This is part one of a two-part post in which graduate students examined how Mundelein College students wrote about World War II in The Skyscraper student newspaper. This post spans the years 1937-1941, covering the time leading up to the U.S. entering the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Read part two of the series HERE.
The period in the late thirties leading up to World War II, the United States was marked by the stirrings of conflict abroad. While still reflecting upon a world changed by World War I, students became increasingly aware and concerned about the trouble brewing in Europe and particularly with Japan and China. The January 22 edition of The Skyscraper in 1937 urged students to “re-arm [their] soul[s] for another year in conflict.” Many of the articles written around this time placed much of their emphasis and message on spiritual resilience, and the duties of Catholics to uphold and promote peace. Students participated in peace marches and attended lectures on how peace could be obtained through social reform.
Japan’s invasion of China was recognized by Mundelein with lectures on the geopolitical history of the area, and discussions on the current conflict. Over the summer break between terms in 1938, Miss Eileen Scanlon, director of physical education, took a “world tour” where, among other places, she visited worn torn China without incident.
“Though right in the midst of it all, we saw no actual fighting,” Miss Scanlon reported. “We did however observe the ruins. Whole towns and villages wiped away. The people in Shanghai were living on the streets, and in Singapore, which is considered one of the crossroads of the world, it was strange to note that desolation and destruction had affected only the Chinese section of the city.”
The students of Mundelein were able to experience the impact of the war in China from a safe distance thanks to these firsthand accounts. While the students were generally unaffected in their daily lives by the stirring of trouble in Europe and East Asia, they did take note. In March of 1938, Junior Edythe Williams wrote for the Skyline about her experience traveling the German countryside the summer prior. She wrote on the manifestation of Nazi propaganda in these less urban parts of Germany, and how the current political atmosphere was apparently affecting the general populace.
There is a friendly atmosphere among the people who still come to market … They seem singularly untouched by the advent of modern theories of government and regimentation of citizens… Outwardly, however, I found them happy and contented, giving no evidence of oppression.The Skyscraper, March 8, 1938
While taking the role of observer, she acutely observes how prevalent Nazi propaganda was, even in the more remote parts of Germany, and how the daily lives of the average citizen were seemingly unaffected by the increasingly authoritarian regime. Alumna Wanda Pater, who had been studying in Warsaw, wrote to The Skyscraper of her experiences fleeing war-torn Poland in 1939.
It is around this time that the Skyline starts to show an increase in lectures and discussions on “the European crisis,” though figures like Hitler are still addressed respectfully as “world leaders,” as evidenced by an article in October of 1938. “… Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Eduard Benes, and other world figures conferred in Munich on day last month about the possibility of avoiding World War…”
The threat of war crept ever closer to the students of Mundelein, physically as military activity increased in Europe, as well as emotionally and spiritually. An article from March of 1938 reflected upon the tragedy of World War I how war again seemed imminent “the pendulum swings back again towards war.” The article also emphasizes again the role that Catholic women play in preventing war and promoting peace and urges the students to “pray for the triumph of peace.”
Overall, Mundelein students and faculty were strongly opposed to any sort of involvement in war. While they observed the growing conflict in Europe with concern, and advocated strongly for peaceful resolutions, they did not want the United States to enter the conflict officially. A poll taken among Catholic College students in 1939 shows that the majority of students were firmly opposed to any sort of military involvement in Europe.
As tensions in Europe continued to rise, discussions and lectures at Mundelein started to turn from solely advocating peace and expressing the need to avoid war, to a grimmer outlook. In October of 1940, the foreign editor for the Chicago Daily News spoke to the students about the likelihood of Nazi Germany trying to extend its grasp beyond western Europe and into the Americas. With each passing day, it became more and more apparent that the United States would have to get involved in the World-wide war, but to what degree was still up for discussion. In November of 1940 The Skyscraper published a guide to different forms of government, covering totalitarianism, communism, fascism, and democracy. Students were paying close attention to the conflict, now at less of a distance, as alumnae and others close to the school were returning from Europe with firsthand accounts. Faculty also started to show more involvement – in 1941 two professors decided to leave their positions to go aid in the national defense.
As 1941 came to a close, Mundelein students became more and more involved in America’s war efforts, even before the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor. While not abandoning the pursuit of peace, they hosted the Catholic Associate for International Peace conference in November. In December, students baked and shipped cakes off to military camps across the USA. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, students were prepared to help in the war effort in any way they could. Several articles from the last edition of the year instruct students on how they can help, whether it be more direct action, or indirect, as one article tells students to “Keep Smiling” and “Keep Praying.”
As Mundelein looked ahead to 1942 and to America entering a World War, they were steadfast in spirit, eager to help in any way they could, and hopeful in their outlook for the future.
Continue the story in part two of the series, Mundelein Responds to World War II: 1842-1946.
Eliora Horst is a graduate fellow with the Computer Science department, in her second year pursuing cybersecurity. In her spare time, Eliora paints, reads, and is involved in craft projects of all sizes and shapes.
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