During spring term Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!
This post was written by Soraya Trujillo.
When it comes to understanding the activism of students at OSC during WWII, scrapbooks are an exciting way to examine the events that took place. One example of this is the scrapbook of the Oregon State University chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta. The scrapbook itself is considerably large (around 2’x 1’) and has rounded edges. Several pages are falling out, as are some of the glued-in letters and photos, but nonetheless, it is chronologically organized and presented in a formal fashion. This scrapbook is an ideal example of the activism of female student-led organizations at OSU during WWII.
Formerly known as Oregon State College (OSC), there were many events that took place during the war years. For instance, during the school years of 1943-44 and 1944-45, the scrapbook highlights Victory Drives and harvest help that the chapter organized. Victory drives were fundraisers held by the nation as a whole, Oregonians, and college students at OSC to help with the war effort in the United States. These drives asked citizens to ration, collect, and recycle certain goods in order to supplement resources being allocated to the war effort. Using the Alpha Lambda Delta scrapbook, this post explores student activism during WWII, especially female-student activism, as well as the overall sense of community that emerged after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
When it comes to student participation in the war effort, the enrollment size of OSC during the war years is important to note. The decrease in enrollment at OSC during 1943-1944 shines a light on why student-led organizations, like the Alpha Lambda Delta chapter, were important on a local and national level in regards to supporting the domestic fight against the Axis powers. The war impacted the size and composition of student enrollment, especially male enrollment. Moreover, nationally, there was a 14 percent decrease in enrollment in colleges. In other words, OSC’s decrease in enrollment was normal.[i] However, there is a significant variation in the population of Alpha Lambda Delta members during this time.
The scrapbook includes an exciting graph titled, “Graph showing the fraction of Alpha Lambda Delta members that have graduated for the years 1933-1942.” The data shows a relatively constant increase in members during the years 1940 to 1942. By the 1941-1942 academic year, the organization had grown to 59 members.[ii] Why did the Alpha Lambda Delta chapter grow despite enrollment declines at OSC during the war years? One could infer that the increase is due to Alpha Lambda Delta being an exclusively female student organization. In March 1943, the Oregon State Barometer published an article titled, “OSC Enrollment Records Drop of 23 Percent: Women Almost Equal Men in Numbers Excluding Engineers,” which explains that overall registration had dropped from 3586 students to 2753 students, a 23 percent decline. This number did not include “army engineers on the campus” who were being educated to actively serve in the military through programs at OSC.[iii] Although there was a decrease in civilian male students due to war and military-related education, OSC experienced an overall increase in women’s enrollment.
The local support that Alpha Lambda Delta mentions in their scrapbook leads to other avenues of interest. With the national war effort starting after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, national-level drives that involved everyone in the US, such as the “National Victory Scrap Drive” of October 1st to November 15th in 1943, could have ignited the need to create local drives at OSC.[iv] Alpha Lambda Delta members responded by creating their own campaigns and aid for farmers. The scrapbook, for example, contains clippings of an article titled, “Alpha Lambda Delta Sponsors Farm work.”[v] Female student-led organizations at both OSC and the nearby University of Oregon participated in various Victory drives, such as the “Victory Book Drive” mentioned in the Oregon Daily Emerald (the University of Oregon’s newspaper) in 1943, and helped local farmers with harvesting or tending to land.[vi] They too wanted to be a part of the overall national support.
Much of the student body at OSC during WWII supported the fight against the Axis powers, and female-led organizations led the charge when it came to supporting the local community. Female students helped local farmers in Corvallis and the greater Willamette Valley. A 1945 article in the Oregon State Barometer titled, “Coeds to help Harvest Beets: Alpha Lambda Delta Will Recruit Workers,” urged female students to volunteer to help local farmers. It was important, the article explained, that “each women’s living organization should be represented by at least three girls.”[vii] This article indicates that other female student organizations, in addition to the Alpha Lambda Delta chapter, were helping. More than ever, girls from each living organization at OSC needed to tend the land and harvest vegetables which would be shipped beyond the Pacific Northwest, due to the labor shortages in the war.[viii]
Adding to the broader roles of females during the war, female faculty at OSC also helped in the fight against the Axis powers. According to historian Marty Branagan, “Women’s resistance ranged from actions adopted en masse as a gender to the work of women’s groups and individuals.”[ix] An example of this is the work of female administrators at OSC: Ava Milam, Lorna Jessup, and Maud Wilson during the war years. Ava Milam, the Dean of the School of Home Economics for more than 30 years, contributed to the nutritional program at OSC. Lorna Jessup, assistant to the Dean of Women, and her secretary created ration books for the student body. Maud Wilson, a female faculty member of the Agricultural College organized war guests into different homes around OSC.[x] These are just some of the various ways in which the female student body and faculty members at OSC contributed to the wartime effort.
Universities across the country participated in philanthropic efforts as well, a reality that created a bond between institutions. Historian George Zook explains that this bond emerged after the US government asked higher education institutions to be more involved in the war effort. Zook explains that the National Committee on Education and Defense and the United States Office of Education, “undertook to sponsor what turned out to be the largest and most representative conference of university and college executives that had ever been assembled in this country, at Baltimore on January 3-4, 1942.”[xi] This large representation of university executives at the National Committee on Education and Defense shows that universities were actively participating and wanted to help the country in any way possible.
