Rutgers During WWI and the Flu Epidemic of 1918

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by Alexandra DeAngelis

With all campuses closed, students sent home from their dorms, classes migrated online, and the cancellation of commencement activities due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, 2020 is turning out to be a memorable year in Rutgers history. But this is not the first time Rutgers has endured hardships that have altered the ways students lived and learned on campus.

A little over a hundred years ago 1918 took Rutgers by storm.

By 1917 Europe was deep in the throes of World War I. On April 6th, 1917 the United States joined its allies Britain, France, and Russia, to fight on the battlefields in France. Back home in New Jersey, Rutgers was beginning to feel the changes brought on by the unresting war.

The 1917-1918 academic year saw a substantial reduction in attendance at Rutgers, as 67 men had already left college to join troops overseas at the end of the previous year.

At the start of the 1918 fall term, the total number of undergraduates had dropped from 513 to 286 undergraduate students. Now, over 200 men were enlisted in the War effort.

Rutgers became a part of the War Department’s Students Army Training Corps (SATC), which prepared men from Rutgers and other institutions, including Princeton and Harvard, to be trained for officers’ positions with the directive that in a few month’s time they would take their places in the command of companies stationed in the fight abroad.  (William Henry Steele Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924 (New Brunswick:  Rutgers College, 1924, 536-38.)

The SATC instituted a new order of college life. Dormitories and fraternity houses were outfitted barrack style to house the men. Military regulations overtook daily activities, instruction in military procedure and training took the place of normal college life. Though studies were reconfigured to fit within the regime of military training, the usual curriculum was largely sustained. (ibid.)

A formal ceremony was held on October 1, 1918 instituting the SATC and swearing in about 400 college men as soldiers of the United States.

Photograph of the Raising of Service Flag. ca. 1918. Rutgers Photograph Collection, Military Functions, R.O.T.C. Folder. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

To maintain contact with Rutgers men fighting abroad, President William H.S. Demarest and assistant Earl Reed Silvers, “Sil”, implemented the War Service Bureau of Rutgers College in August of 1917 with the aim to keep Rutgers alumni in contact with the college and each other during the war. As acting director of the Bureau, Silvers sent letters to Rutgers men serving in the armed forces, soliciting responses about the experiences in the service. Silvers also sent out issues of Rutgers Alumni Quarterly and notified Rutgers alumni of government job openings. The Bureau resulted in a collection of over four thousand letters documenting the experience of Rutgers alumni during World War I (http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/ead/uarchives/warservicebureauf.html).

This adjustment to normal college life was not long lasting. On November 11, the armistice was signed. Shortly after, the SATC was disbanded and student soldiers were discharged on December 14. (Demarest, A History, 539)

Rutgers felt the effects of the disturbances of war for a year or two after the student soldiers returned. Many men took a long time to return to attain credits for a degree. Undergraduates who were active in the service received half a year’s credit towards a degree upon their return to their studies. Some, however, never returned. (ibid.)

After this brief period of disruption in the fall of 1918, Rutgers was prepared to return to the regular curriculum, but the semester found itself marked again by the epidemic influenza, known as the “Spanish Flu,” “the grippe,” “Spanish Influe,” and “the bug.”

The influenza of 1918 ranked as one of the deadliest epidemics in history- exacting a higher toll in a year than in four years of the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague. Between spring of 1918 and winter of 1919, the influenza killed as many as one in every eighteen people.

One theory is that the influenza began in Haskell County Kansas. An outbreak in the county was recorded in January 1918. The direct cause of the influenza is still unknown, although two potential influences have been identified: Haskell County was a prevalent hog farming community. The county also sits on a major migratory flyway for 17 bird species, including sand hill cranes and mallards. “Scientists today understand that bird influenza viruses, like human influenza viruses, can also infect hogs, and when a bird virus and a human virus infect the same pig cell, their different genes can be shuffled and exchanged like playing cards, resulting in a new, perhaps especially lethal, virus.” (John M. Barry, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America,” National Geographic (November 2017), accessed April 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.)

