CHAPTER 6

WORLD WAR II CHANGED THE COLLEGE AND SOCIETY

 

            It was difficult to follow Dr. Herrick because he had accomplished so much to raise the prestige and quality of the College and its graduates.  When Dr. Odgers became President, the country was slowly coming out of a major depression and heading for a world conflict and  social changes that would change the country and especially Girard College.  Dr. Odgers graduated first in his high school class at Central High School in Philadelphia.  He was a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania, class of 1922, where he became first an assistant instructor in Latin.  In three years he was appointed Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for Women, a position in which he received much acclaim.  He was only 36 when he was selected to be the President of Girard College and he was officially inaugurated during a Chapel service on October 30, 1936.

            In 1937 the number of students was 1727.  This was the first year that Allen Hall, the new name for No.1, was used exclusively for the graduating class.  In September, sixty-nine seniors moved in to be supervised by Emil Zarella and his wife.  John Donecker, a 1911 graduate, was named Assistant to the President a position he held for many years.  On March 10 the boys listened to a radio broadcast entitled, “A Perfect Citizen,” which was based on Stephen Girard’s life.  It was part of a long running radio show called “The Cavalcade of America”.  Troop 400, a division of Boy Scout was established, under George Duncan, in Lafayette Hall.  The Student Council was established this year under the direction of Mr. Karl Friedmann.  Mrs. George Dallas Dixon presented a collection of Indian craft to the college.  The collection belonged to her and her late husband, and it was presented as a memorial to Mrs. Dixon’s father, Dr. William Allen, first president of the opened College.

            Each year, Student Activities Night was the chance for the students to display their hobby projects.  In 1938, forty tables were necessary to display sketches, coin collections, wood carvings, electrical devices, radio sets, miniature furniture, beadwork, clay models, basketry, airplanes models and soap sculpture.  The two bronze plaques on the pillars of the front gate were made as a Foundry class project and they were installed this year.

            In 1939, John A. Diemand, a graduate, was named to the Board of City Trust.    Two thirds of the students, 1154, attended the New York World’s Fair, going by train in four groups, the largest group consisting of 447 boys. [1]  A surprising fact that would shock today’s educators is that in 1939, forty-two classrooms had more than thirty students.  This was a drop from 54 in the previous year.  The percentage of students qualifying to graduate was now at 80% and  most graduates were both academically prepared to enter college and qualified to enter a vocation.  But, only 10% of the graduates enter college full time and 30% part-time, mainly because they lacked the funds to continue higher education.

            In 1939 the College imposed a quarantine because of the large numbers of scarlet fever cases.  The first case was detected on January 4 th and by March there were 30 cases.  A quarantine was placed on the boys leaving the College and mobility within the College was restricted.  Easter vacations were canceled.  All students were given the “Dick Test” and 400 tested positive for possible scarlet fever.  Those 400 were confined to the Armory where beds were set-up and cooking and eating arrangement were installed.  The Infirmary was overflowing with Scarlet Fever cases and a temporary infirmary was set-up in the Junior School.  At least 93 cases were finally reported.  These conditions lasted for about three months and classes did not resume until May.  Additionally, 355 boys were afflicted with acute influenza.

            Quoting from the Steel & Garnet May 1939 issue, “Household problems at Girard assume small town proportions.  All the bread used daily is made in the bakery by four men who turn out 1800 loves daily.  In the kitchen 1200 pounds of meat and 150 gallons of milk are consumed daily.  Fifty tons of coal are used daily.  In the laundry, 40 women are employed to insure a change of clothing twice a week for each of the 1385 students.”

