On the home front

G’burg women and the USO

During World War II, Gettysburg College women contributed to the home front effort through the USO (United Service Organization). History major Erin Richards ’13 interviewed alumnae and combed through original sources to learn what the USO meant for the campus community.

The Gettysburg USO branch provided “the opportunity for local young women to experience new social roles which supported the war effort and yet were less radical than finding a factory job,” Richards wrote in a paper for history Prof. Timothy Shannon.

Collaborating closely with Shannon, Richards pored over sources including 440 cards filled out by Gettysburg-area women who applied to become USO “junior hostesses.” The cards included 109 filed by Gettysburg College women.

To boost morale, the women were chaste dance and conversation partners for soldiers stationed on campus and in the area. Dances often took place at Plank Gym. The women also helped out at the Student Christian Association building (now Weidensall Hall), which was open to servicemen for ping-pong, checkers, and listening to the radio and records. Also, Richards wrote, “One of the most common tasks that the young ladies were asked to complete was mailing letters or picking up stamps and cards.” The College community also donated funds and books to the USO.

“Perhaps the most significant event for these young ladies was the morning the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) contingent left campus,” Richards wrote. “Most other male students who were fit to serve in the military had already left, leaving behind between 200 and 300 ROTC students. Elly Horn remembers the entire campus knowing when the ROTC boys had to leave shortly after the start of her junior year,” when she and “almost all the rest of the College, all turned out at 6 a.m. to see the ROTC boys off, wishing them well as they left to join the war.”

“Gettysburg College became practically an all-girls school,” Richards wrote. “The lack of students on campus made certain classes unavailable.” For example, Mildred Barrick ’45 planned “a degree that would enable her to become a physician after graduation, but in her senior year there were not enough students on campus to teach Bacteriology … and she was forced to graduate with a Chemistry degree. Even still, Mrs. Barrick insisted that she had received a ‘good education.’”

Ironically, too many men soon became a problem. “The next significant change after the ROTC leaving campus was the Army Air Corps College Training Detachment arriving,” Richards wrote. “The college at that time had very few male on-campus housing dormitories, so the Army Air Corps was forced to take over some of the girls’ dormitories. The response was to move the sororities into the now empty fraternity houses. The girls also gave up their cafeteria.”

Interviewees cited in the paper are Beverly (Greenberg) Littauer ’47, Angeline (Feeser) Haines ’45, Eleanor (Zimmerman) Horn ’44 P’69 GP’05, Mildred (Daub) Barrick ’45, Joanne (Tittle) Miller ’47, and Jane (Slick) Orlando ’47.

Read the entire paper (pdf).

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Sun, 2 Sep 2012

Next on your reading list

In his words: Ben Pontz ’20 and the “essence of experiential learning”

The antidote for ignorance: A liberal arts education?

Econ majors to learn from Chris Matthaei ’01 gift, innovative software

Share this story: