 1935, the first organized student rally for peace occurred at Penn State, as 1,500 students Joined 150,000 of their counterparts nationwide in demonstrating in favor of disarmanent, anti-imperialism, and a strict policy of neutrality for the United States. President Hetzel directed the faculty to excuse from class any student who wished to participate in the demonstration and offered Schwab Auditorium as a place for students to gather. Hetzel himself did not attend, although some faculty and townspeople did show up to Join students in endorsing resolutions calling on Congress to spend more money on education than on defense and to pass a law prohibiting educational institutions from compelling participation in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. About two hundred students took the American version of the Oxford pledge, an anti-war Protest begun several years earlier at England's Oxford University: "I refuse to support the government of the United States in any war which it may undertake."  

The Diner, late 1920s
This diner, located in the 100 block of East College Avenue in this late 1920s view, was later moved to East Beaver Avenue.

 

The recitation of the Oxford pledge marked the high tide of the student peace movement at Penn State. An anti-war rally was staged at the College every April for the next few years in conjunction with the national student movement, which continued to grow, but interest waned steadily after the 1935 demonstration. In April 1936, fewer than 600 persons gathered on Old Main lawn to voice their desire for peace, while 350,000 students (about one-third of the nation's college population) were doing the same thing across the country. The administration always excused from class any student who wished to participate, making it difficult to distinguish the number of students who genuinely believed in taking positive action for peace from those who were just glad to get away from a boring professor on a spring day.  

The Penn State environment was not a favorable one for the more radical elements among the student movements that sprang from the economic chaos of the Great Depression. The College had no student branches of the Young People's Socialist League, National Student League, the Liberal Club, the Veterans of Future Wars, or similar activist groups that flourished on other campuses. The Students' Peace Action Council, an independent student organization that sponsored the annual April rallies, had fewer than fifty active members. An effort was made in the spring of 1937 to found a chapter of the American Student Union, the largest and at that time the most moderate of the national student organizations spawned by the depression, but the College Senate refused to sanction it on the grounds that it did not permit open discussion and would be too much under the domination of the national leadership. The Senate's decision caused hardly a ripple of protest among the student body.  

The peace demonstrations of the 1930s lacked the confrontational atmosphere of the anti-war protests of later years. Students in the peace movement at Penn State did not view their institution or the Hetzel administration as part of a monolithic establishment that had to be overturned if their objectives were to be realized. Of the issues on the agenda of the national student peace movement, only mandatory military training for all physically able freshmen and sophomores generated widespread student displeasure at Penn State. A few students, stirred by their inclinations toward pacifism and anti-fascism, opposed ROTC because it allegedly incited militaristic tendencies in American youth and undercut the chances for international peace, but most Penn State students opposed ROTC because the military training it offered appeared so irrelevant and unproductive, and its quality of instruction often fell below College standards. The United States Supreme Court had already ruled that a land-grant institution could require participation in ROTC but implied that by offering voluntary military training, a school could still comply with the Morrill Act. Several prominent land-grant institutions, including the universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota, dropped compulsory ROTC. At Penn State and most other land-grant colleges and universities, military training remained a requirement for a degree. As unpopular as compulsory ROTC was, it nonetheless had some stiff competition as the favorite target of student complaints. A Collegian poll in December 1938, for example, asked undergraduates what feature they disliked most about the College. In addition to the military training requirement, these responses were typical of the most frequent gripes: "We don't have enough girls"; "There is a definite lack of school spirit among the upper classmen"; "We need more women"; "The cost of living is too high in this damn town!"  

Two important factors accounted for the conservative mood of the student body. First, insulated from the most traumatic aspects of the depression, students were not so quick to suggest radical solutions to help the nation recover its economic health. Second, students usually accepted the attitudes and values of their parents and other persons they knew and trusted, or at least used these attitudes and values as a basis for shaping their own beliefs. In the 1930s, Pennsylvania was a stronghold of conservative Republicanism, just as it had been since the Civil War. The Commonwealth was one of only six states won by Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election. In a straw poll at the College, undergraduates gave Hoover 1,537 votes, nearly three times as many as they gave challenger Franklin D. Roosevelt and the second highest total vote (after Ohio State University) Hoover received among the forty-eight schools that participated in the nationwide poll. In 1936 Governor Alfred M. Landon, the Republican candidate, was buried by FDR in national balloting and even lost Pennsylvania, but -he still managed to win the student straw vote at Penn State by a two-to-one margin. Landon's support among Pennsylvanians came from the middle class, the same group from which the College drew most of its students.  

These essentially meaningless straw polls could draw a turnout of 50 percent or more, a far greater portion of the student body than cast ballots in elections for student government offices. Fraternities had dominated student politics since the war, and by 1930 they were beginning to align themselves into two rival factions or parties, the Campus clique and the Locust Lane clique. Allegiance to one or the other depended on a fraternity's geographic location and the personal relations between its leaders and those of the clique. Fraternities so monopolized the annual elections for class officers that no independent candidates entered these contests. Because most of the members of the three governing bodies-Student Council, Student Board, and Student Tribunal-were sophomore, Junior, or senior class officers or the appointees thereof, the cliques and the student government came close to being one and the same. Independent students wielded almost no political influence. Another Penn State Student Union had been organized in 1930, but it had no political power and was not exclusively an independent men's organization. It acted principally as a calendar clearinghouse, coordinating the major social events of the various campus groups so that no schedule conflicts occurred.  

