Military Service in World War I
About the Collection
At the close of World War I Oberlinians, like the rest of the nation, thought about the possibilities of a new era of victory and peace.
To remember the Oberlin men and women who had participated in the fight “to save the world for democracy,” the College’s administration and the student body sought to make a “loving record of their service… [and] proudly claim them sons of Alma Mater,” to quote the words of William J. Hutchins in the 1920 Hi-O-Hi, the Oberlin College yearbook (page 5). To establish and report on the relationship existing between the alma mater and the honored service given to humanity, the College paused to feature the service of Oberlin students in the 1920 yearbook.
About twenty-five percent (or 322) of those who had served responded. Of special concern to the organizers of the tribute was the need in this institutional publication to recognize the thirty-two individuals appearing on “Oberlin’s Roll of Honored Dead” (Hi-O-Hi, page 4). Consisting of more than one hundred and fifty pages, this yearbook material is the first item in the “virtual collection.”
The select historical photographs of World War I (WWI) Oberlin service men and women appear here as the third virtual collection placed in a digital environment by Oberlin’s archival program between September 2003 and March 2005. The first virtual collection placed on the Internet covered the Museum Objects Collection (235 items) and the second the Historical Portraits Collection (24 items). Through the application of descriptive and ContentDM standards, project teams constructed these digital collections for end users. Collectively, though, the three virtual collections appear/occur in digital space—“records outside archival custody but under archival control,” to quote David Bearman.
The 322 black and white photos found in this third digital archives collection, with only several minor exceptions, are a subset of items (two Hollinger boxes) from the Oberlin College Archives, Record Group 32, General Photographs Collection, 1848–1999. The photographs are of various origins and sizes, and were not all created for the Hi-O-Hi yearbook’s purpose. In the virtual collection, the World War I photographs begin with the second item.
There is a provenance story behind the placement of the original photographs in the College Archives. Lottie May Bose ’20, the editor of the Hi-O-Hi, sent a letter in early 1919 to Oberlin’s service men and women (1206 in the U.S. forces [home and abroad] and 279 in the YMCA, YWCA, and nurse’s corps) seeking their participation in the 1920 student yearbook by asking each of them to send an individual photograph in which they were dressed in military service uniform. Not every service man and woman responded to the yearbook editor’s appeal for an individual photograph; some individuals did, yet others, lacking an individual photograph, offered a group photograph in which they appeared. For the most part, then, those men and women featured in the 1920 Hi-O-Hi are those who submitted a photograph to the yearbook.
Once the College delivered the student yearbook publication to its publisher—The Champion Press, Columbus, Ohio—College Secretary George M. Jones (class of 1894) made a second request. He asked that the participating individuals consider giving Oberlin College the photograph to include in its permanent record collection administered by the Office of the Secretary. It is clear that, because some service personnel sought the return of their individual photograph, the number of photographs permanently filed and retained in the Secretary’s Office is smaller than the original number received in 1919 for use in the Hi-O-Hi (pages 18–130). The exact number received in response to the College’s request is unknown. This subset, along with hundreds of other College photographs, was transferred in the mid-to-late 1960s from the Secretary’s Office to the College Archives, established in May 1966. Because the Secretary served as the College's unofficial archivist before that date, the files of the Office of the Secretary contain important records relating to World War I.
Oberlin men and women served in the armed forces and many other service agencies during World War I. Among these were the U.S. Air Service (aviation), U.S. Ambulance Corps, U.S. Army (infantry), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Medical Corps, U.S. Navy, YMCA and YWCA services, and others. In the “Great War,” as some observers referred to the fighting in the European Theater, the services of the Oberlin College Trustees and faculty were also made available to the U.S. government. Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King, for instance, served as the director of the religious work of the Young Men’s Christian Association among the American troops in Paris, France. Following this YMCA service, President Woodrow W. Wilson appointed King, along with Charles R. Crane, to the Inter-Allied commission on mandates in Turkey in 1919 (commonly referred to as the King-Crane Commission). President King’s two sons—Philip C. King, Class of 1910, and Donald S. King, Class of 1912—served in WWI and are featured in this collection of photographs.
Of particular interest here, too, is the story on the development of the Student Army Training Corps, the S.A.T.C. (Hi-O-Hi pages 141–150), on the Oberlin College campus during 1918. In July of that year Oberlin “sent her quota of fourteen students and one faculty member to Camp Sheridan, Alabama to take up the intensive training required” (page 143). At the end of the regular Officer Training Camp, eight of the 14 students received commissions and the other seven men returned to Oberlin College to act as Cadet Instructors.
The College converted the Men’s Building (now Wilder Hall) into an army barracks and during the fall semester of 1918 male Oberlin students had to incorporate a new course of study into their typical academic load. The S.A.T.C. inducted over three hundred men into the U.S. Army at Oberlin College, but before the Oberlin men were sent to fight in Europe the combatants signed the armistice ending the war. Demobilization of the troops followed.
