Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


Unenviable as the distinction may have been, President Carmichael shared with President Bumpus the tremendous responsibility of seeing the College through a world war. Though the involvement of the institution in the great conflict between 1917 and 1919 had been great, it bore only a surface resemblance to the degree of participation and the effects on the College of the second holocaust. Probably few institutions of higher education in the United States threw themselves more completely into the war effort. It was largely through President Carmichael's leadership and energy that so much was accomplished.

It appeared in the fall of 1939 that once again the nation and Tufts College might have to face the possibility of another world war. Ominous clouds were gathering over Europe and a feeling of uneasiness seemed to be everywhere. President Carmichael was among those who sensed impending crisis. He confessed reluctance to discuss the question of preparedness at Tufts for such an eventuality but felt that it should be faced. A number of the science departments at the College were already in communication with various agencies in Washington to develop research and study programs that might "be useful in case an emergency does arise." Preliminary steps were also taken to participate in a program of college training for pilots sponsored by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. This did not have a direct connection with military preparedness


per se but it did have important implications for the whole problem of national manpower. Late in 1939 the Trustees authorized the signing of a contract between the United States Government and the College which would utilize the institution's resources in certain phases of pilot training. The program was placed under the supervision of the dean of the engineering school, and during the 1939-40 school year twenty students received primary training. There was a class of thirty in the summer of 1940. A second group of twenty was enrolled in the fall of 1940, and advanced training was provided as the students progressed. Forty-six of the first fifty students enrolled in the preliminary training program at Tufts completed all of the ground and flight tests and received private pilot's certificates. Between 1939 and 1943, when the CAA pilot training program came to an end, 398 students completed their basic training at Tufts.

The engineering school was also actively contributing to national preparedness in another area by 1940. In that year the United States Office of Education organized a nation-wide Engineering Defense Training Program to provide specialized instruction in fields considered essential for national defense. The Tufts Engineering School, by the end of the academic year 1940-41, had offered such training to over 650 individuals through both full-time day courses and part-time evening courses. The program was extended the next year to science and management training, and by the fall of 1942 the number of enrollees had totaled over 1,200 in some forty courses. By the time the Engineering Science and War Management Training Program was terminated, in June 1945, some 2,000 enrollees had received college-level engineering courses at Tufts.[18]  Simultaneously, the engineering school undertook other special programs involving government-sponsored research which remained classified information through the war period.

As pilot training under the direction of the engineering school continued, faculty members in various departments began to be called to national service, although the enactment of the Selective Service Act of 1940 and enlistment in the armed forces had no initial effect on undergraduate registrations in 1940-41. A few


students were called into the National Guard, and a few more enlisted in officer training courses, but their places were taken by other students from a rapidly growing waiting list for college entrance. When war finally involved the United States directly, President Carmichael was adamant that the total resources of the College be turned to the nation's service. In his report to the Trustees in the fall of 1942 he made his views crystal clear: "The present goal for Tufts is to use the important resources of the College for the good of the United States. . . . [Tufts] must in this year of our nation's desperate need be dedicated wholeheartedly to one aim and one aim only, that of serving the total war effort of our nation as effectively as possible."

As early as the fall of 1939, the president had raised the question of whether facilities comparable to the Student Army Training Corps operative during the First World War might be organized if it again became necessary to train large numbers of troops rapidly. He reminded the Trustees of the effective part played in this capacity by the College in the earlier conflict, when the Tufts contingent was rated as one of the five most effective units of the SATC in the United States. The first step to carry out Carmichael's suggestion was taken in 1941, when he requested the Navy Department to allocate an ROTC unit to the College. The request was honored, and Tufts became one of eight colleges in the United States granted a unit beginning in 1941-42. The headquarters of what was at first known as the Navy V-1 Program was installed on the second floor of a portion of the old AMRAD wing in Cousens Gymnasium. It began operations with three commissioned officers and a non-commissioned staff, and 100 students - the initial limit set by the Navy. Enrollment in the new unit was limited to freshmen in the schools of liberal arts and engineering, who were scheduled to take one course each year for four years in the Department of Naval Science and Tactics. After completing undergraduate instruction and passing appropriate examinations, the graduates were eligible to receive commissions as ensigns in the United States Naval Reserve or as second lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Membership in the unit was to be voluntary, but President Carmichael was positive that all students who met the physical qualifications would wish to join. The addition of this unit justified the admission of extra students. During 1940-41,


