WWII spurred NIU reactions

By Lynn Rogers

With U.S. troops settled in and poised for war in the Middle East, students inevitably wonder how global hostilities can affect their daily lives. Fifty years ago, NIU students were wondering the same thing.

World War II, one of the deadliest conflicts in history, created havoc in the lives of millions of Americans. How did students cope when terror raged across the ocean? When Hitler attacked Poland in the fall of 1939, the world braced itself a long battle.

How did students cope when terror raged across the ocean?

Initially, student reaction here was similar to that of other campuses–that the U.S. shouldn’t get involved. That view soon changed, however, with Germany’s bombing of London and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Young men signed up in droves for the armed services, and NIU’s enrollment reflected that trend; it dropped to only 370 men and 638 women in 1941-2. By 1944-45, there were only 90 men and 408 women at NIU.

Life also changed for those who remained on campus. Discussions were held to inform students about the situation overseas and to provide a forum for their anxiety level; a Civilian Morale Committee and a Faculty Defense Council tried to spur volunteer efforts.

A news service began on campus during the war, and the Northern Illinois (the student newspaper) was sent to students at the front lines. Displays of these student soldiers were hung in Altgeld Hall’s front lobby and war bonds were sold to aid the economy.

By the close of the war in August 1945, 37 NIU students were among the nation’s 40,000 casualities. The Alumni Association established a Memorial Book Fund soon afterward to purchase books on the problems of world peace and international relations.

After the war, NIU’s enrollment boomed, with men outnumbering women for the first time in the history of the school. Among those returnees were several mature former officers, who valued the quality of education and demanded less restrictions on student life. They eventually succeeded in securing more independence for undergraduates.