Of the nearly 1500 individuals identified on the Oberlin war roster, among the notable Oberlin College participants were Henry Burt Hudson and Robert M. Hutchins. The good humored Hudson, who was called “Red” by his friends, was one of the most liked and respected men on campus. In 1916 the College awarded “Red” the Varsity “O” and his teammates elected him captain of the Oberlin College football team. During the summer of 1917 and before the fall collegiate football season, however, he enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Reserve Corps. Following his aviation training, he was assigned to a unit in France. He died in France on October 5, 1918, at the tender age of 24, when his single-seater, open cockpit spad was gunned down in a dogfight by German Fokker planes behind enemy lines. He is buried in the Argonne Cemetery in France.
In 1923, when the Class of 1918 celebrated its fifth reunion, 78 members of Hudson’s class contributed $2,500 to establish a scholarship fund “in memory of ‘Red’ Hudson, athlete, scholar, and well loved classmate” (“1918 Reunion and the Hudson Scholarship,” 1923). Hudson, a third-generation Oberlin student, followed the footsteps of his father James Fairchild Hudson, a Civil War corporal.
Although Robert M. Hutchins welcomed a break from his studies and an opportunity to engage in foreign travel, patriotic flag waving and calls to arms unsettled him and his father William James Hutchins (x1894, Hon. D.D. 1920). Young Hutchins joined the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps, Oberlin unit (Hi-O-Hi pages 125–128). Conscientious objectors sometimes volunteered for this service unit because its members were not required to bear arms; Hutchins, though, was not a conscientious objector.
About four dozen Oberlin College students volunteered for the Ambulance Service Corps. Hutchins’ service training at Allentown, Pennsylvania and his tour of duty in Italy left him troubled by the jingoism and bored by the monotony he found in military service. He was uncomfortable with the notion that the U.S. took up arms to preserve “Christian culture.” Overall, he was not particularly impressed by his WWI experience.
Fellow Oberlin Ambulance Unit member Frederick B. Artz ’16 shared this troubled opinion of the military. “The army is everywhere alike,” he wrote in his journal, “a stupifying and brutalizing monotony, bad meals and rotten talk; it's [sic] highest ideal is a good meal, and its greatest thrill a crap game: a paradise for fools and bums” (journal, July 6, 1919). Artz’s journals, part of a collection of his papers in the Oberlin College Archives, provide insight into life in the Ambulance Corps.
A word is in order about the design and creation of individual biographical data sheets accompanying the photograph of each WWI participant photograph. The College Archivist selected the data fields, and theywere successfully field-tested. The in-house testing, however, led to some minor changes to the headings and the layout of the biographical data sheet. Over twelve weeks three community volunteers, led by Volunteer-in-Research Edward Schwaegerle, drew on the information contained in the alumni record folders of the 322 Oberlin graduates and former students to manually complete individual data sheets.
Project members Mark Genszler and Charles Frenzel ’05, with assistance from Roland M. Baumann and Ken Grossi, further refined the data and standardized the database contents and descriptive terminology used for each of Oberlin College’s World War I service men and women. Members of the project team entered data into a ContentDM computer database. Some data was drawn from other sources.
To support Oberlin’s teaching and learning enterprises, the project team added other pertinent World War I related historical material to the virtual collection. Among the digital subsets are the following:
- A list of individuals included in the virtual collection whose papers are held by the Oberlin College Archives
- A collection guide featuring search tips and abbreviations for the virtual collection
- Pages 3–5 and 11–162 of the 1920 Hi-O-Hi, including a roster of WWI Oberlin service men (pages 15–124), photographs, illustrations of the Oberlin College service flags (pages 11–13), and information concerning the Student Army Training Corps (pages 141–150), the Oberlin Military School (pages 138–140), the Oberlin Ambulance Corps Unit (pages 125–128), and the YMCA (pages 151 & 152)
- Two articles from the Oberlin Alumni Magazine relating to Henry B. Hudson ’18: “Hudson Scholarships and How They Grew” by Phil Tear ’43 (Fall 1979) and “1918 Reunion and the Hudson Scholarship” by Frances Brown (July 1923)
- An online exhibit for the King-Crane Commission of 1919 that includes photographs and descriptive information relating to the key members of the Commission and their work in the Middle East following WWI
By way of an interpretive comment and reflection, our reading of the alumni files of those subjects included in the WWI photograph collection indicates that the world war had an impact on the lives of these Oberlin women and men. For some, the time spent was a hiatus in a life foreordained to leadership and service; for others, the global war caused mental breakdown or moral doubt. Many left Oberlin to serve in the war and never resumed a formal education; others returned to embark on lengthy academic careers.
With some effort, one could examine the collection with attention given to war year classes and the numbers of graduates and non-graduates, those who completed a degree elsewhere, and other indicators of vocational consistency or interruption. The interesting yet less quantifiable matter of vocational pursuit and the effect of the war on such choices could be pursued by examining the student Career Placement Files (RG 39), held by the Archives (through 1945).