The first reported cases of the influenza virus were documented in Haskell County. Haskell men who had been exposed to the virus went to Camp Funston in central Kansas to train for World War I. Within two weeks, 1,000 soldiers from the camp were admitted to the hospital, while many remained sick in the barracks. Thirty eight men from Camp Funston died. It is believed that infected soldiers from Funston transmitted the virus to other Army camps across the United States; out of the 36 US camps, 24 reported outbreaks. The soldiers continued to spread the virus across the nation and eventually overseas at their arrival in France. (Barry)

At the height of America’s involvement in World War I, between September and November 1918, nearly 40 percent of American servicemen were infected. (“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”, 23)

Photograph “On the Way to War.” New Brunswick, NJ. Undated, ca. September 1917. Note the entrance to “Old Queens Campus” in the top left of the image. Pictorial Collection. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

The influenza was dubbed the Spanish Flu, not because it originated in Spain, but because Spain was a neutral country during the War. While the Allied and Central Powers suppressed any mention of the influenza in the news as to not weaken morale, the Spanish press freely reported on its progression. Many other countries underwent a media blackout, so their only sources of detailed information came from the Spanish media. This led to the assumption that the influenza began in Spain. In Spain, however, believed the virus had come to them from France (which may be partially true given the American Army’s stations in France), and they called it the “French Flu.” (Evan Andrews. “Why was it Called the ‘Spanish Flu’?” History, January 12, 2016, https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu.)

Even those spared the influenza during the war in Europe were not free on their return to the United States. Elmer. G Bracher, stationed at a convalescent camp in France wrote to Earl Reed Silvers as part of Rutgers’ War Service Bureau. In one letter from 1918, Bracher expresses the “hard luck” about a mutual acquaintance, Jill Jackson. Despite all the chances of catching some infectious disease while serving aboard, Jackson had returned home unscathed, only to catch “the ‘flu’” upon arriving home. (https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/52450/JPEG/read/#page/46/mode/2up)

Indeed, the influenza of 1918 was the most serious and wide-spread sickness the student body of America had ever known. It affected almost all colleges and universities, some experienced large numbers of student illness and death. William H.S. Demarest, President of Rutgers College from 1906-1924, only includes a small mention of the influenza in his 1924 book, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924. Demarest reports that only about seventy-five students fell ill from the influenza in the fall of 1918, all at various points in time. Despite these low numbers, Rutgers responded to the epidemic by transforming the Ivy Club (“Fraternity Houses Being Used,” The Targum, October 23, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/74/mode/2up.) into an infirmary where one student died. (Demarest, A History, 539) Three other Rutgers students died in their homes. (Demarest, A History, 539)

Various campus activities were cancelled due to the influenza. Rutgers was set for a football match against Lafayette College on October 12, 1918. Earlier that week, there was an outbreak of the influenza at Lafayette and the college went into quarantine, ceasing all athletic activities. (“Lafayette Game Cancelled,” The Targum, October 9, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/42/mode/2up.)

The newly opened New Jersey College for Women (later Douglass College) was forced to close less than a month after welcoming students, due to an outbreak of the influenza that had made victims of “the Dean and nearly half of the student body.” (“Spanish Influenza,” The Targum, October 16, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/60/mode/2upThe college reopened its doors on October 21st, just two weeks after shutting down. Students embraced their arrival with a welcome party. (“Women’s College Reopens With 51 Students,” The Targum, October 30, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/90/mode/2up.)

On October 16th, 1918 Rutgers published an article in The Targum advising students on how to best weather the storm of the influenza. Their advice for preventing the spread of the 1918 influenza are similar to the practices we must follow in the wake of COVID-19, including covering mouths when you cough or sneeze (though The Targum suggests one should cover their mouth with their ubiquitous handkerchief. We’d be hard pressed to find a student who carries a handkerchief today! Maybe we should bring them back?) and to avoid contact with anyone with symptoms including, fever, sneezing, a bad cough or cold, sore throat, pain in the chest, or general weakness or chills. Most importantly, the article in The Targum reminds students to limit their time spent in crowds– social distancing 1.0! The article asserts that “if we all observe these precautions, the epidemic will soon be a thing of the past.” (“Spanish Influenza.”)  A student’s poem submitted to the “Targumdrops” section of The Targum provided a bit of levity during this hard time:

 

I now must write a line or two,

As all good poets sometimes do.

