The following guest blog post is by Allison Horrocks, Ph.D. ’16. Dr. Horrocks received her B.A. in History and American Studies from Trinity College and her M.A. in History from the University of Connecticut. Her research explores the history of Home Economics in higher education in the twentieth century.
One hundred years ago, students at the Connecticut Agricultural College were trudging through campus to attend spring classes and to take part in one or many extracurricular activities, most of which would still be familiar today. While some co-eds might seek out or even play basketball, others could pass the time by writing for the school paper, acting in a drama club, or attending social meetings at a fraternity.
But the spring of 1917 was also charged with a feeling of anticipation. These same students were gearing up for war.
Between March and April of 1917, students and faculty members at Connecticut Agricultural College, hereafter cited as CAC, saw their futures change dramatically within a matter of weeks. On April 6, 1917, the United States formally entered the global conflict known as the Great War. How the people of Connecticut, and those at CAC in particular, mobilized to “do their part” in order to win the war is the subject of a new retrospective exhibition hosted in the galleries of the Dodd Center.
When considering how the people of Connecticut contributed to the war, service in the armed forces is usually what comes to mind. A small, but proportionally significant number of male students from CAC (and other in-state institutions, of course) would be called up for military service. But this was not the only way that Nutmeggers or CAC students demonstrated their loyalty. This focus on student life at CAC between 1917 and 1918 shows a much wider concept of service to the war effort, work that did not marshal guns as its weapon of choice.
Though war had loomed for years, the US’s official entry changed campus life rather dramatically. By April 30, the student paper, The Connecticut Campus and Lookout was filled with news of student departures and other adjustments to be wrought on campus. In addition to those who would be called overseas, there was a buildup of forces to do work on the agricultural front in the fields and farmlands of Connecticut. Each age group, indeed every citizen, male and female, was thought to have a special role in serving the warring nation. Throughout the state, youth grew corn and managed crops for the Junior Food Army and adult women joined up with a farming program known as the Women’s Land Army. Meanwhile, faculty at CAC taught thousands how to conserve food and agents traveled to provide demonstrations on food conservation. The central thread with all of this work was the notion that food and crop management were vital to winning the war. For contemporaries, the notion of a “homefront” was expansive, including domestic spaces as well as on-campus laboratories, farms, and civic halls where families learned proper food saving methods.
In addition to shedding new light on the war effort in Connecticut, the objects curated for this exhibition offer a wide view of what life on campus was like a century ago. Alongside propaganda posters from the period, photographs of dormitory rooms, dance cards, and other student belongings will be put on display. Other objects from throughout the state, including letters from “the front” in France and images of youth activities with the Food Army will also be on view.
In all, this exhibition draws from a range of archival materials from the Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries. In addition to objects from the University of Connecticut Memorabilia Collection, photographs and other artifacts from the Connecticut Soldiers Collection and Augustus Jackson Brundage Papers (among others) will also be on display.
The Land-Grant College at War is one of several World War I themed exhibitions on display in Babbidge Library and the Dodd Research Center this Spring, marking the centennial of the official involvement of the United States in World War I. The United States Congress declared war on the German Empire on 6 April 1917.