before the NROTC unit was established, over fifty students had qualified and had been recommended for reserve commissions as officers in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps. Several had also taken the Platoon Leaders' course in the Marine Corps and were destined to participate in the famous Guadalcanal campaign during the Second World War. Unlike the intention of the federal government during the First World War with its short-lived SATC to train junior line officers, the policy some thirty years later was to concentrate on preparing technically trained personnel. Hence Tufts, in the early days of the war effort, had much less the appearance of an armed camp, and there was a deliberate attempt to integrate military units into the life of the College. Courses for the four-year sequence in Naval Science and Tactics were adopted by the faculty of liberal arts and Jackson in the spring of 1941, subject to review and revision by the Navy Department.[19]  In order to point up the fact that the Naval unit was not isolated from the institution, a Committee of Visitors to the new department was created by the Trustees almost immediately.

The College was informed in the spring of 1943 that it was being assigned 1,000 uniformed Naval trainees, to be enrolled in one of four special programs. The basic course, known as the V-12 Program until June 1946, included both Naval training and advanced work in selected courses in the school of liberal arts. There were also special curricula for engineers and pre-medical and pre-dental students, as well as for the regular NROTC unit. All of the Naval programs were in full operation on the campus by July 1943, and a School for War Service was organized to administer them. When the College received its quota of 225 Naval students in engineering in 1944, President Carmichael reported to the Trustees with great pride that this represented the third largest quota of any NROTC program among the twenty-seven educational institutions then participating. He went on to point out that Tufts had, by then, trained more men directly from civilian life for commissions in the Naval Reserve than had any other New England college.

Even as the Second World War was coming to an end, it had


been decided that an NROTC unit would be established permanently at the College. With victory over Germany and Japan a reality, the Navy merged its wartime V-12 Program with NROTC units established in fifty colleges throughout the country, of which Tufts was one. Under the new program the College's quota was 571 in the fall of 1945. Students in the Naval unit were to be enrolled for a full four years. Although they could obtain the necessary number of credits for a Tufts degree, Naval requirements were such that they could not at first meet the College's foundation, distribution, and major requirements. The problem was resolved by awarding the degree of Bachelor of Naval Science to NROTC students who earned the required number of credits and completed also modified foundation and major requirements. It was anticipated (and correctly) that this expedient would be only temporary, for there was general feeling among both civilian educators and those responsible for the Navy curricula that the latter's requirements were too narrow and would soon be broadened. The Navy readjusted its program, and the special Bachelor's degree was not needed after June 1946.

The Naval ROTC, which had been, in President Carmichael's words, "an absolute lifesaver for Tufts" during the war, was not only continued but expanded after 1945. There were almost 300 Naval students in either the "regular" or the "contract" program in the fall of 1951. At the same time, a new Air Force ROTC unit, for which President Carmichael had applied in 1949, was in operation with over 300 enrolled. Simultaneously, Army ROTC units continued in the medical and dental schools. During the Korean military crisis in 1951 almost 70 per cent of the male students in liberal arts and engineering were enrolled in one or the other of the two programs on the Hill, and Dean Burden of the engineering school served as liaison officer for the College. Space was at such a premium for the administrative staffs of the two units that the Trustees, in the fall of 1952, authorized the construction of a building for their use.