            The three most significant things that happened in 1940 were the renovation of Good Friends, the enlargement of the Hum camp when the students constructed 24 cabins, and the establishment of a general high school course for those unable to compete in the academic course.  The student population was 1733 and the cost to operate the College was $1.7 million.  (Note: Today, 1999, the population is about 580 and the cost is near $10 million.)  Since the National Defense Program (the Draft) was activated several College staff were called or enlisted in the service.  An example of how the professionalism of the college staff was changing is revealed in these statistics.  In 1936, 23 of the 35 teachers in the Middle School did not have degrees whereas in 1940 only 9 of the 35 where without degrees.  The practice of taking the senior boys on a campus tour began and included the attic and basement of Founder’s Hall, the sub-basement of the high school, the basement of the Dining and Services Building and the organ loft of the Chapel.  General Brookfield retired after heading the Battalion for 29 years and was replaced by Lt. Col. James M. Hamilton, a 1904 graduate of the College.  Most of the older boys that attended camp were assigned the task of constructing 24 additional ten by sixteen feet cabins, doubling the capacity of the camp.  Between 1848 and 1940, 14,000 boys were accepted into the College of which only six were born outside of Pennsylvania.  The 1940 President’s Report reflected that graduates were employed in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, mercantile, clerical, transportation, domestic, government service, and some were professionals.  Their average weekly salaries varied from $10 to $29 per week.

            The total population of students peaked in 1940 at 1733 and in 1941 it declined to 1694.  In 1941 a committee of visiting educators evaluated the college and praised almost everything except the existence of the Intermediate School (Teckers).   Its separation from the regular high school curriculum was determined to be unwise and unnecessarily cruel to the students and action was initiated to abolish the program.  The Battalion received new gray uniforms, similar to the West Point cadet’s style.  Ernest Cunningham, a graduate of the College, retired after working at the College for 50 years and he announced his decision to publish his book, Memories of Girard College.  He was Superintendent of Domestic Economy for 25 of those years. [2]

            In 1941, there were 465 students in the college whose brothers were also there.  Thirteen families had two brothers and three had three brothers attending.  This was the first year that a student dance band was organized successfully.  With more staff entering the service or taking jobs in the war industry, students were assigned additional tasks, i.e.:  raking leaves, mowing lawns, sweeping roads and sidewalks, cleaning locker rooms, pools and gyms.  Older boys were assigned additional kitchen duties.  They were assigned to shovel snow and ice, and some worked with the maintenance men.  In anticipation of possible air raids, all the building windows were “blacked out” with shades to prevent light from escaping at night time.  The total cost to operate the camp for 1941 was $14,391, hardly enough to justify selling the camp to the City. 

            In 1941 the United States was preparing for a war that seemed inevitable.  The importance of the Mechanical School in preparing Girard students to enter the national defense industry was stressed.  Quoting Owen D. Evans, Superintendent of the Mechanical School, “Girard, in preparing its boys to make a living in an industrial world, has for years past been doing those very things which our government now urges its ‘arsenal for democracy’ to do.”  At least a hundred recent graduates were working at the Glenn Martin Bomber Plant in Baltimore, using the skills they learned in the machine, sheet-metal, and electrical shops and the drafting and pattern-making classes.  Other Hummers were working at Budd’s, Westinghouse, General Electric and other industries that were supporting preparation for the anticipated entry of the U.S. into WW II.

            In October 1941,  the United States was preparing for war and a paper shortage was declared.  The Steel and Garnet was reduced to a small 5 by 7 inch pamphlet containing  mostly class information and addresses of the many Hummers who were beginning to enter military service.  Several were at Hickham Field, Scholfield Barracks, and Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed them on December 7th 1941.

            United States was at war in 1942 and it impacted the college.  More of the staff were granted leave.  There were significant shortages of supplies and most items were rationed.  The students were required to do more care-taking.  Shops made products for the armed service  Excursions were eliminated due to lack of transportation.  Physical education was increased to prepare the boys for service life.  In the pool, students were taught to abandon ships and remove excess clothing.  The College prepared for possible air attacks and they were seeking places to send the students in the event of physical damage to the College.  Older boys were encouraged to seek summer employment in the defense industry.  Many letters were coming back from Alumni indicating that their Hum training  help them adapt to service life.  The camp was shocked on July 2, 1942 by the sudden death of Archibald Ralston, Superintendent of the Camp since it opened.  He was a 1902 graduate.  The Intermediate High School was slowly being phased out after thirty years.

