Indiana University Archives Exhibits

IU During the War Years I

From Janurary, 7 - 14, 1942, a war planning committee composed of three administrators, 12 professors, and one student set about the task of deciding what changes should be made in university procedures to comply with the ever increasing national defense demands. One of the first and most far ranging solutions was for the University to adopt a three semester academic plan so that the traditional four year program could be completed in two and two-thirds years. The reasoning behind this was to graduate as many students as possible, as quickly as possible, before they were called into active military duty. In this way IU would not be overwhelmed at the end of the war by a flood of students returning to complete their degrees. Furthermore, by employing this new fast-track system, the University would be providing the military with a greater number of highly trained recruits over a shorter period of time. It was decided that the new semesters would begin on January 24, May 10, and the first week of September. After January 24th, all incoming freshman were required to enroll in the Junior Division. The Junior Division was an organization within the University which was primarily a resource to help first year students more easily make the transition from high school to university life, and to assist students with any problems related to being a student during a war.

Due to the war the number of male students at IU dropped dramatically. Between 1940 and 1944 regular male student enrollment dropped from 3,580 in 1940 to 830 in 1944, a loss of 75%. This dramatically affected a variety of facets of campus life. For instance, before the war the University Band was an all-male group. By 1944 it was evenly divided. Both the Indiana Daily Student and the Arbutus, the college yearbook, were run by almost exclusively female staffs. Many social activities such as dances and homecoming activities were also put on hold.

By mid-July 1942 life at IU had taken on a nautical flavor. North Hall became a "vessel," and its small two student rooms became "cabins" housing six yeomen or “seamen.” The University came to be known as “the good ship Indiana University” and the town of Bloomington was, of course, the “shore.” Naval instruction took over 35 classrooms, and provided for 5 to 6 hours per day of intense training. On July 1, 1942, the U.S. Navy began its yeoman training program at IU with 200 new recruits. The goal was to produce 1,200 full trained yeomen over the next twelve months, but this quickly presented a problem as the campus did not have the facilities to adequately house 1,200 additional men. Initially, the three residence halls, North, South, and West, which made up the Men's Residence Center, were used to house both civilian students and navy yeoman until the middle of August. The Men’s Residence Center was built to comfortably house 385 male students, but with the use of bunk beds, and some creative manipulation of furniture and other resources, the Center was able to accommodate all 1,200 yeomen. In addition, all of the regular single beds, desks, and lounge chairs were removed from the study rooms. Closet doors and outside doors to study rooms were removed to make inspections possible at a moment’s notice. The formal lounge was converted into general offices and a sentry box was built on North Woodlawn Avenue at the entrance to the Center, where everyone had to present proof of identity prior to entering the facility. What had been the rec rooms and storage rooms in the basement of North Hall were converted into a canteen, a supply facility and a brig for those couldn’t stay out of trouble. The basement of South Hall, which had originally been a recreation center, was now remodeled as a medical facility, where the Ship’s doctor, dentist, and pharmacist had their offices. Examination rooms and a sick ward were set up and an operating room was even provided for more serious situations. Meals were prepared and served at the West Hall dining room, which had to be expanded significantly to manage the larger numbers of young men. During the late fall of 1942, WAVES, SPARS, and marines began to replace the yeomen classes as they graduated. By January 1943 the makeup of the students was 50% men and 50% women. Housing arrangements were adjusted to take care of each group within the three halls of the MRC. By May 1943 the last class of men graduated and from that date on the Naval School remained as a facility exclusively for women.

In the spring of 1942, the University faced another housing issue it had not dealt with before. With the greatly increased numbers in the various programs on campus, there were also significant increases in minority students. IU did not have specific accommodations for African-American students, and this was still at a time in our nation’s history when integrated housing was the exception rather than the rule. Consequently African-American students were housed in private homes or in housing run by Kappa Alpha Psi, which was the African-American men’s fraternity on campus. Arrangements were also made to lease the Alpha Psi house on 425 N. Dunn Street for the African-American women, and another house at 426 E 10th Street was leased to provide accommodations for the young men.

In the spring of 1943 IU officials signed a contract with the US Army for an Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) unit to be housed, fed, and trained on campus. This unit was made up of more than 2,400 young men, which necessitated more adjustments in housing. The only available options at the time were the fraternities, all of which were immediately contacted and offered leases by the Trustees of IU.

The fall of 1943 became a turning point for the training program. It was at this time that the numbers of students in the graduating classes each month began to regularly exceed those of the new incoming WAVES being assigned. This number kept decreasing until the spring of 1944 when the University was notified that the Naval Training Station would be discontinued as of June 30, 1944. By the time it closed down operations, the Naval Training School had trained well over 5,000 men and women.

IU civilians also did their part for the war effort. In 1943 the University plowed nine-and-a-half acres of land just east of Jordan Avenue, and 300 University faculty and staff signed up to grow and maintain Victory Garden plots. Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of IU students, mostly women, awoke before dawn to travel 35 miles by bus to the Crane Naval Ammunition Depot, where they sorted a wide variety of materials and refilled shell casings.