Dr. Carmichael was the organizer and first director (1940-44), and then consultant, of the National Roster of Scientific and Specialized Personnel, which had during the Second World War the responsibility for inventorying and allocating the best minds and


most effectively trained individuals that could be recruited for war work. His activities in this post made him particularly sensitive to shortages that might develop in key areas requiring technically and professionally trained individuals. He took to heart the recommendation of a committee of the Roster, headed by Owen D. Young, that colleges should be encouraged to intensify training in all areas where shortages became most acute. Tufts seemed to be in a most favorable situation so far as training in engineering, chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine, and dentistry were concerned. Certain fields of economics were also of special importance. The only major problem, as the president saw it, was how to channel the talents of those students majoring in the humanities into war work. He suggested that they enroll in one or more "technique" courses so that they would be useful in the war effort. College contracts with the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which was directed by Dr. Vannevar Bush, a distinguished graduate of the Class of 1913, had reached significant proportions by 1942. Two years later, government contracts with the College totaled over half a million dollars. Almost one-half of the funds in 1944 were being used by the Research Laboratory of Sensory Psychology and Physiology, which President Carmichael had organized after his arrival at Tufts and which represented an early example of sponsored research at the College.

The impact of the Second World War was felt everywhere in the College. The faculty, and many of the students, went on a round-the-clock schedule, beginning in 1942. At the height of the world conflict, during 1943-44, Tufts was not one institution but three. It was simultaneously training service personnel in uniform, educating civilian men and women, and providing educational opportunities for returning servicemen. In order to meet the needs of these diverse groups, the acceleration proceeded in different ways and at differing paces, depending on the needs and facilities of various divisions and departments. In the school of liberal arts and Jackson College, two six-week summer sessions were arranged for 1942. Students enrolling in both sessions could in this way advance by one semester. It was decided in the following year to divide the academic year into three terms of sixteen weeks each, beginning July 1, November 1, and March 1. The faculty was careful to point


out at the same time that academic credit woud not be granted willy-nilly to students merely because they had served in the armed forces, without regard to actual educational achievement.[20]  The engineering school at first required acceleration for upperclassmen during the summer months so that seniors could graduate in February rather than in June. The medical and dental schools adopted an eleven-month, three-semester academic year. Only the Fletcher School did not plan a formally accelerated program.

Physical changes and rearrangements were everywhere in evidence. East Hall, the oldest men's dormitory, was taken over in 1942 for the pilot training program, and sixty men were housed there in eight-week rotation. Part of West Hall, another men's dormitory, was leased by the federal government as a residence for enlisted men. When the normal resident population jumped from approximately 700 to over 1,200 in a matter of months, new dining and residence facilities had to be provided. Traditionally male quarters were invaded by women students when four fraternities on Professors Row became Jackson dormitories. The young ladies, in turn, had been ousted from Stratton Hall to make way for the Navy, which also occupied three men's dormitories and two fraternity houses. In 1944-45 there were so few civilian male residential students left on the campus that they were all housed in Richardson House, an ertswhile women's dormitory. One fraternity house became the "sick bay" for the Navy, and another served as a dining room for Fletcher students, who found their two dormitories occupied by undergraduate women. Until Curtis Hall could be converted into a Navy mess hall, the students in that training contingent had to be served temporarily in the baseball cage of Cousens Gymnasium by a catering firm. An area of rough terrain near the gymnasium became an obstacle or "commando" course for the rigorous physical regimen of the Naval students, and the various playing fields, tennis courts, and the golf course were thronged with classes in calisthenics and related activities. Jackson students were busy with extracurricular "war courses" which included Red Cross First Aid, Air Raid Precautions, and Motor Transport. They helped during the war to collect hundreds of books for donation to


the armed forces. Tradition was shattered when the engineering school awarded a degree to a woman in 1943. In the same year Tufts graduated more women than men for the first time in its history. "Victory gardens" sprouted at strategic points about the campus as faculty-turned-farmers vied with one another in setting new production records in everything from radishes to rhubarb.

