Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stephens: A Look Back - 1943

It’s 1943, World War II is in full force and Stephens College is seeing the ripple effects of a changing social landscape.

Throughout the 1943 Stephensophia yearbook, it almost seems administrators and faculty don't quite know how to respond. On one hand, they're writing messages directly in the yearbook to students stressing that the ladies are going to want to return to roles as homemakers when the war is over. 

At the same time, Stephens is clearly educating women for new opportunities.

It's almost as though Stephens this year has one foot in the past and the other in the future.

For example, President James Madison Wood’s message. It reads: 

“In the past year women have moved into more responsible positions in the conduct of the nation’s affairs than they have ever before occupied. This situation has been induced in part by the demands of the emergency and in part by the increasing competence of women to share the social and economic responsibilities which have been traditionally allocated to men. This enlarging scope of activity, however, does not mean a lessening of the fundamental responsibility of women for safeguarding the integrity of the home and fostering those ideals of service that are essential in a democratic society. After the war, the majority of young women, as now, will still look forward to assuming the duties and privileges of homemaking and motherhood. Our angle of vision must be broad enough to include education for peace as well as education for the immediate exigencies of war. The long view in education is the best guarantee against confusion of thought and distortion of purpose.”

Dr. Henry Bowman, now head of the new Division of Home and Family Life, has perhaps an even stronger sentiment (he was the creator of the “Marriage for Moderns” series), saying: 

“Most women eventually marry. Most married women are homemakers. Most homemakers also become mothers. Therefore, in spite of changing conditions, the activities involved in marriage, homemaking and parenthood are still basic for the majority of American women. At Stephens, we believe that girls can be trained for these activities and that a college should consider that training as one of the major aspects of its program.”

Dr. W.W. Charters, this year on leave to be an administrator in the Training Division of the War Manpower Commission in Washington D.C., clearly understands that this generation would be changing the rules for women in America. He writes: 

“From the capital of our nation, now resolutely pouring all her resources of manpower and money into a fight to defend our self-determined ways of life, I send a message to my good friends, the girls of Stephens…Today when you pass through the archway as a graduate you face more troubled problems than any of your predecessors have encountered. Upon you will rest the ‘setting of a trend’ that will control the future. Each in her own way will do her bit as a well-informed citizen, an intelligent mother, a dependable worker in the fields of life. Neither in panic nor in fear but in confidence and good will you will meet your destiny.”

But the programming at Stephens this year is clearly helping women pursue careers traditionally filled by men. 

There’s a new communications department that is training “the host of girls interested in fields of aviation.” We’re told many of the 19 post-graduates are working for commercial airlines after completing training to become reservation clerks, aircraft communicators or traffic controllers.

And an Aviation Club is organized with 24 members all taking aviation courses. This isn’t the flight program—that happens next year—but the students are making airplane models. They also attracted as a guest Major Alexander de Seversky, a Russian American aviator now known as an aviation pioneer.

Stephens women are also starting to train to become journalists. Stephens Life this year is partnering with the Columbia Daily Tribune, which is serving as a laboratory for advanced journalism students. We’re told they’re given the same assignments as regular reporters. Betty Weaver, editor of Stephens Life, would actually go on to be a reporter at the Tribune.

We're told a lot of media attention has been on Stephens this year, especially for war-peace activities on campus. This is the year that Vogue featured Stephens, as well.

Clubs and organizations are focused on the “war emergency,” with many dedicating service projects toward the effort. A War-Peace Organization is added to the Civic Association, as well.

Speaking of the Civic Association, Rosemary Wilmeth is president this year. She’s quoted as saying: “There’s something at Stephens you can’t put into words. There’s a certain spirit among the girls that has to be felt before you can understand or know what it is.” 

Wilmeth also represented the Ideal of Forcefulness. She would go on to be Rosemary Reeves, a former Stephens trustee and donor who created an endowed scholarship, still given today in her honor.

We’re told the presence of Navy men and Army air cadets in Columbia is shaking things up on campus. More social activities are being held in the Lela Raney Wood ballroom, including regular Saturday night “date dances.”

Eleanor Roosevelt visited Columbia this year, and Stephens students were among attendees.

Also, we found Lottie May Wing in the pages of the junior class. Wing would go on to be the grandmother of one of our incredibly talented students, Kate Rudder ’15.

The yearbook ends with autograph pages and clever quotes such as: “Your autographs and sketches and messages to me will make this book important in 1963.”

Some other great photos from 1943:

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