Of all sickness, I am glad

“Influ” I have never had.

I never mind a chimney “flue,”

 

Or an army cot, just broke in two;

But of all the birds that ever fly,

This “flu” bird simply takes my eye.

So take a bath, and never doubt

The “flu” will get you,

If you don’t watch out.

(Poem from “Targumdrops,” The Targum, October 30, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/92/mode/2up.)

Rutgers University has weathered many storms over the 250+ years of its existence. The bonds of Rutgers’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni have never wavered and times of disruption have only made us stronger. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 will go down in the annals of Rutgers history. We must keep the enduring spirit of our Rutgers predecessors in mind as we continue to adjust to learning and living away from campus and remember that as Rutgers has persevered through the hardships of war and influenza, we too shall forge our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.


Works Cited:

Andrews, Evan. “Why was it Called the ‘Spanish Flu’?” History. January 12, 2016. https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu.

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” National Geographic. November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Bracher, Elmer G. Letter to Earl Reed Silvers. December 1918. Box 9, Folder 5, RG 33/C0/01 Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Archives.

Demarest, William Henry Steele. A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924. New Brunswick: Rutgers College, 1924.

“Fraternity Houses Being Used.” The Targum. October 23, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/74/mode/2up.

“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”: New Jersey in the Great War. 2017. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

“Lafayette Game Cancelled.” The Targum. October 9, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/42/mode/2up

Poem from “Targumdrops.” The Targum. October 30 , 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/92/mode/2up.

Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. RG 33/C0/01. University Archives, Rutgers  University Libraries.

“Spanish Influenza.” The Targum. October 16, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/60/mode/2up.

“Women’s College Reopens With 51 Students.” The Targum. October 30, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/90/mode/2up.

 

 

Rutgers Football from the Vault: Celebrating 150 Years – Post-game Analysis

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By: Stephen Dalina

On November 6th, 2019, football fans celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first college football game, which was played by Rutgers and Princeton University. It was University Archivist Erika Gorder’s and my pleasure to assemble an exhibit celebrating not just college football, but also the game’s evolution alongside the growth of Rutgers University.

For myself, this exhibit was match made in heaven! My father is a longtime Rutgers employee, so going to Rutgers football games and other athletic events filled my childhood. I attended St. Joseph’s High School (Metuchen) and had the privilege to play varsity football with a plethora of talented young men, a handful of whom went on to play for the Scarlet Knights. I had the opportunity to pursue my love of history at Rutgers, obtaining my bachelors’ degree in 2018. I had the unique viewpoint of being a Rutgers football superfan while having a background in historical research. The stars were aligned.

The exhibit captures the spirit of event, the essence of the birth of a national pastime, and the meaning of college football in relation to Rutgers’ prestigious legacy. To encompass a 150 years of history, the archives were thoroughly investigated for any items that interconnected with history of Rutgers with its football program.

The 1st collegiate football game was played differently than how we witness the pastime of football today. Rutgers’ squad of 27 players – only 25 took the field at a time – defeated Princeton 6-4 in the first intercollegiate football game, more like soccer than the modern sport. The game was played on the property that the College Avenue Gym parking lot now inhabits. Princeton won a second match that year, allowing both schools to claim the sport’s first national championship. A third match between the two New Jersey rivals was canceled, because professors said studies were disrupted by the uproar.

Rutgers’s George Dixon and Stephen Gano are accredited for the game’s first score. William J. Leggett, ’72, elected by his teammates as captain of the 1869 Rutgers team. Leggett and his counterpart from Princeton, William S. Gummere ’70, met prior to the starting time of the game to discuss and agree upon the rules of the game. Both men went on to distinguished careers, Leggett as a Reformed clergyman, and Gummere as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Boyd Painting Of the 1869 Rutgers Vs Princeton Game    

Boyd’s depiction, as well as other depictions, of the game were done several years after it had taken place. Therefore, these depictions are not 100% accurate to how the game was played. The only first person account we have of the game comes from a copy of the Targum, currently on display at University Special Collections and University Archives in Alexander Library.