The students were being trained to react to possible air raids.  Wardens were selected from among the students.  Air Raid shelters were designate and manned.  Students took turns manning a command center.  Others were designated as guides and to assure that the building were properly “blacked out” of all light exposure.  Six hundred and six Girardians were known to be in the service and in June the College learned of its first war casualty, John R. Clanton, who survived Pearl Harbor only to later die in an airplane crash.

A private group made a survey of 27 school libraries and Girard’s expenditure topped the list.  In all categories the Hum library ranked at or near the top.  During 1942, 116 boys graduated largest ever graduating class.  The first labor strike since the College opened occurred when the power engineers were refused the increased pay being sought. Student population decrease to 1615

            In 1943 the West End buildings and the camp were closed because of insufficient staff.   The Band had become a Philadelphia favorite, playing at many events.  Two hundred and fourteen boys were taking instrumental music lessons.  Students were making aircraft models for the Navy and for its efforts the College was awarded an “E” flag that was framed and hung in the carpentry shop.  Women from the Army WAC’s reviewed the Battalion on Founder’s Day. The boys were all fingerprinted, a precautionary measure in case of an air raid.[3]  Two hundred and seventy-four boys were employed in several defense plants during the summer, many working in shops.  The student population declined again, now down to 1505 and the number of applicants for admission was declining rapidly, probably due to the improved financial position of families working in the war industry.  For the second year in a row, the College swimming team went undefeated and several records were broken. 

            In April 1943 a campaign was initiated to purchase government E-bonds so that a bomber could be funded and named to honor Girard.  For $300,000 an airplane would be inscribed in Girard’s name and to honor the Girardians who were already in the service.  The class of 1932 pledged $50,000.  In one month $124,893.75 worth of bonds were purchased. Within three months $361,368.75 was raised and before the campaign was over the amount exceeded $400,000.  A B-25 bomber was named “Sons of Girard”.  Also, in 1944 the Alumni requested that the Maritime Commission name a ship “Stephen Girard”.  They discovered that a Liberty ship had already been so named.  It was MC Hull No. 578, built by the Oregon Shipbuilding Yard, and launched October 5, 1942.  By December 1943, 1422 graduates were in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard.  Seventeen were in the Merchant Marines.  Ten were dead or missing and 2 were prisoners of war.

            The May 1944 issue of the Steel & Garnet reported that a Dr. Nathan Mossell wrote a four part article, in the Pittsburgh Courier, challenging why only “white” students should be admitted to Girard College.  “The author stressed the fact that since the College is a semi-public institution, it discriminates against the colored people by not admitting members of that race to the student body.”  Thus began twenty years of litigation against the Girard Will’s “white only” restriction.

            The College population decreased again in 1944, down to 1407, a reduction of more then 300 since 1940.  The Intermediate School was gone.  Four hundred and twelve students were afflicted this year with flue-type symptoms.  The Mechanical School’s old equipment, most of it belt-driven, was being replace with modern direct motor-driven equipment.   So far 29 Girardians were known to have died or have been killed in the war.  The cost to operate the school in 1944 was $1,490,564.  The expenses were distributed according to the following percentages: 10.7 clothing, 4.4 health, 20.1 food, 23.3 instruction, 3.3 laundry, 1.3 library, 1.5 administration, 11 personal care, 16.4 plant maintenance and utilities, 3.4 admission and 4.0 misc. In one year, $81,000 was spent for coal and $1075 for light bulbs.

            In 1945 educators, including Dr. Odgers, were predicting major changes in education as a result of experiences learned from the war.  The predictions were; attendance at colleges would no longer be restricted to those with adequate finances; clustering of courses would replace emphasis on an individual course; educational objectives would be clearly defined; there would be more learning by doing; there would be increased dependence on psychological testing; there would be an increase in education by correspondence; more “gadgets” will be used as visual aides; radio would become a major tool in education and new emphasis was placed on social studies.