Men not belonging to fraternities seemed indifferent to their role (or lack of it) in student government until late in the decade, when discontent arose over the quality of leadership shown by students elected by the cliques. Student government officers were accused of looking after their own interests and those of their close friends and disregarding the needs of the student body as a whole. Subtly portraying his opponents as snobs, independent candidate Joseph A. Peel successively won the presidencies of the Junior and senior class in 1937 and 1938, the first time since 1912 that a student who was not a member of a fraternity held either of those positions.  

Male and female student government candidates and voters
(left) A student government candidate discusses election issues with fellow undergraduates. Women played more prominent roles in student government after the formation of the All-College cabinet system. (right) Penn State's undergraduates used voting machines in campus elections forty years before machines replaced paper ballots in State College borough voting booths.

 

Dean Warnock, who was troubled by the failure of student government leaders to represent a broader spectrum of the undergraduate population, believed the time was ripe for overhauling the entire machinery of student government. Many students, too, expressed support for reorganization, and in 1938-39 the Student Council in consultation with Warnock drew up a new constitution. Adopted by student referendum, it went into effect in the spring of 1939. The new document provided for an all-college government, that is, a government headed by a president and vice-president elected at large by all undergraduates. A new All-College Cabinet functioned as the legislative branch and consisted of the presidents of each of the classes along with representatives from the Athletic Association, the Penn State Christian Association (formed by combining the campus chapters of the YMCA and YWCA), the Interfraternity Council, a new Independent Men's Council, and a few other large student organizations. In addition, the new constitution established student councils in each of the seven schools, while the Student Tribunal was carried over to act as the judicial branch. The Tribunal took on the responsibilities for deciding guilt or innocence in questions involving violations of social rules, College regulations (parking laws, for example), and class customs.  

The most significant aspect of the reorganization was the inclusion of women students under the new constitution. The Women's Student Government Association continued to deal with matters relating only to coeds, but for the first time in Penn State's history, in at least some areas men and women shared a common government. Deans Warnock and Ray and others hoped that the restructuring of student government would encourage greater participation among the electorate and do away with the elitism that had become apparent in recent years. These hopes seemed well-founded in the spring of 1939 as an independent student, Howard Clifton McWilliams, narrowly edged his Campus clique opponent to become the first All-College president. Both before and after its reorganization, student government had no direct voice in formulating College policies. It did keep administrators and faculty informed of the general mood of the student body, and for those who actively participated, student government could be a unique learning experience as well.  

old black and white photograph of student goverment Inauguration ceremony
Inauguration of All-College student government officers, May 1940.

 

However enjoyable student politics may have been for some, most students sought other means of entertaining themselves. Radio was entering its golden age, and listening to Jack Benny, Amos 'n Andy, the Lone Ranger, and other favorites was a popular and inexpensive way to spend an evening. Many undergraduates occupied their after-class hours by playing Monopoly, a new board game that was taking college campuses by storm. Going to one of the downtown movie theatres (the Nittany and the Cathaum) was more costly, particularly if a guy could not convince his date of the advantages of dutch treat, and so was usually reserved for weekends. The high points of the weekend social scene were the Soph Hop in the fall and the Senior Ball and the junior Prom in the spring, all of which featured nationally renowned orchestras led by such luminaries as Glenn Gray, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman.  

ATHLETIC TROUBLES AGAIN

The Great Depression failed to dampen the students' enthusiasm for athletics. During the lean years of the 1930s, athletics offered inexpensive recreation, whether students participated in intramurals or attended intercollegiate contests as spectators. Under the guidance of Hugo Bezdek, director of the School of Physical Education and Athletics, the roster of intramural sports included football, baseball, basketball, boxing, wrestling, handball, volleyball, tennis, golf, cross country, track, and lacrosse. Unlike physical education classes, intramurals carried no credit. Thousands of students participated annually purely for the purpose of recreation. Fraternities and other organized campus groups frequently sponsored teams, and a highly coveted award-the Bezdek Trophy-was given annually to the student organization contributing the most to the development of intramural athletics.  

Students dancing to the Big Band sound at the Senior Ball of 1936.
Dancing to the Big Band sound at the Senior Ball of 1936.

 

It was the kind of comprehensive program that proponents of the Beaver White report had envisioned, and it enjoyed the unqualified support of the Hetzel administration. When Bezdek recommended that most four o'clock classes be eliminated in future years so that students could get two full hours of physical recreation before their evening meal, President Hetzel endorsed the idea in spite of protests from the scheduling officer and some faculty that a number of electives and laboratory sections would have to be dropped. Allowing intramurals to influence academics would have been unthinkable at most other institutions, where these games were nearly always directed by students and had an informal structure. At Penn State, intramurals were systematically organized and supervised by the faculty of the School of Physical Education and Athletics.  

