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College Finds Place in the War

Rockefeller Hall became the S.S. Rocky while occupied by the Navy WAVES pictured above with President Ham. Courtesy MHC Archives (1)
Newly commissioned lieutenants in the Marine Corps receive their bars. Courtesy MHC Archives (2)

Mount Holyoke Mobilizes for War

In 1939 MHC President Roswell Gray Ham, in a prescient Report of the President 1938-1939, shared his commitment to the continuation of liberals arts education by stating:

… we must broaden our conceptions of what constitutes culture, at the same time keeping our vision directed to the essential points: that the immediate practical is not always ultimately so and that without philosophy and the reasoning mind we are liable to become robots in a world more than ever calling for the guidance of intellectuals.(3)

The war in Europe had been underway for a year and a survey of the opinions of 380 Mount Holyoke students clearly reflected the pacifist tradition of the college. However students clearly indicated that if the United States was directly threatened that would change.(4) After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States was involved in a total war effort and Mt. Holyoke College faculty and students were involved at all levels.

  • College Faculty
    • Professor Emma Carr, Chairperson of the Chemistry Dept., and Assoc. Professor Lucy Picket, at the forefront of spectrographic research, solved a critical aviation fuel problem for the U.S. Army.(5)
    • College faculty involved with the Universities Committee on Post War International Problems participated in plans for the post-war world with faculty from186 other U.S. college campuses.(6)
  • Curriculum Changes
    • Instituted by President Ham one of the new curriculum changes allowed students to “accelerate” their efforts to graduate in only three years.(7)
    • The Astronomy Department added Celestial Navigation to its course list and there were classes intructing students how to use short wave radios.(8)
    • A new summer program was the L’Ecole le Litere des Hautes Etudes, more popularly known as Pontigny. This program consisted of lectures, symposia and seminars on a selected topic. Tthe four week retreat gave many of America's and Europe’s intellectuals, artists and writers an opportunity to renew dialogues begun in pre-war France.(9)
    • Other summer programs included one offered in conjunction with the National Youth Administration and provided machine shop training and personnel and shop management training to non-college women. In addition there were the International Student Service Program and ESMDT, which provided farm labor for a small stipend and engineering and scientific training respectively.(10)
  • Student Activities
    • The British War Relief Society,(11) the Victory Book Campaign, and Savings Bond drives were just a few of the many student activities on campus.(12)
    • Others included the renewed Farmerettes Program that provided student labor to local farmers who needed it.(13) Additionally, students became active in the Amherst USO and volunteered time at the base hospital at Westover AFB.(14)
  • Training Women Officers. By far the most visible and least traditional of these activities, however, was the establishment of training centers on campus for women in the Armed Services.(15)
    • Waves. A training center for Navy WAVES had already been established at Smith and Cmdr. Mildred McAfee, former president of Wellesley College, asked President Ham if Mount Holyoke would accommodate the Navy also.(16) A midshipman’s school for training communications officers was established and the Navy women were housed in the Rockefeller Halls, which became known as the S.S. Rocky.(17)
    • Marines. Shortly thereafter it was announced that the U.S. Marines would also establish a training center on the Mt. Holyoke campus. This was the first time in U.S. Marine Corps history that women were trained for duty as officers. Both the Marine and Navy programs were open to all women college graduates and offered a ommission of Second Lieutenant to those who completed the course.(18)


Atlas Home Page Letter from Hawaii WAVES Marines 1939 Poll
  Pontigny Student Activities Curriculum Changes