 

West George Street Station

Princeton players took a train to play against Rutgers in New Brunswick. These tracks are now inhabited by NJ Transit.

  

1900s Helmet

 

This helmet is typical of ones players wore in the 1920s. The exhibit features a whole uniform from a 1920s lineman. 

 

1918 Football Team Photo

 

The 1918 team coached by George Stanford featured Paul Robeson, Rutgers’ first All-American. Robeson would go on to be known as a true Renaissance man, renowned as a musician, actor, and political activist. He was forced to sit out one game due to a request from the University of Washington and Lee due to their apprehensiveness to play against an African American player. That was the only game Rutgers lost that season.

1950 Retiring Chanticleer Photo

Rutgers’ fullback Steve Simms officially says goodbye to the Chanticleer as the mascot of Rutgers during a ceremony to mark the end of his reign. The Scarlet Knight then took over as the mascot we now know and love.

Centennial Game Program 1969

Publication sold at Rutgers Vs Princeton Game to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of College Football.

1980 Rutgers Vs Alabama

Photograph of Rutgers playing University of Alabama, which Alabama won 28-25. Of the game, Alabama coach Bear Bryant gave the famous quote, “We won, but we didn’t beat them.”

Rutgers Vs Louisville 2006 Game Ticket

Ticket from Rutgers Football’s greatest victory under Greg Schiano’s tenure. The 15th ranked Scarlet Knights upset the 3rd Ranked Louisville Cardinals.

The project was a collaborative undertaking. Memorabilia displayed in the exhibit was provided by collection here at the University Archives and Special Collections along with some items from Steve Green, and Stephen M. Dalina (My Father).

Professional and Academic Training in the Fine Arts Program at NJC, 1920-1952

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In 2018, the Douglass Residential College (DRC) celebrated the 100th anniversary of the college’s founding. The anniversary generated many programs and publications that extended into 2019 and 2020. For instance, in October 2019, Women Artists on the Leading Edge: Visual Arts at Douglass College by Joan Marter, Rutgers Distinguished Professor Emerita, was published by the Rutgers University Press. Aware of the college’s long history as a leader in visual arts pedagogy, Douglass Dean Jacquelyn S. Litt provided funding to support additional research by DRC students. We are delighted to share the results of Hallel Yadin’s research in this blog. Hallel is currently an Archives Associate at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Professional and Academic Training in the Fine Arts Program at NJC, 1920-1952

Hallel Yadin, DRC ‘19

Introduction

In its early days, New Jersey College for Women (NJC) was the only non-normal school (teacher’s college) option for New Jersey’s women. As such, it assumed some responsibility for preparing its students for the state workforce. Here lay some tension about its goals as an institution of higher education. While it fancied itself a small liberal arts college in the vein of Vassar or Sarah Lawrence, as per the sensibilities of its ever-decorous founder, Mabel Smith Douglass, the liberal arts did not always align with the needs of the state. The Fine Arts Department at New Jersey College for Women was one arena where this disconnect played out.

First, there were tensions related to art being regarded as a serious object of study in the academy. However, by the time NJC formed an art department, those had largely been alleviated. As Dean Mabel Smith Douglass wrote in 1930, “Long regarded by the colleges as merely a kind of adornment as far as solid education went, and as scarcely worthy of serious consideration, [art] has gradually, but surely, won its right to be considered, much as music, a serious study of dignity and importance and a reasonable, even an essential, part of a liberal education.” This reflects the description of the purpose of the art department in the 1930 course catalogue, which states, “The purpose of the department is (1) by the study and the appreciation of art to provide a part of a liberal education; and (2) specifically to prepare students to teach art or pursue it professionally.” This dual purpose demonstrates the department’s attempt to balance the demands of the liberal arts curriculum with the prerogative of NJC to prepare students for the workforce, especially as a public state institution.