Bezdek and Hetzel seemed to be in agreement on the new policy governing intercollegiate athletics. "People look to the institutions of higher learning for ideals,"- Bezdek stated in a December 8, 1930, Collegian interview. "You cannot compromise a principle, and one of the highest principles of collegiate athletics is strict amateurism. We are blazing a trail, and all schools will ultimately come to our conclusions." In expecting all or even most colleges and universities to follow Penn State's lead toward the ideals of strict amateurism, Bezdek and Hetzel either misjudged the mood prevailing on other campuses or were hopelessly naive. A few institutions-the universities of Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, for instance, and some smaller Eastern schools-introduced what in many cases were temporary modifications in their athletic policies and discontinued subsidies to athletes. These alterations stemmed not from the example Penn State was supposed to set, but from the public outcry raised over the Carnegie Foundation investigation.  

The Carnegie report hastened the transition of control of intercollegiate athletics from alumni to the administration, but it failed to bring about a change in conditions at most institutions. Administrators hesitated to tamper with athletics, particularly football, for fear of compromising its considerable financial and public relations values. In 1937, eight years after the publication of the Carnegie study, many observers of the intercollegiate athletic scene could agree with the critic who argued that "the colleges and universities of this nation, taken as a whole, have been debauched by intercollegiate football [and] are pathetic appendages of the football stadia." Thus, instead of becoming a pioneer whose methods were to be emulated, Penn State became something of a freak among institutions of its class in its approach to intercollegiate athletics.  

The College renounced athletic scholarships, scouting rival teams, training tables, and other practices that seemed too professional. Bezdek and graduate manager Nell Fleming explored the feasibility of forming an Eastern football conference composed of institutions having similar views on athletic amateurism. Football powerhouses such as Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and even the University of Pittsburgh were dropped from the schedule in favor of Waynesburg.

old black and white photograph of Cathaum Theatre facade
Cathaum Theatre along West College Avenue, 1930s

 

Western Maryland, Dickinson, and other small schools that under other circumstances Penn State would never have considered playing. Still, the College's football teams found victory frustratingly elusive, compiling a record of 26 wins, 36 losses and 3 ties during the first eight seasons (1930-37) under Bob Higgins, who had replaced Bezdek as head coach. A 1920 Penn State graduate and gridiron standout, Higgins had served as Bezdek's assistant since 1928. He could not attract students with the superior athletic skills that a winning football team required because he could not match offers of financial assistance made by competing institutions. The notion that the team could recruit all the talent needed from the intramural squads did not work either.  

Many alumni were less content than Bezdek and Hetzel to let events take their course while waiting for other schools to follow Penn State's example. After the 1931 season, when the football team won two games and lost eight-the worst season in its history-many graduates of the College vented their anger in the pages of the Alumni News. "The average mind will argue that, just as contempt for one law has bred contempt for all law, so constant failure along one line must be weakness in all lines," asserted Charles Heppenstall, one of the influential Pittsburgh area alumni who had long been active in the anti-Bezdek movement. "No boy wishes to become part of an institution which is a target for jokes and ridicule." Another critic, in comments equally typical of those uttered by a large number of alumni, submitted that if the present leadership "cannot give us a plan that will enable Penn State to compete successfully with the best in the land, as we have done in the past and can do in the future, then I say give us a red-blooded administration that can do these things. I am getting tired of apologizing for Penn State's weakness, and I believe most of the alumni feel the same way about it had they only the guts to come out in the open and really speak their minds." These protests moved neither Bezdek nor Hetzel nor the student body, all of whom retained their confidence in the College's existing policies.  

The economic depression caused financial receipts from football to decline slightly at most colleges during the 1930s. At Penn State, receipts dropped precipitously. The College had regularly earned a net income of $40,000 or more per season in the 1920s. In 1931, it accumulated a deficit of $1,056; within two years, the loss had risen to $23,000.  

Coach Higgins carried the burden of these losing seasons stoically and did not complain about the difficulties of trying to field a winning team in the face of the restrictions the College administration had placed upon him, but his ability to endure repeated setbacks was not limitless. Early in 1934 he requested the Board of Athletic Control and President Hetzel to approve an arrangement whereby part-time jobs could be given to freshman players. If he could guarantee a prospective student a job for a year, Higgins explained, he could at least compete in a modest way with institutions offering athletic scholarships. To preserve the integrity of Penn State's commitment to amateurism, these jobs should be regular offers of employment by the College, fraternities, restaurants, and the like and not merely subsidies. It was assumed that after their first year, the students would have made enough contacts to acquire part-time work on their own. Higgins also asked that during football season a training table serving one meal a day be re-established. Both recommendations were adopted and put into effect in the fall of 1934.  

Anyone surprised by Coach Higgins' proposals to mitigate Penn State's strict amateur policies must have been positively shocked by the bombshell thrown out by Hugo Bezdek in January 1935. Bezdek had just returned from the Joint annual meetings of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the American Football Coaches Association in New York City, where he took part in lengthy discussions with his counterparts from around the country. Perhaps in his talks with other coaches he decided that Penn State had gone too far in its efforts to be a model for other schools, for in a Collegian interview published January 4, he announced that the time had come for the College to cast off its "simon pure" policies and return to the practice of awarding athletic scholarships. In order to make his proposal more palatable to the foes of professionalism, Bezdek said that academic ability, character, and athletic ability should each count one-third in the process of selecting the recipients, evidently forgetting that the College used virtually the same criteria when it previously had given out athletic subsidies. He did not alert the administration beforehand to his change of views, and Ralph Hetzel was therefore caught off guard when the interview was published. The president immediately made clear to the athletic director that the College contemplated no change in its policy, and Bezdek never again uttered a public word about scholarships.  

