Many Problems Confronted The Class of '18
After Commencement '68, many Harvard seniors will lose their 2-S student draft deferements, and the war in Vietnam will scatter them across the nation and the world. Fifty years ago, Commencement had just the opposite effect, serving as the first reunion for the Class of 1918--which had already been scattered by the First World War.
By September 1917, the war in Europe had decimated the Class of '18 and all of Harvard. Over 400 seniors did not return to Cambridge--a loss of 65 percent. The College as a whole lost 1804 students or 40 per cent over the 1916-17 school year.
The war had first come to the Yard in May 1915, when four Harvard men were among the 1153 passengers who perished when the Cunard liner Lusi-tania was torperoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland. In February 1917, Germany resumed her unrestricted submarine warfare. President Wilson severed diplomatic relations--and the nation prepared for war.
Within a few weeks, the Harvard Faculty voted by a sizable majority to give early exams to students who planned to enlist. President A. Lawrence Lowell, in a letter to the CRIMSON, pleaded with students to wait until word from Washington before rushing into service.
By April, however, the paper declared, "Hereafter the CRIMSON will print no more communications of a pacifist nature." On Friday, April 6, the United States declared war on Germany. President Lowell immediately offered the government full use of University facilities.
At the outset of the 1917-18 school year, Lowell declared that all students still at Harvard would be expected to list at least one military course on their study cards. Freshmen were permitted to take military science in place of any required subject. ROTC officials hoped to raise a regiment of 950 men and got 1028 Harvard enlistees.
The twelve Crimson companies began their drills at Fresh Pond. On October 26, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker--along with President Lowell and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge--watched ROTC work in the muddy Fresh Pond trenches and found high praise for what he saw. Forty-nine years later, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara paid a brief visit to Harvard and went away less favorably impressed.
Unlike the war in Vietnam, the first world war captured the imagination of even the most dedicated Harvard scholars. As the CRIMSON editorialized: "It is very hard for even the oldest head in these times of fierce commotion to settle down to the book and pen. The blood of youth is very hot, and when the bugle blows to war young men are stirred by the desire for great deeds."
The next paragraph, however, could well have been written today: "Nations are being made and unmade. Young men are the inciters of revolution and the stirrers-up of conflict."
A week after the editorial appeared, the Columbia University campus erupted in student protest. Over 500 Columbia undergraduates gathered on the library steps when the Trustees expelled two faculty members, and the renowned American history professor Charles A. Beard resigned in sympathy. The crowd was harangued by a former philosophy instructor named Durant.
By 1918, Harvard's enthusiasm for ROTC had died down to more modern levels. Since participation in ROTC made undergraduates draft-exempt, many took refuge in the program while expending as little effort as possible. Two Harvard students received dishonorable discharges in an incident that foreshadowed Colonel Pell's dismissal of four ROTC graduates last spring.
"Many men now in the corps are abusing this privilege," the CRIMSON observed in January 1918. "They are cutting drill as often as they think they can without losing their good standing with the Military Office."
After the ROTC enlistment drive in the autumn of 1917, the Harvard community launched a liberty bond drive as part of National Liberty Bond Week. On October 20, the CRIMSON printed a letter from ex-president Taft urging every Harvard student to buy a bond. In the seven-day period, the University contributed $35,370 toward the war effort. Over 1000 Harvard students joined the Red Cross in still another University-wide campaign.
Not all of the sacrifices were voluntary. An acute coal shortage gripped New England in the harsh winter of 1917-18. Harvard undergraduates suffered numerous measures to conserve fuel, finding the New Lecture Hall padlocked, the Junior Dance indefinitely postponed, and Widener Library closed on Sundays--the plight with which the Class of '68 can best sympathize.
The Student Council proposed that Harvard's daily schedule start an hour earlier to economize on the use of artificial light. Federal fuel administrator Storrow immediately endorsed this suggestion, recommending it for all colleges. When put to a College-wide referendum, however, undergraduates with 8 a.m. language classes combined to defeat the earlier schedule, 689 to 393.
The Faculty refused to close the College on ten legal Monday holidays declared by Washington to conserve fuel. The deans of New England colleges met on February 9 with federal officials to dissuade them from plans to completely close all colleges.
About 75 Harvard students spent their vacations cutting wood at Sandwich and Waltham to help ease the fuel shortage. Government experts spoke in Sanders Theatre on food conservation, and complaints about the meals served in Mem Hall and the Student Union lost much of their traditional passion.
Harvard football suffered a great loss to the war in Europe. Percy Haughton '99, the winningest coach in Crimson history, left for the battle-field in 1917--taking along all of his assistant coaches, By November, all 73 varsity lettermen were gone. As a result, there were no versity football teams in '17 or '18, though Wingate Rollins '16 organized and coached an informal team.