Course Offerings

The art department began in the 1925-1926 academic year. For the first two years, its offerings were limited to art history courses:

❖ History of Ancient Art

❖ History of Early Christian and Medieval Architecture

❖ History of Italian Architecture and Sculpture

❖ History of Italian and Spanish Painting, History of Northern Painting

❖ History of Modern Art

NJC Art Class, 1920

A shift began in 1927 with the introduction of the Curriculum in Art for students preparing to teach “practical” art. This shift actually comprised two major developments: offers of pre-professional training in art-related fields, and the department distinguishing between practical, and, by default, “impractical” forms of art. In 1927, NJC began offering a “practical arts course,” specifically to train students to become art teachers.

The Practical Arts courses, divided into grade-level seminars, included the following topics:

❖ Color, Design, Freehand Drawing, and Perspective for sophomores

❖ Advanced work in color, drawing, and perspective for juniors

❖ Advanced work in color, drawing, and perspective for seniors

It makes sense that teaching would be the department’s first foray into arts-related vocational training, as teaching is the field that the plurality of NJC graduates pursued. A survey entitled “Vocational Interests of the Class of 1936” reported that 94 of the 203 respondents (which represented 90 per cent of the class) sought teaching positions. The next-highest response was work in department stores, with only 14 graduates. These figures are striking, especially since 32 respondents did not list career paths and likely were not planning to work at all.

Furthermore, the fine arts courses expanded beyond history and theory into the process of creating art. Starting in the 1930s, the art courses included:

❖ General Art

❖ Art Appreciation

❖ Drawing and Composition

❖ Design

❖ Commercial Design

❖ Drawing and Painting

❖ Theory and Practice of Teaching Fine Arts

The language that the art department used to delineate between “professional” and “fine” art evolved over time, but the division remains throughout decades of course offerings. In the 1920s, the course catalog differentiates between “fine art” and “applied art.” In the 1930s, it shifts to delimiting descriptions of art offerings as “graphic and plastic arts,” which were defined only as “painting, modelling, drawing, and design.” The 1940s brought intradepartmental discussion of the “practical branches” of the arts. In the 1950s, the Division of Fine Arts was described as providing offerings in both the “cultural and professional arts.” While the language changed, the department consistently differentiated between professional or “practical” arts, and non-professional or “fine” arts, despite robust offerings in both within the same department.

The art department also offered training in several career tracks in more traditional trades. One of these was the major in art education noted above. NJC also offered majors in interior decoration, fashion design, costume design and illustration, and commercial design at varying periods in its history. Outside of the art department, there were other majors that seemed to be confined to “impractical” women’s work, but actually had quite practical applications, like the industrial clothing application in the home economics department. (Home economics as a whole actually included “real-world,” outside-the-home tracks, like industrial nutrition, which kept the country fed during the Second World War.)

Beyond this, between 1937 and 1952, the art department offered a major in ceramic arts. The major granted a Bachelor’s of Science degree in cooperation with the ceramics department at Rutgers College and offered “an outline of training in the applications of art to the ceramic industry, including studio work in art and laboratory work in ceramics, as well as detailed study of the nature and uses of clays.” (It is worth noting that in 1945 the Department of Ceramics at Rutgers joined the School of Engineering, while at Douglass it was relegated to the art department.) Without having identified much more detail, we can speculate that the offer of this major was related to Trenton’s renowned pottery and ceramics industry.

The Role of Art Instruction in Forming a State Cultural Identity

The college was cognizant of the role of higher education in individual states’ cultural identity formations. As one dean wrote, “It is no longer a question of whether or not the arts belong in the university. They are already established on the campus. The question, therefore, is one of how Rutgers can expand its facilities and services so that it can assume a position of leadership in the cultural affairs of the state. We need our own solutions to cultural needs, not those of New York or Philadelphia…” There was a similar sense of the urgency of equipping New Jersey within the Fine Arts Department itself. As one chair of the department wrote in 1941, “New Jersey, more than any other state, with the possible exception of New York, is pioneering on some frontiers of American democracy … Our state cannot wait to see what other states have done and follow their lead.” NJC assumed the responsibility of providing New Jersey with its arts training. In this

way, the arts came into a professional role, and not just in terms of workforce training. This was workforce training that was in service of the state.