Bezdek's fall from Hetzel's graces was minor compared with the scorn heaped upon him from nearly every quarter of the Penn State community. As director of the School of Physical Education and Athletics and the apparent instigator of the athletic policies Penn State was following, Bezdek, not Higgins, received most of the blame from students and alumni for the poor performances of the College's football and other teams. (Sports other than football were not so heavily dependent on athletic scholarships and so suffered less severely.) Resentment against Bezdek had also built up within the faculty of his own school: They alleged that he played favorites among his personnel, discharged those who did not see things his way, and interfered with the prerogatives of the varsity coaches.  

old black and white photograph of Varsity Basketball squad
Varsity Basketball squad of 1940

 

President Hetzel was well aware of the dissension and low morale in the school. Speaking before the Pittsburgh Alumni Club in April 1936, Hetzel likened the School of Physical Education and Athletics to a small child and acknowledged that "at times those of us who are most intimately concerned with it find ourselves irritated and in despair at its conduct." However, said the president, continuing to hint at his displeasure with Bezdek's leadership, "the youngster is inherently sound, and with patience and wise direction he will grow up into a specimen of which we can all be proud."  

Even as Hetzel spoke, the Alumni Association was conducting yet another investigation into the College's athletic affairs. Reasoning that intercollegiate athletics, unlike undergraduate physical education classes, were not strictly an educational enterprise, the executive board of the Association in June 1935 had named Eugene T. Gramley '19 to chair a special committee to search for a solution to the troubles surrounding the School of Physical Education and Athletics. Nearly every person the committee interviewed agreed that a problem existed, but few agreed on what should be done. The circumstances resembled those that had preceded the Beaver White report of 1927: Nearly everyone was dissatisfied with present conditions, but for different reasons and with different solutions in mind. Some alumni wanted the reinstatement of athletic scholarships and other forms of aid; some did not. Most students seemed to agree with the Collegian's oft-voiced opinion that scholarships were evil, but they split over the wisdom of offering other types of assistance. The faculty was likewise divided. The administration-Ralph Hetzel-preferred to continue a policy of nonprofessionalism and athletics for all, yet it was obviously troubled by the dissension arising from the College's poor performance on the football field. And what was to be done with Hugo Bezdek?  

Boxing in Recreation Hall, 1930s
Boxing, an intercollegiate sport at Penn State until 1954, reached a peak of popularity in the 1930s, when matches attracted near-capacity crowds to Recreation Hall.

 

Reporting its findings at the annual meeting of the Alumni Association in June 1936, the Gramley committee called for a more distinct separation of authority between coaches and the director of athletics as a way of avoiding personal rivalries in the school. The committee felt Bezdek should be replaced by someone who possessed executive ability and tact, but not necessarily someone with coaching experience. As for fundamental policy, they saw no reason for the College to deviate from the objectives set forth in the Beaver White report.  

Despite the Gramley committee's efforts to keep President Hetzel and the board of trustees apprised of its investigations, the trustees seem to have felt that the alumni had usurped some of their prerogatives, for in February 1936 the trustees formed a committee chaired by Vance C. McCormick to launch their own probe of the athletic situation. The conclusions of the McCormick panel, presented at the board's regular meeting in September 1936, were essentially the same as those of the Gramley committee. The trustees then voted to relieve Bezdek of his duties and begin a reorganization of the School of Physical Education and Athletics.  

Bezdek's successor, named in April 1937, was Carl P. Schott, formerly head of the division of physical education at the University of West Virginia. Schott was given the rank of dean, a title commensurate with his extensive background in scholarship and administration. (He held M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia.) Supervisory responsibility for the intramural program was taken from the Board of Athletic Control (renamed the Athletic Advisory Board) and placed under a full-time director, Eugen C. Bischoff. Bischoff, who had been working with intramurals for several years under Bezdek, soon expanded their scope to include hikes to Bear Meadows, Whipple Dam, Shingletown Gap, and other destinations popular with Penn State students since the days of Evan Pugh. Cross-country skiing, roller skating, and archery were some of the new sports added to the program.  

A new dean and some minor restructuring did not answer the question of what was to be done about the football situation. The College fielded teams in fourteen other intercollegiate sports with generally satisfactory results. In 1937-38, the soccer squad finished its fifth consecutive undefeated season (and was to have three more, all under the expert coaching of Bill Jeffrey). The basketball team compiled its best record in ten years, and the wrestling and boxing teams engaged in post-season championship play. But because of the widespread publicity it received, its popular identification as the collegiate sport, and the sizeable revenues it generated, football was special. The achievements of the other teams could not mask Penn State's failures on the gridiron.  