The Informals played seven games in the autumn of 1917, winning the first three, tieing the next three, and losing the last one. After opening the season with a 37-0 win over Dean Academy at Franklin, the Informals beat Bumpkin Naval Reserves 35-0 at Soldiers Field an the First Marine Heavy Artillery in the Stadium, 13-0.
Harvard's only loss came at the hands of "Cupid" Black, a former Yale star, who led the Newport Naval Reserves to a 14-0 romp over the Informals. Charley Barret, Cornell's All-American triple- threat quarter-back of 1915, left the Crimson defense in tatters.
The highlight of the 1917 season came on November 3, when the Army from Camp Devens met the Navy Yard in a championship contest in the Stadium following a 6500-man military parade. H. T. Enwright '19 paced the Ensigns to a 28-0 victory before 20,000 fans.
Other sports had an equally rough time in the autumn of 1917. The CRIMSON found need to lend a somewhat morbid justification to the national pastime: "We are living in a period of universal sadness and a tonic like the World Series is a good thing. It is indeed a case of 'making merry, for tomorrow we die'"
In January 1918, the Harvard Coop reported that the war had brought a loss of $56,427.90 for a six-month period over that of the previous year. Most of the loss came in the textbook and furniture departments. Coop membership, which did not yet include a plastic credit card, fell 900.
Not all business suffered because of the war. James W. Brine Company, local sporting goods store, advertised "Army supplies required by ROTC, Navy supplies required by the Radio School." The Collegiate Balloon School, Inc. of Rockville, Conn., searched Harvard for balloon pilots for the Army Signal Corps. Instead of Evelyn Wood's speed-reading program, undergraduates turned to General Wood's "Military Science Instruction Charts" to improve their grades.
Untroubled by modern cancer research, many undergraduates smoked Murads, "the Turkish cigarette." Crisp Arrow collars did a brisk business around the Square at 20 cents each, two for 35 cents, three for 50 cents. Max Keezer proclaimed "Old clothes wanted--will call at your room day or evening at your pleasure."
As if the Coop's business problems were not enough, on May 12 a fire broke out in the tailor shop at the rear of the third floor. The Cambridge Fire Department failed to respond to the first alarm, and the blaze gutted the entire third floor before it could be brought under control.
In February, a similarly unattended fire swept through Harvard's Dane Hall, destroying ROTC exams and valuable student records. By March, the University decided to raze what remained of the structure and plant the plot with grass.
As Commencement Day approached, the Class of 1918 renewed its enthusiasm for the war, which seemed to be turning against the Germans. On March 15, President Lowell called a student meeting to discuss wavs to prepare for the peace that seemed sure to come.
"I suppose that nobody doubts that we went into the war unprepared," Lowell told undergraduates. "Let us hope that when the war ends we will not be unprepared for peace." Twelve professors formed discussion groups precursors of the present student-faculty advisory committee--and several hundred students participated.
On March 30, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt '80 told a CRIMSON reporter that he advocated universal military training for all American males between 19 and 21. This brought renewed fervor for the war, and on May 2 President Lowell fired off a letter to the CRIMSON urging students not of age to stay out of the armed services.
"I know that it is hard to stay at work here," Lowell wrote. "It is harder to lie down under fire than charge at a greater risk. But if it is one's duty it must be done, and the soldier does not select his duty. He does what is considered best for the contingeent as a whole."
By June 1, 80 Harvard men had laid down their lives to make the world safe for democracy. The CRIMSON ran a daily "Harvard Casualties" box, with deaths averaging more than one per day through June.
Typical of the Class of 1918 was Eliot Adams Chapin, who on June 27 flew his De Haviland two-seater on a bombing run against a railroad at Thionville, north of Metz. A swarm of German Fokker Scouts atacked the formation, raking Chapin's gas tank with bullets. Witnesses saw Chapin calmly shake hands with his navigator as the De Haviland burst into flames at 1,300 feet.
So few students were able to attend Class Day that year--though it was billed as the first "reunion" for the Class of '18--that ceremonies were moved from the Stadium to Sanders Theatre. They were again moved to the quadrangle behind Sever Hall so that the Class could stage a confetti battle.
The CRIMSON described the occasion in words that might again serve the Class of '18 on its fiftieth reunion: "Class Day, war or no war, is a time for rejoicing. It is the day of reunions, of confetti, of lantern lights, of beautiful girls,--it is, above all, the one day when eveerybody should be happy."
With war still raging in Vietnam, it also is a good day to visit Memorial Church, which was dedicated to those Harvard men who died in the first world war. Listen for the bell, which bears the inscription "In Memoray of Voices that are Hushed." Pause before the fallen knight of The Sacrifice, a grieving woman at his head. See engraved the names of Eliot Adams Chapin and 372 other Harvard men who died to make the world safe for democracy. Think of Vietnam and the Class of '68 and tomorrow.