In December 1941, when the United States entered the Second World War, the University of Texas was once again called to join in the nation’s service. The global conflict brought swift and dramatic changes to the campus, as activity was focused on the war effort. Science and engineering research became almost exclusively war-related, military topics found their way into most UT courses, and the Department of Aeronautical Engineering was created to meet the wartime “imperative demand for trained aeronautical engineers.” To help draft-eligible students graduate sooner, the academic year was compressed and additional sessions added just after Christmas and over summer so that a bachelor’s degree could be completed as quickly as two years and eight months.
Photo at left: “Train for Victory” was one of many brochures printed for UT students to explain how they could help with the war effort. The University particularly encouraged enrollment in physics and new aeronautical engineering courses.
A Naval ROTC unit was headquartered in the Littlefield Home, with two anti-aircraft guns placed on the front lawn of the Victorian mansion, and a practice firing range installed in the attic. By 1943, the ROTC unit had been absorbed into the Navy’s V-12 program, which brought thousands of officer candidates to the campus.
Physical preparation was also a high priority. A special “War Conditioning Course” was provided for male students, which included training in judo, boxing, wrestling, and grenade throwing. While co-eds were prevented from serving in combat roles, Anna Hiss, the director of physical training for women, believed the girls ought to be just a physically prepared, and invented a wartime class of her own. An obstacle course, later touted as the “the only obstacle course in the nation built especially for women.” was installed next to the Women’s Gym on the side of campus. The girls trained on balance beams, parallel bars, a series of hoops, hanging ropes, and a high fence helped to build strength and stamina. In October 1943, Universal Newsreels visited Austin and filmed the co-eds going through their paces, which was shown in theaters nationwide the following month.
Perhaps the most unusual wartime program was the University’s Date Bureau. With about 30,000 armed forces stationed in central Texas – particularly at Camp Swift, 28 miles southwest of Austin near Bastrop – there was a need to provide social activity for the “lonely soldiers” in the area. University co-eds already participated in USO dances for the soldiers, and UT music ensembles and theater productions toured to the local military bases to provide entertainment, but in the summer of 1942, the creation of a campus date bureau was announced.
“Designed to give a lift to army morale and relieve the alleged shortage of male ‘dates,’ ” reported The Daily Texan, “the bureau is a project of the Campus War Council.” Headquartered on the third floor of the Texas Union, the student-led council oversaw many campus wartime activities, including war bond promotions, book drives to send reading material to soldiers overseas, and a creative solution for all-University dances called the Longhorn Room, which garnered national press.
A co-ed interested in participating in the bureau was first required to get her parents’ permission, and then completed an index card with her name, age, hometown, and interests. Attached to the card was a small, 1 1/2 x 2 inch head shot. A two-day recruitment drive was held in October 1942. Almost 1,000 University girls registered.
Any college-aged soldier stationed in the area also had to register with the bureau and request a date for the upcoming weekend. Every effort was made to match similar interests, though the bureau – not the soldier – made the selection. Once a co-ed was chosen, she was contacted by the bureau, and if she had no other engagements, she would “consider it her patriotic duty to comply with the request.” Dates could only go to approved locations, and as further insurance against any “misconduct” of a soldier, the girl was to report back to the bureau the following day. Soldiers who broke the rules were barred from future dates.
Photo at left: A sign of the times. During World War II, the Littlefield Home, a 19th century Victorian mansion donated to the University by regent and donor George Littlefield, took on the role as headquarters for the Naval ROTC unit stationed on campus. A pair of anti-aircraft guns – one of them seen here – was placed on the front lawn, and a practice firing range was created in the attic. (You can still find bullet holes in the beams!) Click on the image for a larger version.