            The College soccer team lost the City championship to Northeast High School after playing a tie into the second overtime.  The College teams had become major contenders in all sports.  The count of Alumni war dead or missing had risen to 55.  At least 2075 graduates were known to be serving in the Armed Forces.  Founder’s Hall was being considered to become a social center, “the hub of activities”.  Also the school was embarrassed about the poor manner that Stephen Girard’s furniture had been displayed since the beginning of the century and consideration was given to an improved museum.  Most of the furniture was in need of reupholstering and repair.  It was decided to hereafter purchase only low shoes instead of  the  high shoes that were still worn at times.  It costs $1.5 million to operate the college for the year, or $1119 per student. 

            A modernization plan for the College was written in 1945 and revealed that the college dormitories did not conform to army health standards and consideration was being given to breaking up the dormitories into smaller rooms containing two, three and four students.  The plan included a recommendation to replace Lafayette, Good Friends and Banker Hall with new modern buildings and to enlarge the Mechanical School.

            In October 1945, a Centennial Committee consisting of members of the Board of City Trust, the College Administration and the Alumni Association, had their first meeting to prepare for the 100th anniversary of the opening of Girard College in 1848.  Their meetings occurred frequently in 1946 and at one meeting they adopted the motto: “We Have a Date in ‘48”.  By the end of 1946 their plans were formulated and included:  biographical sketches of past Girard presidents, preparation of a brochure, the making of a video film, developing musical programs to last the entire year, publicity about the college, fund raising, selection of a city hotel as the Centennial Headquarters etc.   One of the programs involved extensive public relations to educate the public about Stephen Girard and his College.  A video was being made about life on the campus.  Many copies were to be made and taken on tour with alumni who joined the Alumni  Speaker’s Bureau.  Two hundred speaking engagements had already been planned.

            The College staff was exceptional  in 1946 and their educational backgrounds were impressive.  Excluding the medical staff, ten people had Doctors degrees and fifty-one had Master’s degrees.  Thirty-four had either their undergraduate or graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, a statistic that was probably influenced by Dr. Odgers having come from the U of P to Girard College.  Dr. Odgers wrote that the excellent professional staff was a attributed to the salaries that enabled the college to hire and retain staff.  One of those hired this year was John Lander, a 1940 graduate who later would become President of the College.  Most of the Alumni were returning from service and about one-third were entering Colleges under the “G.I Bill”.  Many received financial assistance from the Board of City Trust and the Alumni Scholarship Fund.

            The College still maintained a unique double curriculum whereby students received both vocational and academic training.  In 1946, the students in the upper buildings were rearranged by classes.  Instead of each building housing students from all four years of high school, they were rearranged so that each building had only classes from two years.  After leaving Lafayette, boys went to either Banker or Merchant Halls, and then moved to Mariner, to Bordeaux and finally Allen Hall as they progressed in high school.  In an effort to prevent the continued decreases in student population  “border-line candidates” were being selected and for the first time the College advertised for students.

            Plans were progressing for the Centennial celebration and now included a Philadelphia Bar Association plan to present a play titled “Girard”.  Stephen Girard’s restored furniture and other relics, cataloged and appraised this year at $46,428, were to be displayed.  The grand plans for refurbishing Founder’s Hall were curtailed because of the “excessive costs” and only essential re-wiring  occurred.  Work was underway to install a kitchen facility and toilets near the north entrance.

            Although the number of students dropped from 1694 in 1941 to 1306  in 1946, run-away inflation was severely hurting the college’s  buying power and  staff demands were causing major budgeting difficulties.  Operating cost rose nearly fifty percent in one year.  Applications for admittance continued to decrease so it became necessary to reevaluate facility requirements.

