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EDITOR'S NOTES
Looking back to a school at war

Four Septembers ago, browsing in O'Gara & Wilson's, I found a well-used children's alphabet book. Its cover was missing but at the bottom of the first page were the publisher's name (Samuel Lowe Company) and copyright date (1943). I knew I was going to buy it. How could I not buy an abecedary that matched brightly colored letters with now arcane professions-…G for Glass blower, H for Hackman, I for Iceman, J for Junkman…? When I turned the pages, the quaintness continued, this time in an architecture alphabet (…M for Movie house, N for Natural history museum…).

PHOTO:  In a WW II alphabet, "X marks the objective."But the alphabet that stood out was one inspired by 1943's all-consuming experience, World War II. Cherub-faced soldiers marched across the page…I for Infantry, J for Jeep, K for Kitchen police…. That war alphabet seemed one more artifact from a gone-forever time, like the WW II savings bond posters and patriotic songbook (New Songs for Schools at War) that we found in my mother's save-everything-files after her death.

This September I decided to go back to another publication from the 1940s, the December 1941 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine. I wanted to see how the campus had reacted to, and what the editors had written about, the only other time the United States had been attacked on its home soil. Thumbing through the maroon-bound volume for 1941-42, I stopped for a while at the November 1941 number. That "Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration Issue" recorded the events of September 22-29, when Chicago marked its birthday with academic symposia, an SRO convocation in Rockefeller Chapel, a re-creation of the Columbian Exposition's Midway (complete with a reincarnation of its famous dancer, Little Egypt), and a special University broadcast of the Chicago Round Table.

From that celebration I moved on to the December issue. There the lead story in the "News of the Quadrangles" section was "The University at War." It was a first indication of how life had changed. "Even the new paper stock on which you read these words is keyed to the war," the editors noted. "Chlorine, which bleaches paper, is restricted these days."

The "News of the Classes" began with news of those "In the Service," from Byron E. Bassham, MD'41, an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Hawaii, to Herman Schneiderman, PhD'39, "on active duty as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve at Bellows Field, Waimanalo, Oahu, Hawaii, where he serves as an assistant photographic officer." A full-page ad urged recent grads to join the Civil Service, and "Chicago in Washington" presented "an informal report, with sidelights, on younger alumni in the war capital." Included were Philip Coombs, AM'39, in the Office of Price Administration (who figured out what to do with the non-aluminum metals that patriotic citizens had mistakenly gathered in a national aluminum collection campaign) and Hart Perry, AM'40, in the Division of Defense Housing Coordination, an office charged with deciding "between private or public construction of war workers' homes from Bangor to Bellingham."

If those details also sound quaint, other concerns remain current. One draft-age student worried in print, "Your paper for Paleography 201 doesn't seem so significant if you know that you might never live to take 202….for anyone sitting down now and thinking out his future for the next twenty years, no sir. Too many fogs ahead."

And President Robert M. Hutchins told a packed Mandel Hall, "Now that we are at war we must proceed to win the war as quickly as possible." Hutchins nevertheless argued that the University must go on as it always had-teaching, learning, and creating knowledge-for the nation's sake: "If our institutions have to be sacrificed to win the war, then I am in favor of sacrificing them. But if some can be saved, then I should hope that the educational system might be one of them, for through the educational system all the rest might be born again."- M.R.Y.


 


  DECEMBER 2001

  > > Volume 94, Number 2


  FEATURES
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Wealth of notions
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The remains of the day
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A new Chicago seven
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Beyond the bomb
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The life and tomes


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