Through a combination of good luck, fine coaching, and the recruitment of more talented players (at least a few of whom seemed to have covertly benefited from modest subsidies from alumni), Penn State's football fortunes rebounded in the late 1930s. The institution was still attempting to adhere to a policy proudly characterized by one member of the Athletic Advisory Board as "purification without de-emphasis." It refused to award athletic scholarships and would not sanction a three-meal-a-day training table for athletes. But the College did make concessions to the immense popularity of football that left the door ajar to renewed commercialization of the sport. It arranged with KDKA of Pittsburgh to serve as flagship station for a new radio network that broadcast games to a statewide audience, and in 1936 it replaced the wooden grandstands of Beaver Field with steel seats and increased the seating capacity every year thereafter until World War II. The College even resumed its practice of playing intersectional football games, in spite of the increased travel time and expense involved. The University of South Carolina was added to the schedule for 1940 and 1941, while an unsuccessful attempt was made to arrange contests with the University of Georgia. The 1938 squad posted a record of three wins, four losses, and one tie-the last losing season in football Penn State was to have for over four decades. Not only did the team lose only one game in 1939, it also defeated the University of Pittsburgh, the College's first triumph over its arch rival in twenty years. That victory prompted President Hetzel to declare the Monday after the Pitt game a holiday for students. His action revealed more convincingly than any speech how much emphasis, "purification" aside, Penn State continued to give intercollegiate football.  

THE SECOND WORLD WAR

"I know of no period in the last half century, not even excepting the trying months before the first World War, when more puzzling problems challenged the minds of men," Ralph Hetzel told the senior class at commencement exercises in June 1941. "In these circumstances, what is the role of those who are completing the formal process of higher education?" Hetzel admitted that he had no satisfactory answer to that question. Each day was bringing the United States closer to a war that had been raging in Europe and around the globe for nearly two years. If America became directly involved in that conflict, radical changes would surely occur at the nation's institutions of higher learning. But would the United States inevitably be drawn into the war? If so, when? Not knowing the answers to these questions made life anxious for college students in 1941. Facing a loss of control over their destinies and unable to plan for even a short-term future with any degree of certainty, students had no choice but to await the march of events.  

At first glance, life at Penn State in 1941 was little different from previous years. Male undergraduates were still not content with the off-campus housing situation. In May President Hetzel promised that he would seek the consent of the trustees for a joint faculty-student committee to inspect boarding houses (upon request of the landlords) and compile an approved list for distribution to present and incoming students. The discord that had arisen between town and campus in the 1930s grew beyond matters of housing and drinking when the State College borough council passed several ordinances that students believed to be discriminatory. Council banned overnight parking on many streets, including those in the town's fraternity section, and parking meters were installed on a number of streets that had been used by students for long-term parking. One of the most unpopular of the new laws prohibited Greyhound buses from discharging passengers at the traditional stop at the corner of College Avenue and Allen Street, a location convenient for most students who roomed in town. All passengers henceforth had to disembark at the new terminal building on newly completed Atherton Street at the western edge of the campus. The distance between the terminal and most dormitories and rooming houses could mean long walks for students, who were usually encumbered with baggage and often arrived late at night. Students surely knew that the old stop at College and Allen offered no guarantee of safety, either. Shortly after one o'clock on the morning of March 28, 1940, Rachel Taylor, a freshman returning from Easter vacation at her home in New Jersey, alighted from a bus on College Avenue. She was last seen walking toward her Atherton Hall residence. At dawn her mutilated body was discovered in nearby Lemont. The case created a sensation for weeks but was never solved.  

old black and white photograph of The Blue Band performing
The Blue Band performs on Beaver Field.

 

By 1941 freshman customs, nearly moribund in the late 1930s, were undergoing rejuvenation. Indicative of the zeal with which sophomores carried out their obligation for customs enforcement were the numerous complaints from upperclassmen that freshman had adopted the habit of wearing their ROTC uniforms all day as a means of escaping harassment. When in uniform, new students were immune from all but the most "dignified" rites of collegiate passage, such as keeping off the grass and entering buildings only through front doors. In what may have been an attempt to circumvent this tactic, the sophomore class introduced a new custom, the pajama parade. In this exercise, second-year men roused the frosh from their slumber for a post-midnight march to the women's residence halls. After being forced to serenade the coeds with tunes of varying quality and taste, the freshmen were sent back to their rooms, almost always by a route that assured their ambush by a sophomore water bucket brigade.  

Nevertheless, amid the ordinary social and academic events of campus life portents of approaching war were clearly visible. The number of undergraduates in attendance in the fall of 1941 was down by nearly 300 from the record of 6,514 set the previous year, marking the first enrollment decline in nearly a decade. In September 1940 Congress had enacted the first peacetime military draft in American history. Minimum age for induction was twenty-one, and students reaching that age could expect their local draft boards to allow them to complete the academic year. Still, the very prospect of being drafted caused some potential students to forsake college in favor of voluntary enlistment or new, high-paying civilian jobs in the booming defense industries.  

Military service also affected Penn State's faculty, with teachers who held reserve officers' commissions being called to active duty as early as the spring of 1940. Called first were members of the instructional staff in the technical fields. Recognizing that technical expertise was as essential to civilian defense industries as to the armed forces, Congress late in 1940 created an Engineering Defense Training program within the federal Office of Education. The program, which was soon enlarged to encompass other fields and redesignated Engineering Science and Management Defense Training (ESMDT), was designed to help industry obtain personnel, mainly at supervisory and foreman levels, needed to fill defense orders. Over two hundred institutions of higher education agreed to participate in ESMDT instruction, the entire cost of which was to be borne by the federal government. Students, selected from applicants who already possessed relevant work experience, paid no fees and were expected to find immediate employment in the areas in which they had received training.  