            Most of the pre-1900 buildings needed extensive repairs.  No major construction had occurred since 1933 and very little was spent to maintaining the older buildings.  In 1945, a decision was made to demolish Lafayette, Good Friends, and Banker Hall, intending to replace them with modern facilities.  Good Friends (no.9), built in 1886 to house 400 students in the 10-11 age group, was closed in 1947 and since it was not maintained it deteriorated.  Lafayette, contained a dining room for 1200 students besides housing the 12-13 age group, was built in 1881 and remodeled in 1928.  Banker Hall was built in 1850 as a service building, then later converted to a dormitory, and was never intended to house students.  The demolition of Good Friends and Lafayette buildings, both beautiful Gothic buildings, occurred in 1960.  Banker Hall was demolished in 1970.  The 1945 plan to replace these building was set aside because the student population continued to decline.

            On October 14, 1947, four key members of the Centennial Celebration committee were guests at the White House and they invited President Harry Truman to attend the celebration at the College.  The delegation was Joseph Gilfilen, President of the Board; Dr. Odgers, President of the College: Horace Deal, class of 1899, a contractor; John Stolp, class of 1900, a Chicago businessman; and Herman Macy, of the College staff.  President Truman expressed his desire to attend depending upon interference from other important commitments.

            In 1947, the House Group (west end) buildings reopened.  Good Friends was closed and Lafayette was partial closed.  Major reductions in staff occurred in the interest of economy.  By closing Good Friends, six positions in the Household Department and ten positions in the Service Department were eliminated.  An additional 21 positions were eliminated in the food service, made possible by the expanded use of the Student Work Program.  Twenty-two of the staff were honored for completing twenty-five years of service to Girard College.  The Post-graduate school was scheduled to be terminated at year’s end.

            The Alumni speaker’s Bureau was established and used to promote the College.  They spoke in conjunction with the film “The Life of a Boy at Girard College”, produced as part of the Centennial program.  The College also received national attention with an article published in the December 13, 1947 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.  Then too, articles about the college appeared in Newsweek, and Pathfinder and on continuous radio programs and “spot” announcements occurred throughout the year.  These actions significantly increased the number of applicants for entrance into the College. The Alumni considered the film among their most significant contributions to the events, especially since it enabled the Girard story to be publicized.

            On Dec. 3, 1947, the Girard College soccer team won the City championship by beating Northeast High School and in doing so they broke Northeast’s 60 game winning streak.  In the 25 years that Coach Otto was at Girard, his record was 267 wins, 11 losses and 8 ties.  In 1947 Harry Davis, “one of the greatest baseball players to be graduated from Girard College  died at age 74.  He was the first baseman for the Connie Mack Athletics from 1901 to 1910, during the period that the A’s won three pennants--1905, 10, and 11.  He was the home run king from 1904 to 1907.  After retiring as an active player he managed the Cleveland Indians and then became assistant coach to Connie Mack.  He retired in 1918.[4]

            The Centennial celebration, after four year of planning, was a grand year.   It began in December 1947 when during the Christmas Concert, Dr. Harry Banks’ original piece, “The Christmas Story” was presented.  The Alumni began the Centennial year (1948) with a January 3rd banquet and dance that was attended by 2100 people.  “This was by far the largest gathering of Girardians, their families, friends, guests and the College faculty ever assembled at one function.”[5]  The affair was held in the Armory and a new film, showing the life of a Girard student from first grade to graduation, had it’s first showing.  The entire program was aired, live, by  a local radio station, including  a speech given by Judge George W. Maxey, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  The last week of January was “Girard Week in Pittsburgh”.  It climaxed when 1000 people attended a showing of the Girard film at the Carnegie Music Hall.  Dr. Odgers spoke and presented an introduction to the film.  He also made several radio broadcasts during the week.

            The Centennial year was interrupted in March by a 12-day strike of College maintenance workers who set-up pickets at both gates.  Since the buildings were without heat and electricity, the College closed and the 1300 boys were sent home to relatives.  Alumni families housed many students.  The 25 workers returned to work after being threatened with the loss of their jobs.

