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World War II Knocks on Albright's Door

WWII Knocks at Albright's Door WWII Knocks at Albright's Door
WWII Knocks at Albright's Door WWII Knocks at Albright's Door

When Captain Maynard H. MacDuffe arrived on campus early in March 1943 and activated U.S. Air Force Seventh College Training Detachment (Air Crew), the reality of World War II hit the students of Albright College. The government took over Selwyn Hall, Selwyn Annex and the third floors of the Administration and Theological (now Teel Hall) buildings, and student's everyday lives were drastically changed. The College was now home to some 200 enlisted men.

The full contingent of men were divided into five sections of 40 men each. These "flights," took turns at the college for seven weeks before being transferred to a classification center. Similar "flights" came and went every four weeks. They were instructed in military training by members of the army staff, and in physics, history, mathematics, English and geography by the college faculty, augmented by part-time instructors from the outside.

Female students displaced from Selwyn Hall were now housed in the chapel residence hallitory and fraternity houses. Fifteen of them roomed in private homes in the area. As for the men, fraternity houses and nearby homes were their places of refuge.

Mae Jean Rosser '45, a resident of Coatesville, says because of the times students did not fight being forced out of the residence halls or having the Air Force on campus. "The men were like a separate entity. Their training schedule was very rigid and they didn't want any trouble."
Rosser was one of the women who was forced out of Selwyn Hall. "I had lived on the top floor of Selwyn," she says. "We each had a corner for ourselves with a desk, bed and light. There was also a huge chest of drawers and we had three or four drawers each. The beds in this room were used as lounge chairs, while across the hall there was a room with four beds that we used for sleep. Three of my girlfriends and I moved out of Selwyn and into a nearby private home. We lived in an attic and there was no space at all."

Rosser says living quarters during her third year were even more cramped, but the friendships she made were worth the discomfort. "We moved into the 'Kappa' house. In this house there were 12 girls. My mother sent me a flannel night gown to put over my pajamas because it was cold when the snow came through the windows onto the bottom of our beds. When we had blackouts we would gather in the living room. One of my girlfriends could play the piano by ear. We would all sit around and she would play songs for us."

The tone of the campus was distinctively military. Guard duty was strictly performed, and unwary students found themselves challenged peremptorily on a moonlight walk past certain buildings. The soldiers marched to and from classes in military formation. Civilian instructors were at first astonished to have their class stand at attention when they entered the room. As a result this procedure was changed and they simply sat at attention. "Those in the army were completely separated from us. We would watch them march through campus, but that was about all. They also had separate meal times than us," says Rosser.

The summer of 1943 was undoubtedly the busiest in Albright history according to Gingrich and Barth's "A History of Albright College, 1856-1956." There were two regular six-week summer sessions enrolling 109 students, and five received their degrees at the end of the summer school. In addition there were the 200 men of the air crew and 232 students in the day and evening classes of the Federal Program for Engineering, Science, Management, and War Training, sponsored jointly with Pennsylvania State College. When the college opened in September, the total full-time enrollment was 232, of whom 151 were women; usually the men outnumbered the women two to one.

At a Trustee's meeting on February 9, 1944, President Harry V. Masters announced that while the Army Air Force program officially ended January 29, a 90-day termination period allowed the men who began the program to complete it. The last group left campus on May 25, 1944.
Every part of the nation was represented in the Air Force program including men from New England to the deep South, and the eastern coast to the Pacific. After the close of the war, some of them returned to Albright to complete their college courses. "I would say about 75 percent of the Albright students came back and graduated in either 1947 or 1948," Rosser says.

- Kate Sheeran '01

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