August 21, 2003
Activism brought war effort to Yellow Springs and Antioch College
Even though the United States was not yet involved, at the onset of World War II in the fall of 1939, Yellow Springs and Antioch College were looking ahead and speculating on the role Americans would and should play in the growing conflict.
Commentary on the subject appeared regularly in the weekly editions of the Record, the student newspaper at Antioch. In the fall of ’39, the Record took an informal poll asking male students if they would fight if the U.S. declared war on Germany. The response was mixed.
One student, Jack Booher, was poised to resist the fight. “There are going to be two guys missing on M-day: me and the guy they send after me,” he said.
Still others resigned themselves to the inevitable. “I’d be scared, but when the bands began to play, I guess I’d go,” Bill Harris said.
Antioch College President Algo Henderson said in the Record that the U.S. should “throw the full force of our moral support behind the Allied powers, selling them materials and munitions and helping them in whatever way possible short of actual participation.”
The student activism that had been fostered at Antioch during Arthur Morgan’s presidency in the 1920s and ’30s led to the formation of Socialist Party groups, which in the early 1940s rallied around the call for peace, according to a student paper on Antioch and WWII by David Wilson.
The Antioch Liberal Club formed to defend civil liberties, reject “war-fever” and support labor unions and federal welfare. The group organized a peace march through the village in November 1939 and later that winter sent a delegation of students to Washington, D.C., to protest the war.
Even while strong antiwar sentiment swept through Antioch, many students and faculty members were preparing for war.
The Antioch Foundry, which was sold by Antioch to General Motors in 1940, was manufacturing and selling military aircraft parts to the Lockheed company in California.
“Campus Frontiers,” a promotional film made by the college in 1942, reported that many students were contributing to the war effort through their co-op jobs. An article in the Christian Science Monitor a year later reported that 80 percent of Antioch’s co-op jobs were related to the war and that the Vernay Patents Company, started at an Antioch industrial institute, produced thermostats used in warplane engines.
When the U.S. joined the war at the end of 1941, student activism on campus turned toward supporting the troops for the quickest means to ending the war.
Although students on campus were busy sorting out their feelings and expressing their views, Yellow Springs may have been more anxious before the war started.
By February 1941, Ohio had called its third draft summoning Yellow Springs boys to training camps around the country. In April a group of local residents appealed to the community for donations on behalf of a local family, Fritz and Marie Treuer, who had a sister in Vienna who needed fare to escape the Nazi death camps in Poland.
By summer, Yellow Springs had become a member of the Patterson Field Defense area. And soon Miami Township Red Cross volunteers began collecting war relief clothing for Allied troops.
Four days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the News published an announcement accounting for the local residents who had been on the island that morning. Everyone from Yellow Springs survived the attack, but local residents immediately started shoring up resources, and making emergency plans to secure life and property in case of an attack at home.
Henry J. Grote and James Ian were appointed co-coordinators of civilian defense activities under the 46 member Yellow Springs Council of Defense. The group gathered auxiliary police and fire personnel, trained first aid teams and organized air raid and bomb squads. The council also coordinated emergency response with the college, mapping out victim transport vehicles and locations and lining up makeshift hospital supplies and accommodations in case of a disaster.
On Feb. 18, 1942, Yellow Springs ran its first air raid drill. The same week, the News reported that 212 men had signed up to serve in the war.
Meanwhile, local businesses started advertising their products and services by associating them with the war effort. The post office sold defense stamps, the beauty salons boasted saving on aluminum and even the lumber company urged people to conserve wood, all in the name of “Defense!”
Rubber was also a precious commodity during the war, and Mayor Lowell Fess set up a commodity distribution committee to ration automobile tires.
A committee was collecting rubber by the summer, and residents soon found that sugar and gas were being rationed as well. Many scrap metal drives were also being held throughout the war.
By this time Antioch students had formed war relief committees to assist with correspondence with student service members, organize war relief suppers and plan for disaster through the campus war council.
In 1942 through the federal War Relocation Authority and with help from the American Friends Service Committee, the college also accepted a small group of Japanese American students whose families were imprisoned in internment camps. Alice Kozaki, Lois Noda, Nao Okuda, Mari Sabusawa (Michener), Fumiko Shitamae and Earl Yonehiro were among those who came to the college that year.
Antioch’s enrollment dropped severely when the U.S. entered the war, and the loss in tuition put the college in grave need of assistance. In November 1942, the U.S. government organized the Army Specialized Training Program, designed to educate Army and Navy enlisted men and save small schools that might otherwise have folded from low enrollment.
In the fall of 1943, 400 ASTP soldiers and seven administrators came to Antioch, nearly doubling the student body. To make room for the incoming servicemen, many civilian students had to find housing off campus. The college’s cafeteria was converted into an Army mess hall for ASTP students only; all others had to eat in the Tea Room.
The program had only been going a month and a half when Army commanders complained that the village sanitary system was spreading dysentery on campus. They said that if the situation was not immediately remediated the ASTP program would be shut down.
Though the Village fixed the sewage system, the army abandoned what was supposed to be at least a yearlong program at Antioch, forcing the school to take legal measures to recover the $60,000 it spent on improvements and extra faculty to accommodate the program for the semester.
President Henderson argued that the withdrawal was politically motivated and that Antioch was the victim of wartime hysteria.
Rumors soon surfaced that the army had been using the health issue as an excuse to withdraw from its contract after a former Antioch affiliate spread word that the college was “radical and that Antioch faculty were largely Communists who advocated complete, legal equality for Negroes,” David Wilson wrote in his student paper.
Not only did Antioch’s reputation suffer from the withdrawal, but the college was forced to reduce its staff, cut faculty salaries and temporarily close the cafeteria until the government settled and paid in full.