Rare photographs of a meeting of the trustees' executive committee, November 1940.
Rare photographs of a meeting of the trustees' executive committee, November 1940. Around the table clockwise, starting in center foreground, are John C. Cosgrove, J. H. M. Andrews, A. O. Morse, Ralph Hetzel, J. Franklin Shields, E. S. bayard, James Milholland, and George H. Deike.

 

The primary thrust of the ESMDT program was aimed at off-campus or extension-type instruction, which was to be offered several evenings per week in courses lasting up to twentyfour weeks. The Office of Education assigned Penn State an initial quota of ten thousand students, well over half the number expected to enroll in ESMDT in the entire state. The size of the quota reflected the breadth and experience of the College's extension arm, particularly in engineering. This phase of ESMDT work was supervised by J. O. Keller's Central Extension Office, which coordinated (and in effect absorbed) the individual extension programs of the schools of Engineering, Mineral Industries, and Chemistry and Physics. The first evening classes were offered in January 1941. Within nine months, Keller's office was sponsoring defense training classes at 109 sites in Pennsylvania in subjects as varied as elementary mathematics, advanced electrical engineering, and metallurgy.  

A second phase of ESMDT, one more modest in scope, came under the administrative authority of the School of Engineering, which inaugurated sixteen-week courses in diesel technology (for which the Navy Department supplied the students), production engineering, and materials testing. The latter two courses were given on a full-time basis to applicants who had already completed some college-level work in engineering or mathematics and were taught at the main campus by regular faculty. As in the case of the extramural phase of ESMDT, the federal government paid all expenses.  

ESMWT advertisement in a Lewistown storefront
ESMWT advertisements such as this one in a Lewistown storefront were meant to publicize Penn State's contributions to the war effort and to recruit defense trainees.

 

Penn State's involvement in defense-related activities and the Hetzel administration's publicly stated willingness to expand that involvement evoked few cries of protest from the student body. Most of the undergraduates who had formed the core of the peace movement at the College a few years earlier had graduated. Their successors apparently concluded that all the moralizing of the mid-1930s had done nothing to stop the spread of totalitarianism and that stronger measures would be required. On the other hand, most Penn State students seemed unconvinced of the necessity for America to enter the war as a belligerent. Avoiding the extremes of isolationism and active military involvement, the prevailing mood favored having the United States assist Great Britain and its allies with supplies rather than troops but did not rule out a future declaration of war if events warranted. Even the old antagonism toward ROTC had largely disappeared. The Collegian, for example, long a foe of compulsory military training, had reversed its opinion by September 1941. "Time has proved it to be a false one," said the editors in reference to their predecessors' hope that abolishing ROTC could help prevent war, "false ever since Adolf Hitler ascended to power in 1933." With over twelve hundred students enrolled in Army ROTC in 1941, Penn State had one of the largest contingents east of the Mississippi and the largest of any institution in the Northeast. 

A wartime publicity photo taken on the steps of the Electrical Engineering Building, later featured on the cover of the October 1943 Penn State Alumni News.
This wartime publicity photo, taken on the steps of the Electrical Engineering Building, graces the cover of the October 1943 Penn State Alumni News.

 

What little debate there was in the College community over the merits of intervention versus isolation ended abruptly with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Roosevelt administration was slow to enunciate what specific role colleges and universities could play in the war effort, except to urge that students remain in school until otherwise directed. The draft age was lowered to 20, but most local boards were willing to grant temporary deferments so that students could finish the academic year. Early in 1942, Penn State joined hundreds of other institutions in announcing plans to implement a twelve-month academic year in order to make the educational process as efficient as possible. Easter vacation was eliminated and commencement moved up a month to May 9. Thenceforth the College would operate on sixteen-week terms, the first to begin May 18 and end August 28, followed by the beginning of another on September 7. The accelerated schedule would allow students to graduate in two and two-thirds years instead of four.  

Patriotic feelings ran high in the early months of 1942, as every member of the Penn State community resolved to do his or her utmost to win the war. In January College officials hurriedly organized a series of about fifty informal defense courses for undergraduates, to be taught by the faculty and taken voluntarily during evening hours for no credit. Males could choose from such topics as marksmanship, aerial photograph reading, incendiary bomb control, and auto mechanics. The official objective of these courses was to prepare men for similar training in the military, but their psychological value-permitting students to feel they were actively engaged in the national defense-probably outweighed any practical knowledge that might have been imparted. Women were offered instruction in community food canning, rehabilitation through crafts, the duties of table waitresses, and other subjects that were supposed to prepare them for service on the home front. By March 1942, 1,505 students (939 men and 566 women) had signed up for these courses.  

Students also participated with enthusiasm in war relief campaigns for Great Britain, salvage drives, and bond sales. The Class of '42 went so far as to vote that its gift to the College ($5,500) was to be used to purchase 20-year defense bonds, which upon maturity were to be converted to a scholarship fund for the children of class members. Administrators and faculty made an earnest appeal in the spring to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to do their patriotic duty and return to the campus for the new summer semester. About eighty percent did so, which combined with the enrollment of a new freshman class to bring total attendance in the summer of 1942 to over 6,500-the highest it was to be for the next four years.  