Margaret Trumbell Corwin

The institution was also cognizant of the role of art in national identity. As early as 1939, Dean Margaret Trumbull Corwin wrote, “Closely associated with English and history in the preservation of our cultural traditions are the fine arts.” For example, in the 1939-1940 school year, the art department reprised an “Americanization” exhibition that had first been held a decade prior. “Students, awakening to the realization of the historical significance of much that surrounded them and was taken for granted in their daily lives at home, responded enthusiastically,” reported the chair of the department. “More than two hundred thirty articles from over thirty countries were assembled, – a graphic picture of the international family backgrounds in this cross-section of American life.” NJC was aware of the role of arts and culture in both state and cultural identity formation, which no doubt complicated how it perceived its institutional responsibility as the only public liberal arts-style college for women in New Jersey.

This pursuit, however, complicates the clear-cut distinction between fine and practical arts. The fine arts were understood to be a requisite element of this quite pragmatic state-level cultural project. The chair of the art department once wrote, “Our department at Douglass feels that we should not let the state public school art program rest entirely in the hands of the state colleges.” (He is presumably referring to the state’s teaching colleges.) This indicates a sense that fine arts offerings — which were NJC’s purview in a way that was not the case for the normal schools — were a necessary element of arts education. This concept muddles the dichotomy between “practical” and “impractical” art discussed above. If New Jersey College for Women was to position itself as a cultural authority and cultural producer in New Jersey, its fine arts programs were of paramount importance.

 

Photograph Notes, in order of photograph appearance

1. Mabel Smith Douglass, ca. 1918 Rutgers University Archives

2. Art studio at NJC, 1920s, Rutgers University Archives

3. NJC students show their graphic arts skill in the yearbook, the Quair, 1921, Rutgers University Archives

4. Margaret Trumbull Corwin, ca 1950, Rutgers University Archives

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Such Letters Will Be Invaluable in Later Years”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photograph
Photo of Earl Reed Silvers

Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913) was the director of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. During the First World War, the bureau worked to keep Rutgers men in service in touch with the college and with each other. To achieve this, the bureau sent biweekly letters to the men in service, telling them about what was happening at Rutgers and asking the men to share their experiences of the war. The letters featured in the Voices of the Armistice series are the result of Silvers’s and the Bureau’s efforts.

Silvers’s first letter to the men after the Armistice opened with an expression of gratitude that the war was over:

“Since our last letter, on November 6, the blessing of peace has come to a war-weary world. And in a short time, thank God, there will be no more casualty lists, no more Rutgers boys among those who have made the last supreme sacrifice.”

Silvers went on to describe what changes had happened since the Armistice at Rutgers, which had been transformed into a war college, along with news about Rutgers’ wins and losses at football. Before closing the letter, he made several requests of the men receiving the letter.

. . . Why not all of you in the United States write to the Bureau on December 1st and all of you in Europe on December 30. We’ll make them College Letter Days. Let’s mark them on the calendar now. Write us about the peace celebrations in the places you found yourself when the armistice was signed, about what happened in the trenches on that memorable day; and if any of you are in occupied German territory, write a long letter about it. Such letters will be invaluable in later years.”

paragraph from typed letter on letterhead
Opening paragraph of the War Service Bureau’s first letter after peace was declared.

After the war, Silvers remained at Rutgers and authored a series of novels about Dick Arnold of Raritan College. He died in 1948.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Silvers letter photo from the Earl Reed Silvers Collection (R-MC 044).)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”The Town Had Been Dark at Nights . . . [Now] Every House Was Lighted””

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photograph of man in uniform
Photo of Ross H. Flanagin

Ross H. Flanagin (later Flanagan) (class of 1916) was serving with Medical Services in the American Expeditionary Forces in France when the Armistice was declared.

“Well after a while, Fritz thought he had enough of it. He was tired of the rough handling of the Doughboy and decide to ask for an armistice. You remember the day—the 11th of November. It was some day at quiet old Neufchateau. Up until that day the town had been dark at nights. There were no lights in the streets. No lights in the windows of the houses. No lighted store windows to entice within the unwary rank in order to releive [sic] him of his superfluous francs. But on the night of the 11th—Oh Boy!