            The Centennial attracted much alumni attention and caused the Alumni Association membership to rise to 2175 by March 1948, a 400% increase.  The goal was 2500 by Founder’s Day.  The alumni speakers group, by May 1948, had spoken to 354 organization throughout Pennsylvania and the Girard film was seen by  more than 27,603 people.  One Alumni Centennial gift to the college was the Memorial Music Room in the Library.  It was furnished with leather chairs, state of the art “Victrola” and many albums of music.  Included in the room was a special collection of library books and books written by Alumni.  Another alumni gift was a bronze commemorative plaque that was embedded in the walkway leading to Founder’s Hall.

            Naturally, the highlight of the year was Founder’s Week.  Continuous events were held ie:  speeches on education trends, needs of the youths, curriculum, the College history, Stephen Girard, and a play “Stephen Girard” staged at the Academy of Music.  The highlight of the week was a visit to the college by the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman on Founder’s Day, May 20th, and what a good time he had.[6]   He joined with the students and ten thousand guests in honoring Stephen Girard and Girard College.  He attended a special luncheon in Founder’s Hall and was given a bronze statue of Stephen Girard.  He planted two oak trees near the entrance of the high school and then visited the West End where he mingled with the little kids, sitting several on his lap and enjoying a Hum Mud with them.  He commented that he “was knee high in boys”.  He inspected shops and the Junior School.  Then he reviewed the Battalion[7], heard the playing of “Hail to the Chief” by the college band, and presented  a “new set of colors, a gift to the College from the Alumni Centennial Committee”.  The climax was a speech he delivered to the students and staff, from the Chapel, about educational problems in the public school systems. [8]  Girard College was honored on this historical occasion and President Truman enjoyed his visit and left totally impressed with Girard College.  The College received national attention.  The following day, the alumni unanimously made Truman an Honorary Member of the Girard College Alumni.

            That night several hundred ex-Hummers and their wives and dates attended the Centennial Dance, held at the Rose Garden Room of the Belluvue-Stratford.  John Diemond, class of 1903 and Vice President of the Board of City Trust (later President) , speaking at the Centennial Banquet revealed that financial constraints were necessary in handling the Girard Estate.  In 1898 the average yearly maintenance of a boy was $300 and in 1948 it was $1750.  “To maintain and educate 1800 boys on the basis of (1948) today’s inflation costs would require an income of $3,150, 000.  This is approximately 2.5% on $135,000,000 invested capital ---which we do not have.”  Diemand concluded with the following “Thus a grand and glorious story with an eternal plot, fifteen thousand characters, and the wide world as the scene of action concludes its first chapter.  In this our triumphant hour, let not our proud spirit blind us from the fact that the future of Girard College depends, in no small part, upon an intelligently loyal and sincerely interested alumni.”  At that time the Estate was worth $88,893,629 including $13 million, the value of the Girard College grounds and buildings.  Inflation, especially in food and clothing, was taking its toll on the College and the yearly operating cost now exceeded $2 million.

            The Centennial was also celebrated at the camp with  the dedication of a Stephen Girard plaque presented by the Alumni and unveiled above the fireplace in the Recreation Hall.

            The College had a glorious first 100 years.  Stephen Girard’s dreams had been fulfilled and many orphans benefited from his wishes.  In 1974, Founder's Hall was placed on the National Register Of Historic Buildings.  Girard College is still an impressive campus, an oasis in a badly deteriorated neighborhood.  Would the future be as glorious as the first 100 years?

 



[1]   The author was one of those kids and remembers mostly the box lunch the College prepared for each child.

[2]   Cunningham’s retirement party was held on Dec. 6th 1941.  He wrote what I believe to be the best book written on the College. It is entitled Memories of Girard College.  He is the only person who actually interviewed some of the original students who entered the college in 1848.

[3]   Steel & Garnet February 1943

[4]   Steel & Garnet September 1947

[5]  Steel & Garnet January 1948

[6] Truman was the seventh President to visit the College,  preceded by James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James  C. Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.

[7] The battalion, consisting of the high school students, drilled weekly.  This drilling was an outstanding application of military discipline, drilling, and rifle handling that aided the boys who later entered military service.

[8] The text of President Truman’s speech can be found in the June 1948 S & G.



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