ROTC students parading along College Avenue, and the Alpha Tau Omega house converted to a military barracks.
(left) ROTC students parade along College Avenue. (right) To meet wartime housing demands, houses belonging to Alpha Tau Omega and most other fraternities were converted to military barracks.

 

Occasionally patriotic fervor produced less than laudatory results. The most glaring instance of this occurred in May 1942, when two Japanese-American students at the University of Washington, wishing to escape the hostile social environment of the West Coast, applied for Permission to transfer to Penn State. College examiner Carl E. Marquardt, unaware of the students' ancestry but impressed by their academic record, assured them that they would have no problem meeting admission standards. However, when the two sent back their completed admission forms and revealed their ethnic background, Marquardt informed them that the out-of-state quota had already been filled and they could not be accepted. The incident was not made public until Marquardt offhandedly remarked several weeks later that the real reason the two students were denied admission was their Japanese origin. On July 9 students and faculty began circulating a petition on behalf of the "ostracized Americans" (both of whom were born and raised in the United States), demanding that they be admitted and calling the actions of the examiner's office "an insult to the broadmindedness and fair play which in the best Penn State tradition gladly welcomes students regardless of their race, color, or creed." Nearly half the student body signed the petition within two days. President Hetzel failed to take a definite stand on the question or to censure Marquardt, promising only to lay the matter before the board of trustees. He did ask the signers of the petition to consider whether the JapaneseAmericans would be truly accepted by a majority of Penn State faculty and students, especially once the heavy casualty lists began coming in from the Pacific. There is no record of the trustees every having discussed the issue. Possibly the would-be transfers became discouraged and withdrew their request for admission, or perhaps they were sent to internment camps along with other Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast. In any case, they did not come to Penn State.  

A few months after Pearl Harbor, the federal government classified the College as an "essential industry," which assured the institution of getting adequate quantities of potentially scarce materials (coal, for example, or tires for College vehicles). The classification also subjected Penn State, in theory at least, to more stringent civilian defense standards. Thus campus and borough blackouts occurred more frequently as a means of testing air raid preparedness. The Campus Patrol-the College had had its own police force since 1926-were sworn in as military police. The school's special status did not extend to individual students and faculty, who had to make do with ration stamps and cope with shortages like everyone else. Even transportation to and from the College was affected by the war. By government declaration, bus lines serving State College were forbidden to run student charters and had to lengthen schedules to stay within a maximum speed limit of forty miles per hour as a means of saving fuel.  

old black and white photograph of workersRemoving a World War I-era howitzer from Old Main lawn
Removing a World War I-era howitzer from Old Main lawn as part of a World War II scrap drive.

 

The Roosevelt administration eventually developed a defense strategy that called for institutions of higher education to help train personnel for civilian and military technical occupations at an even greater level than was already taking place. A sixteen-week course in naval architecture was added to the three ESMDT classes already being taught in the School of Engineering at Penn State, and the Central Extension Office redoubled its labors in the area of evening ESMWT (after America's official declaration of war, Defense Training was redesignated War Training) instruction statewide until it was turning out more than one thousand persons per month by the end of 1942. The activities of the College's agricultural extension service were less directly related to the war effort but were no less vital. County agents coordinated local victory garden programs and encouraged maximum production by commercial farmers. Material shortages made agricultural implements and other farm hardware difficult to replace, so much of the attention of the extension staff was devoted to prolonging the life of the equipment already on hand. The work of the Penn State extension staff and that of land-grant institutions nationwide enabled the United States to boost the export of foodstuffs to a rate of over 10 million tons annually. 

Student first aid instruction, 1943.
First aid instruction was offered to virtually all students during the war.

Penn State, with its long experience in extension education, shouldered its additional responsibilities in that field with confidence. The College was less sure about what to do with undergraduate education, once the war was being waged in earnest. No one in Washington seemed to have a definite answer either. The War and Navy departments did get Penn State and most other colleges and universities to agree to participate in various reserve programs through which students could finish their studies and receive their degrees before being called to active duty. To cut through bureaucratic entanglements, the College Senate approved the practice of awarding diplomas to any senior entering the military, providing he or she had come within four credits and twelve grade points of meeting graduation requirements and had received a favorable recommendation from the appropriate dean. The pre-war undergraduate curriculum underwent only minor modifications, the most significant of which were the additions of baccalaureate programs in meteorology (actually begun in 1940) and aeronautical engineering. Both had been in the planning stages for several years, but their timely appearance contributed measurably to the war effort. Even before the inauguration of the aeronautical engineering program, the College, in association with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, had been offering flight training on a noncredit basis. Sherman Lutz, operator of the local air depot, gave practical flight instruction, while Professor Harold Everett of the Department of Mechanical Engineering supervised ground training.  

