About the Exhibit
The University of Pittsburgh began its work in support of the war effort before the U.S. officially entered the war in April 1917. On March 27, 1917 by the direction of the Board of Trustees, Samuel B. Linhart, the Secretary of the University of Pittsburgh, sent a letter to President Woodrow Wilson with the following:
“Resolved, That the Board of Trustees of the University of Pittsburgh place all the available resources of the University which the Government of the United States may require, in case of threatened or actual war, at the disposal of the Government.”
Both President Wilson and the Secretary of War, Newton Baker, replied with gratitude but also with a warning about the ideas of what is required for war. The Commissioner of Education, Philander P. Claxton, expressed it best:
“If the war should be long the country will need all the trained men and women it can get…When the war is over there will be made upon us such demands for men and women of knowledge and training as have never before come to any country…In all international affairs we must play a more important part than we have in the past.”
In spite of the country’s neutrality in the three years prior, prominent Pittsburgh residents felt that America ought not to let Europe fall to Germany and the Central Powers. One such person was Mrs. Henry L. Collins (Elizabeth B. Thaw), who donated $25,000 to the University in April 1917 to equip what would become Base Hospital No. 27 at the Mongazon Seminary in Angers, France. Just weeks before the U.S. entered the war, 46 Pitt physicians and 50 medical students from the University volunteered to set up and staff Base Hospital 27 well before any American soldiers were at the front.
University faculty, staff and students in the sciences were assigned to tasks in support of the war. By January 1918, 88 Pitt faculty members and 450 students were in government service either as soldiers or as staff for the War Department. Some faculty members were sent to head up Federal departments that focused on administration of science and engineering functions of the War Department. The chemists in the Mellon Institute (then part of Pitt) were assigned to Gas Defense Work. The School of Economics conducted a course to train men for the supply division of the Ordnance Department. Faculty in Engineering set up training courses for work on the gasoline engines of the Standard B “Liberty” Truck. Within six months of their arrival on April 11, 1918, 2,200 men were being trained at Pitt.
To accommodate this influx of recruits to the Pitt campus, the University built seven barracks that could each house 1,000 men, a mess hall that could seat 2,000 men, and a YMCA hospitality center on the hill above Soldiers & Sailors Hall. Prior to this time, the University did not yet have dormitories, so until these buildings were constructed, students had lived at home, in boarding houses, with local families or in fraternity houses.
Military training became compulsory for all male students. The Student Army Training Corps was formed for draftees to provide military training while also completing classes. University lectures were shortened and classes were completed by 4 PM so that military drills could be conducted in the early evening. Pitt Co-eds (as the female students were called) were required to devote at least four hours per week to national service activities. Pitt women, including students, faculty, faculty wives and staff were encouraged to volunteer for various war activities. The Red Cross Auxiliary made surgical dressings and knitted garments for soldiers, the Red Cross Home Service Institute offered training to support military families, and the Women’s Liberty Loan Committee sold bonds.
Pitt students wrote a letter to President Wilson suggesting that students of all colleges volunteer to work on farms. Called the Pittsburgh Plan for a short time, the letter suggested that “Europe will have to rely on the harvests of America to ensure a robust food supply for the war and our allies.” Under the School of Education it became the War Garden movement. This encouraged cultivation of small plots of gardens as well as volunteers to bring in the harvests at local farms and classes in preserving food.
Holidays were shortened, semesters compressed and graduation was scheduled year round. Some students got their degrees in absentia.
We dedicate this exhibit in memory of the thousands of men and women from Pittsburgh who served in World War I. Although one hundred years has passed since the war began, we remember those who answered the call.