When the Board of Trustees met in the autumn of 1942, there were 188 students in uniform on the Hill. A year later, there were approximately 1,000, most of them in the Navy V-12 Program. If the several hundred in the medical and dental schools were counted, over 1,600 men were to be found in some phase of combined academic and military training. Taken together, they outnumbered civilian students by considerably more than two to one.[21]  A concerted effort was made to continue regular student activities such as the dramatic society. A combined Navy-civilian student council was organized, musical activities were much in evidence, and the campus newspaper continued to appear. A new publication, Tufts Topics, in the form of a newsletter, was sent all over the world to the more than 4,000 Tufts men and women in service in 1943. The College was placed on the map in another way. Two ships bearing the Tufts name were constructed and launched during the war: the Liberty Ship SS Charles Tufts and the SS Tufts Victory.[22] 

On the home front, intercollegiate athletics continued on a limited scale, and in 1943 Tufts not only was one of the few schools to play a full schedule of football but was able to achieve one of its infrequent victories over Harvard. Tufts resisted the change of policy of many colleges which, because of a shortage of athletic manpower, allowed freshmen to play on Varsity teams. The College managed admirably by replacing curtailed intercollegiate sports such as basketball with an enlarged intramural program. Physical fitness was the order of the day, and during the war both civilian men and women were required to take three hours of physical education per week for all four years. Almost all of the regular faculty


taught forty-eight out of the fifty-two weeks, with more hours in the classroom and larger classes. Additional personnel had to be used on the staff of the engineering school to teach mathematics, physics, and engineering drawing.

An administrative mechanism comparable to the School of War Service was created in 1943-44 to handle returning servicemen; it was known as the School for War Veterans. Like its Naval counterpart, the new agency recommended no degrees and established no curricula. A Veterans Center was established in Braker Hall, and Professor Arthur Leighton became its head. Among his tasks was the advising of returnees and the evaluating of their educational plans as they became eligible for federal aid under Public Law 346 (the so-called "G.I. Bill of Rights") and Public Law 16, for disabled veterans. The School for War Veterans ceased to exist under that name after the war was over, but the reception center for veterans continued, with a peak of activity in 1946-47. It also kept the records of students registered under the Selective Service System. Tufts was also, beginning in 1944, one of the cooperating schools in the Veterans Administration Guidance Center at Harvard. The Center was transferred to Tufts in mid-1948, and Dean Wessell served as its executive officer as well as director of counseling.[23]  The College thus became one of the many institutions to assist the Veterans Administration in furnishing educational guidance at the college level.

Even the traditional Commencement ceremonies were affected by the war. The innovation of as many as three special Degree Convocations a year was introduced, sandwiched in between the customary ceremonies in June. Until the custom was abandoned after the last regular Commencement in 1943, orations had been prepared by graduating students selected from among all the divisions of the College except the graduate school and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.[24]  After 1943 the institution continued the tradition of having one of the recipients of honorary degrees,


usually from outside the Tufts community, deliver the principal address. Many were sorry to see the abandonment of the custom of having the students participate. But it is usually impossible to please everyone. Some might have shared the sentiments of one undergraduate who complained in the Tuftonian in 1879 that it was "very tedious" for an audience to listen to a succession of student speakers who, "as a general thing, say what their predecessors have said before them, and in about the same manner." Even speakers of a later era may have considered their assignment a thankless task.


[18] The individuals were not degree candidates at Tufts but were, for the most part, graduates of colleges and technical schools who were employed in business and defense industries.

[19] Students completing the first two years of the four-year sequence, including drill, could thereby fulfill their science, hygiene, and physical education requirements. This was modified in 1943 when the vote allowing credit for physical education was rescinded.

[20] The College followed the practice used in the First World War of granting War Certificates to students who had been in attendance for two or more semesters and who left to enter the armed forces.

[21] Many civilians admitted in the school of liberal arts were high school seniors who were allowed, on special recommendation of their schools, to enter college before completing their secondary school work.

[22] The first was built in Portland, Maine, and the second in Wilmington, California.

[23] The facility became the Veterans Counseling Center in 1952 and remained on the campus until the mid-1950's.

[24] Since 1932 only two were selected each year for actual presentation. Student orations were also scheduled for the special Degree Convocation in March 1943 and were delivered by students from the medical and dental schools.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights