Colby Academy During World War I
During war time, Colby Academy experienced a variety of changes and improvements even in the face of a war abroad.
The Construction of Colgate Hall
By 1910, the construction of Colgate Hall had been in the works for about twenty years. Architectural plans drawn up in 1893 were discarded after debt prevented the Academy from implementing them. With the debt settled, Mary Colgate, member of the founding family, businesswoman, and philanthropist, stepped in to replenish the institution’s scholarship funds and to fund the construction of a new building that would serve as both the administration building and a new girl’s dormitory. Work began in the spring of 1911 and the corner-stone of the new building was laid on Tuesday, June 13, 1911, with dedications taking place about a year later. This new building provided the Academy with plenty of space–the ground floor served as a home for classrooms, offices, parlors (reception space), a several hundred person seat chapel, a large dining-room and kitchen facilities. The upper floors housed classrooms, laboratories, and studios with dormitory accommodations and accessories. The library was housed on the lower floor and a powerful heating plant and laundry occupied the basement.
At the dedication of the new building, Colgate, who initially turned down the opportunity to speak was convinced to say a few words.
“The strength of the hills is here; sacred memories of the past are here; holy influences from the lives of those who have been sleeping on the hillside across the valley are here. With such inspiration and with the blessing of God to what heights of devotion and usefulness may not the graduates of this school attain.” (Rowe, A Centennial History, 224)
By 1914, the Academy had a student population of 180 people with graduating classes averaging 25 students. This increase in students – as well as the institution’s recent donations – led to the development of several new courses and redesign of existing ones.
In the Academic or Classical Curriculum, Latin and Greek continued to be taught until 1919 when low enrollment resulted in the discontinuation of the Greek coursework. Also, a result of the war, Spanish was substituted for German as patriotic feeling led to a distaste for everything German.
The Commercial Curriculum of the institution provided business training with courses in bookkeeping and business practice, commercial law, commercial arithmetic, stenography, typewriting and penmanship. Economics became a requirement for all juniors in the Commerce Curriculum and also an elective for seniors in the Agricultural Curriculum. This curriculum, alongside the classical or what we would think of as liberal arts curriculum, has thinly carried through the college’s various incarnations (during the junior college days through the secretarial science program and in the college years through the business major).
The Agricultural Curriculum was developed in 1913 to allow farm boys the opportunity to study the theory behind their practical experience; this coursework included practical work in the fields of animal husbandry, zoology, and horticulture. Business and farm management were integrated into the curriculum with elements of marketing, farm accounting and rural law.
The Curriculum of Domestic Arts was also introduced in 1913 and further developed during wartime as a means to provide a foundation for home management and the practical arts, including household science, cooking, dressmaking, hygiene, and dietetics.
In the attempt to broaden the usefulness of the academy instruction, new courses were introduced in carpentry, blacksmithing, road building and forestry as well.
College Contributions to the War
On September 10, 1914, the Town of New London dedicated the Soldiers’ Monument, a tribute to the men who “marched at their country’s call to lay down their lives.” (Colby Voice, 12/5/1914) In the face of President’s Wilson’s declaration of staunch neutrality the month before, Academy students and townspeople alike, witnessing the ceremony, were unaware that new names would appear a few short years later after America joined the Allied Forces in 1917.