The situation with regard to undergraduate education changed drastically early in 1943. Manpower needs had become so acute that the draft age was lowered to eighteen, with no educational deferments. At the same time, the reserves discontinued accepting most college students and readied plans to call up many undergraduates reservists, whether or not they were nearing completion of their studies. According to one male student who remained on campus, these new policies produced "one of the most pleasant situations imaginable: too many women." By the fall of 1943, women outnumbered men (1,764 to 1,150) for the first time in the College's history, with coeds even present in significant numbers in the engineering and agricultural curriculums.  

old black and white photograph of female Curtis-Wright Cadettes
Curtis-Wright Cadettes

 

Female degree candidates were not the only women on campus. In 1942 Penn State became one of eight institutions to enter into a contract with the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, a manufacturer of aviation equipment, for training young women in fundamental engineering skills. CurtissWright took this step because it had been unable to find a sufficient number of able-bodied men to satisfy its demand for technically trained personnel. In return for having the company pay all expenses for their 22-week course of instruction, plus a small weekly stipend, the trainees agreed to apply their newly acquired knowledge in Curtiss-Wright defense plants. Selected from applicants demonstrating proficiency in mathematics, an initial contingent of 107 Curtiss-Wright Cadettes arrived on the campus in February 1943 to begin classes in mechanical drawing, aerodynamics, foundry operations, and similar subjects. Most of the Cadettes proved to be able students and were followed by several other groups from Curtiss-Wright and from other aviation companies, notably the Hamilton-Standard Propeller Division of the United Aircraft Corporation, the Consolidated-Vultee Corporation, and the Glenn L. Martin Company.  

These women partially filled the vacuum created by the rapid decline in the number of male undergraduates at the College. So, too, did the arrival of hundreds of active-duty military personnel. Concurrent with the lowering of the draft age, the federal government requested that colleges and universities, land-grant institutions in particular, take on the task of giving technical training to over one hundred thousand of the men and women already in uniform. By mid-1943, Penn State was participating in three primary instructional divisions: The Navy and Marines V-12 program, flight crew training for the Army Air Corps, and the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). These courses consisted of varying amounts of technical training, according to the needs of the Navy and War departments, as well as basic education in English and mathematics. Their duration also varied in response to the services' manpower requirements. At the peak of their activity at the end of 1943, the three divisions enrolled about 2,600 students, which together with the two hundred or so Curtiss-Wright Cadettes and 2,900 undergraduates, gave a total student population of about 5,700. This figure was well within the College's logistical capabilities. The major dislocation in this respect was probably the conversion of most fraternity houses to barracks for the V-12, ASTP, and other military students. The men's residence halls were used to house the women from the aviation companies.  

During World War II, the federal government for the first time sponsored an extensive number of research projects related to the national defense. Penn State received some research funds from Washington, but they were modest compared to the sums spent for personnel training. Most war research was carried on under the auspices of the Engineering Experiment Station or the Petroleum Refining Laboratory. In one of the more noteworthy investigations, a team of researchers developed a special high-altitude lubricant for aircraft engines. Another erected a climatometer at the thermal laboratories to test the effect of extreme heat and cold on building materials proposed for use by the Army and Navy. A third group of researchers sought to find a solution to the problem of hull cracking in Liberty ships, the transports built in record time to maintain America's overseas lifelines. Penn State was one of four institutions commissioned by the surgeons-general of the Army and Navy to find ways of increasing the yield and purity of penicillin, a drug whose value had grown immensely during the war. Researchers in the School of Chemistry and Physics did research and development for drug manufacturers, whose own laboratories were burdened by other projects. These and a few other investigations had important if limited applications, but taken as a whole, they remained a distinctly minor contribution of the College to the war effort.  

old black and white photograph of Military trainees at the College
Military trainees at the College could not escape at least a few of the more traditional elements of life in the armed services.

 

In February 1944, although the war was not to be won for another year and a half, the government began reducing expenditures for personnel training on college campuses. The military services had by that time established instructional programs of their own; and with the end of the war in sight, manpower requirements had leveled off. The Navy cut back its V-12 course at Penn State and discontinued the diesel engineering classes under ESMWT, while the Army prepared to call to active duty up to ninety percent of its ASTP trainees. The Curtiss-Wright Cadette class scheduled to take up residence early in 1944 was cancelled.  

The moment everyone had been impatiently awaiting since Pearl Harbor occurred on Tuesday, August 14, 1945, when Japan finally surrendered. Word of the capitulation no sooner arrived in State College than a throng of students, faculty, and townspeople gathered at the corner of College and Allen to celebrate. Classrooms were deserted, committee meetings adjourned in an instant, stores hastily closed. The scene on College Avenue resembled a miniature version of Times Square on New Year's Eve, as an unforgettable blend of laughing and crying, shouting and singing made attempts at normal conversation impossible. A parade was at length organized and wound its way through the downtown streets long after the sun had set. President Hetzel declared the next two days College holidays-as if administrators had seriously expected anyone to show up for work or class.  

World War II represented an aberration of academic life. Penn State and its land-grant counterparts had nevertheless proven their worth in the national crisis, having furnished defense-related training to over 1.5 million Americans in four years. Penn State accounted for nearly ten percent of this total in its ESMWT programs alone, having enrolled over 140,000 trainees at more than two hundred communities across the Commonwealth. Instruction was given to thousands more on the main campus. The war had presented a challenge, and the College had mastered it. An even greater challenge, one with extremely important and longlasting implications, lay ahead. That challenge consisted of returning Penn State to its peacetime objectives and satisfying the educational demands of an unprecedented number of students expected to return to the campus once the nation demobilized.