Four of us walked down to the town that night to help celebrate. We did not know what would happen but were going to be there anyway. As we approached the town we saw for the first time lights in the streets. From some point in the town rockets were shooting up into the sky and bursting with brilliant light. Shop windows were lighted and strange looking sights they were. As we got further into town the crowd became denser. The streets were full of soldiers—French American, Italian, a few Russians and two German prisoners who were cleaning up the last corner to make possible clean streets for the celebrants. At the crossing of the main streets the crowd was so dense that it was necessary to use some of Sanford’s famous tactics to get through. We did after a while and went on our way—at a pace slower than that of the proverbial snail. Rue St. Jean was certainly a pleasant sight. Every house was lighted. Many had lights in the windows. One house in particular attracted our attention. The second story windows of this house were lined with candles—the window sills, y’know. I have never seen anything like that before. It surely made a pretty picture.  

About half way up the Rue St. Jean the Italian band was gathered. Before them were stationed poilus as lantern bearers. Soon the signal was given to start. The band struck up some joyful air and off they moved. All the people in the street followed them. It was not long before nearly all the people in town were marching in the procession. Up and down the streets of the town we marched. After much marching and counter-marching we brought up in front of one of the chateaux in town. Here some French officials had there [sic] quarters. An American officer—it was said that he was some General—made a short speech in English. He said that it was the first time in four years that lights had been permitted in the town at night, that the armistice had been signed, that we would soon be on our way back to America and that he expressed the hope of the French people of the town that we would always remember kindly the people we had come over to help. Then a French official made a short speech in his own tongue. At the end the band played The Star Spangled Banner—and, Silvers you do not know how it made our hearts swell to hear our National Anthem! This was followed by the Marsellaise, and much cheering for both nations.

The band then led the way for another promenade about town playing that most catching air of the French “Madalon”. We marched and counter marched some more and arrived at Jeanne d’Arc Square. Here a French girl sang the Marsellaise and the Star Spangled Banner. She followed this by singing “God Save the King”—but we poor simple Americans who appropriate everything all joined in the singing by lustily proclaiming “My Country T’is of thee.” The we marched some more, singing and shouting, pushing and shoving everyone else around and having a general good rough time.

We had not been paid when all this took place. We were paid the next day and then Base Hospital 66 went downtown and properly celebrated the signing of the armistice. That was the occasion of the battle of Neufchateau when 66 conquered the town and took the heights of Cognac Hill. Nuf Sed!

excerpt from typewritten letter
Excerpt from Ross Flanagin’s letter describing the Armistice in France. He closes with “Yours for the Prosperity of Rutgers.”

After the war, Flanagin became a clergyman with the Episcopal Church and changed the spelling of his last name to Flanagan. He died in 1982


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan.  Flanagin photo from the Rutgers University Biographical Files: Alumni Collection.)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Aerial Feats Impossible to Describe”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

Photograph
Photo of Lauren Archibald

Lauren Archibald (class of 1917), was at the School of Fire in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when peace was declared. His immediate reaction was “business as usual.”

“The news that an armistice had been signed produced little or no excitement at the time. Everyone was busy. Things went along just the same as usual, except that a few who made bets that the war would be over before Christmas, or before 1920 or 1925, came around and exhibited that sweet and never forgotten ‘I told you so’ grin or else offered the information that they had had some inside dope from the friend of the cousin of Secretary So-andSo in Washington. We were too busy to get very excited and our schedule proceeded just the same, but, of course, everyone was glad to hear the news. It was a good deal like keeping school for a couple of months after the final examinations were over. I was glad to note than none of these “balkers” were from a college “in a quaint old jersey town.  .  .”

The celebration came a few days later.

“The Saturday following the signing of the armistice was set aside by the Major of Lawton, a small city about four miles from Fort Sill, as a day of celebration and thanksgiving . . .

Fort Sill, with its world famed School of Fire, its permanent detail of Field Artillery Units, and its wonderful equipment of French and British fighting material, could give an exhibition impossible to duplicate anywhere this side of the Atlantic.