Although not early participants in the European War, as it was known in the United States, Colby Academy students and alumni were active in the relief effort working with various organizations including the YWCA, the YMCA, and the Red Cross. Alongside these efforts, the official stance of the Academy was similar to that of the country’s, one of neutrality and compassion. As one editorial advises, “As this is written the nations of Europe are in the midst of a terrible struggle, as cruel as it is unbelievable… Our country is on friendly terms with all the nations now at war and whatever the outcome may be, let us rejoice that our beloved land will keep her banner spotless and undefiled. In the meantime, let us as individuals pursue the same course which we as a nation are fortunately able to maintain, one of absolute neutrality. Let us have our own opinions but keep them to ourselves for in every American community, however small, are loyal American citizens who still regard with affection and reverence the distant land which saw their birth. While we deplore the flower of the young manhood of Europe is being offered to the cannon and sabre and pray unceasingly that the war will soon end, let us not forget that each soldier on either side is responding to what seems to him to be the call of his country in the hour of her need and her suffering.” (Colby Voice, 17 April 1915)
With America’s joining of the war in 1917, this stance and attitude changed. The war became front and center in the minds of those attending the Academy, especially the male alumni who graduated and were immediately thrust onto the battlefields. As one alum states, “Who would have dreamed while we were conjugating French verbs up in the classrooms of our school days, that the knowledge would be useful under circumstances such as these?” He adds, “I suppose I may run into any of the old ’13 and ’14 bunch right around these hills and digg’ins here.” (Colby Voice, 17 June 1918) The Colby Voice, the student newspaper for the Academy, would post letters from soldiers abroad, relating their experiences to current students. Even our founding family responded to the call with Mather Cleveland, leaving medical school to join the ambulatory service in France. In April of 1917, the Academy began the “Colby Preparedness Unit”, led by then Instructor of Agriculture, Carl Coleman. It was initiated by the institution as a means to have a group of volunteers militarily trained in case of an enemy invasion. A number of male students, from this point on, began to enlist in the Army reserve.
Likewise, the female Colby Academy students also did their part, “The girls in school have adopted various forms of activity, linking themselves up to the Red Cross work and also engaging in setting up exercises and marching. Colby’s motto ‘Parati Servire,’ is being emphasized every day as our attention is brought to the desirability of having adequate training for body, mind and spirit. (Colby Voice, 4/23/1917) Many went on to serve in support roles at the battlefront.
Everyone still at Colby Academy did their part to support the war effort. As one editorial points out, this is “our war too,” something that was made abundantly clear as the list of the dead began to grow including members of both the New Hampshire regiment and Colby men. So each area did its part. Home economics classes gave exhibitions on using war breads, cakes and pastry. The Colby Voice sent copies of the newspaper overseas to its alum to keep them up to date on the Academy and their fellow alums also in battle. The Academy participated in the national Wheatless Wednesday and Meatless Monday campaigns and treats were made without sugar which was a scarce commodity. And powdered eggs became a mainstay. One advertiser went to far as to argue, “Dried eggs are no longer to be regarded as war food: they have come to stay. This firm predicts that in the near future the properly dried eggs will have become one of the very largest used and most important of our foods.” (Colby Voice, 14 October 1918). Newspaper articles reminded students of small ways that they could help the cause: don’t snack between meals, don’t leave the radiator escape open full blast when you are going to class to save coal; turn off light before leaving a room; and reduce the number of lights in communal spaces. The Colby Voice reported, “It has been determined to put in crops on every available plot of land the Academy owns and to enlist the assistance of available students for the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of these crops. A canvass is to be made to secure pledges from individual students and local citizens as to the definite contribution which each is willing to make in the way of food production for the coming season… The girls will render their contribution by canning food products in the summer and fall. It is for every individual to ask him self the question ‘Along what line may I most effectively contribute to the national well-being in this time of crisis?’ If he is unable to answer that question to his own satisfaction the should consult some member of the Committee of Public Safety, either local, state or national. It is to be expected that every true Colbyite will respond promptly and will continue to render effective service in the one of endeavor which he selects.” (4/23/1917)
There were those who did not agree with the United States entrance into the war. But tolerance and patriotism was the recommendation. Editors suggested that even if one didn’t agree with what the men in Washington were doing, one should support for the troops. This is not unlike sentiment heard during the second Iraq war recently showing that the lessons of the past are always valuable for the future.
When the war finally ended in 1918, the academic world felt lasting effects. One editorial states, “The whole nation has just begun to recover from a great conflict, the World War-a conflict which has spread a feeling of unrest in all parts of the world: the spirit of unrest more commonly being know as Bolshevism. We have experienced the feeling in our work, play, and in fact, in every phase of occupation in which we are employed. This spirit of unrest has crept into our schools, and, as a result, students and teachers have not always been able to cooperate in the right manner as in the past, and as a result, the standard of the American schools, particularly those of the preparatory order, have suffered. (Colby Voice, 15 October 1920) In response, Colby rallied to come together and stand as one against this new threat, stronger than any and ready to face an uncertain future.