The poster campaigns that the US military developed were also a significant reason for the profound amount of support from the home front. Why and how did this support happen? Terrence Witkowski explains that the American government used poster campaigns that exaggerated the need for certain supplies to encourage both moderation and donations. Witkowski states, “Perhaps the single largest group of frugality-themed posters was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and asked Americans to forgo their immediate consumption and instead buy war bonds and defense stamps.”[xii] War bond posters may explain why Victory Drives and harvestings were common at OSC during the war, especially for female students who could not actively serve in the war.
Adding onto the war bond posters, the War Manpower Act and the War Manpower Commission both effectively created a bond between the military and universities and additionally addressed female citizens as well. William Robbins explains in The People’s School: A History of Oregon State University that the US government used the War Manpower Act to enlist the help of universities. Robbins states, “Gilfillan’s inquiry on behalf of his seven young staff members elicited a response when the War Manpower Commission reiterated that all young men with scientific training should register [to actively serve the country].”[xiii] The War Manpower Act, according to the American National Archives, was established to recruit, “labor for war and essential civilian industries” which implies that the government needed male students for the war. In addition to male students needed for the war, other students and civilians could still support the nation through different means.[xiv] Although men were wanted for actively serving, other women and men who did not serve actively and were students are also highlighted in the War Manpower Commission on August 19, 1942, which states, “the War Manpower Commission plans of guidance which will help the students where they can make the most effective contribution to the war effort, including essential supporting activities.”[xv] This highlights how universities nationally could potentially help with wartime efforts as seen by the national Victory Drives or, in the case of OSC, aid to local farmers.
Whether inspired by the poster campaign or the Manpower Act, female students at OSC participated in the war effort. Much like other colleges and institutions around the nation, OSC was no exception to the increasing effort to help the war front through local support. In this perspective, the examination of the Alpha Lambda Delta Scrapbook during the war years is a great example of how female activism in colleges was part of a larger home front effort. Through this lens, we begin to see examples of how students helped during the war despite the setbacks they faced. For further research, finding student females and their narratives from this time period would broaden the understanding of their roles at OSC and overall define the roles of women during WWII.
- “Colleges Cooperate in Victory Book Drive,” The Oregon Daily Emerald, January 30, 1943. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2004260239/1943-01-30/ed-1/seq-6/#words=Colleges+Drive+Victory.
- Haskin, Frederic J., 1942. “Haskin’s Answers to Questions.” Evening Star, December 21. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.
- “OSC Enrollment Records Drop of 23 Percent: Women Almost Equal Men in Numbers Excluding Engineers,” Oregon State Barometer, March 24. https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/8k71nj62w.
- Oregon State College Chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta Scrapbook, 1933-1952, Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Alpha Lambda Delta- Oregon State University Chapter Records, 1933-1999, Box 3, Folder 1.
- “Records of the War Manpower Commission [WMC],” United States National Archives, (record group 211): 1936-47, 211.1. https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/211.html
- “Throw Your Scrap Into the Fight,” The Marion Progress, October 8, 1943. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068695/1943-10-07/ed-1/seq-6/.
- Zook, George F. “How the Colleges Went to War.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 231 (1944): 1–7. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1023159.
Branagan, Marty. “Women and Nonviolent Resistance to WWII Nazism,” Social Alternatives, 41 No. 3, (2022), 68-75. https://web-s-ebscohost-com.oregonstate.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=0&sid=c9b57986-310f-42de-a096-ea551819454e%40redis
Robbins, William. The People’s School: A History of Oregon State University. (Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2017).
Witkowski, Terrence. “World War II Poster Campaigns: Preaching Frugality to American Consumers,” Journal of Advertising, 32 No.1, (2003), 69-82. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4622151
[ii] Graph showing the percentage of Alpha Lambda Delta members who graduated between the years 1933-1942, Oregon State College Chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta Scrapbook, 1933-1952, Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center (hereafter SCARC) Alpha Lambda Delta- Oregon State University Chapter Records, 1933-1999 Box 3, Folder 1.
[iii] “OSC Enrollment Records Drop of 23 Percent: Women Almost Equal Men in Numbers Excluding Engineers,” Oregon State Barometer, March 24, 1943: 6, https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/8k71nj62w.
[iv] “Throw Your Scrap into the Fight,” The Marion Progress, Oct. 7, 1943, 6, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068695/1943-10-07/ed-1/seq-6/.
[v] “Farmers aided by Oregon State Co-eds: Alpha Lambda Delta Sponsors Farm work,” Oregon State College Chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta Scrapbook, SCARC, Alpha Lambda Delta- Oregon State University Chapter Records, 1933-1999, Box 3, Folder 1.
[vi] “Colleges Cooperate in Victory Book Drive,” Jan. 30, 1943, https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2004260239/1943-01-30/ed-1/seq-6/#words=Colleges+Drive+Victory.
[vii]Oregon State College Chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta Scrapbook.
[viii] Oregon State College Chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta Scrapbook.
[ix] Marty Branagan, “Women and Nonviolent Resistance to WWII Nazism,” Social Alternatives, 41 no. 3, (2022): 71.
[x] William Robbins, The People’s School: A History of Oregon State University, (Corvallis, Oregon: OSU Press, 2017), 162.
[xi] George Zook, “How the Colleges Went to War,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 231 (1944): 3.
[xii] Terrence Witkowski, “World War II Poster Campaigns: Preaching Frugality to American Consumers,” Journal of Advertising, 32, no. 1, (2003): 77.
[xiii] William Robbins, The People’s School: A History of Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon: OSU Press, 2017), 152.
[xiv] “Records of the War Manpower Commission [WMC],” United States National Archives, Record group 211:1936-47, 211.1, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/211.html.
[xv] Zook, “How the Colleges Went to War,” 4.