The celebration had breathtaking moments:

“. . . almost immediately a battle formation of twenty-five aeroplanes passed over the city. They were followed in fifteen minutes by another squadron. After the ships had passed, they broke ranks and the aviators gave an exhibition of acrobatic flying that is seldom equaled except under actual fighting conditions. They looped and dived, did tail-spins and spirals, falling-leaf, barrel spin, and many more aerial feats impossible to describe.”

This was followed by a grand parade.

The School of Fire floats were features of the occasion. The department of gunnery had mounted an American 75 on a motor truck and fired salute charges all along the line of MARCH.

One float which did not feature in the parade, however, deserves mention for its clever and original idea. A number of officers who had been detailed for instruction at the School of Fire for a long time rather felt they should have been sent overseas. They decided to accept General Lawson’s invitation ‘to use all possible ingenuity in designing floats.’ Therefore, they had a huge sign painted which they intended to carry. It read: ‘Lawson for President. He kept us out of war.’ Their float was deleted by the censor.”

The parade continued with more floats featuring artillery, a field oven baking army bread, and ambulances. Archibald concluded:

Some idea of the size of the parade can be obtained by the fact that it took over three hours to pass a given point.

All told, it was a very awe-inspiring spectacle, although it was only a small part of the total fighting material of the country and only the smallest fracton of the total employed by the Allied forces in Europe.”

Typewritten letter
Lauren Archibald’s letter describing the Armistice.

After the war, Archibald became a professor of agriculture at Rutgers and taught vocational agriculture at New Brunswick High School. He died in 1946.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan.  Archibald photo from the Lauren S. Archibald Collection at Special Collections and University Archives [R-MC 119])

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Everyone Came Out to See the Crazy Airmen”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photograph
Photo of Harry Blue

Harry Blue (class of 1915) was serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in France when news of the Armistice arrived. He described his experiences in a letter to War Service Bureau director Earl Reed Silvers.

“Early on the morning of the 11th the news came, as all news in the army does—good or bad, from nowhere. I hurried down to Hdqtrs. bulletin board meeting others doing likewise. There was Marshal Foch’s order. After 11 o’clock all fighting was to cease.  

Although in the Zone of Advance, we were not near enough to hear the gun play and hence didn’t experience that drilling unnatural silence which followed the stroke of eleven at the front. But colors appeared like magic and all wore a happy, anxious-to-tense smile. As a rule, there was personal regret that we were not to see action after so much time and energy spent in preparation. But the fact that the world had at last awakened from a four-year nightmare cause us to shelve this feeling and be happy for humanity’s sake. 

. . . we of the aviation school gave the greatest exhibition of what intoxicated men could do without, however, touching a drop. 

. . .  The Observers of my class tossed to see who were to have the honor of playing around + over camp in Sopwiths’ [airplanes] that morning . . .

I pulled a lucky guess and won a place in Number Eight. There were six planes in all. We skipped chimney pots, swooped down between barracks, missed electric wires by inches and clipped some leaves off a staunch, old tree.  

Of course everyone came out to see the crazy airmen. Such foolishness was to be seen but once in an age. At least the “Wildcats” thought so. They sure had us pictured as “tight.” 

But each time we zoomed, they’d cheer, not particularly for us, but because they were happy. Then some started throwing caps in air and I almost believed I was seeing a Rutgers’ football celebration ‘apre le Victoire.'”

Blue then drew a picture of an electric sign he’d seen that commemorated the Armistice:

excerpt from a handwritten letter with the word "PEACE" with triangles before and after with "11"s on all three sides.
Blue’s description and drawing of a sign celebrating the Armistice.

peculiarly enough, made me think of an eleven-eleven train I was wont to catch at Metuchen!

In the evening at five-o’clock there was much ringing of churchbells and cheering in the villages near-by. We sent a plane over each village to help out, shooting up our available supply of six-star rockets. But a new order of things takes time to sink in. Some Frenchie, a bad shot, started peppering one of our ships with a rifle.”

After the war, Blue became an officer in the Army. He died in 1925.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Blue photo from the Rutgers University Biographical Files: Alumni Collection.)