This Month in ETSU History

In September 1918, East Tennessee State Normal School (the previous name of ETSU) became one of several institutions that participated in a campus military program known as “Student Army Training Corps” (SATC). This program resulted from the National Defense Act of 1916 signed by President Woodrow Wilson and acted as a branch of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) to formulate and train high school and university students for the front lines. The SATC accepted young men between the ages of 18 and 21 which distinguished the program from the Selective Service Act of 1917 that drafted men of 21 years of age.

The SATC encouraged educational institutions to waive certain academic requirements and train male students for military duty while they still attended classes. This waiver was targeted for geographical regions where the number of male inductees was lower than their specified quota.

You might be wondering why there was such a great emphasis on army involvement during this time period. Throughout 1918, U.S. involvement in World War I increased. Although the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, steady shipments of manpower did not occur until the following summer. To ensure that the U.S. could maintain enough troops for the unknown duration of the war (the war ended on November 11, 1918), the U.S. government ordered the aforementioned adjustment to the educational requirements of entry into student army training programs and offered a free college education.

For the students who took part in this program, their semester included days that integrated course work with army training. The records at the archives do not present sufficient information as to their exact schedules; however, we do know that the program at East Tennessee State Normal School only lasted the fall semester of 1918. In contrast, several universities across the nation adopted the programs as permanent additions to their institutions.

Within the Archives’ Sidney G. Gilbreath Collection (President of East Tennessee State Normal School from 1910-1925) are documents pertaining to this program. Take a look at the application card use for enrollment below. Have you ever field out an application of such little detail?

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Not only do boxes of applications, special orders, and memorandums exist in the collection, but so do war department booklets. These booklets are a window into army culture of the early 20th century. For instance, one booklet, “Management of the American Soldier,” discusses the realities and expectations of army life. One of our favored sections is under the subheading “Cheerfulness” in which the author, Major General David C. Shanks, gives a personal anecdote about a short Irishman nicknamed “Shorty.” Shorty was a soldier in Shanks’ regiment while stationed in the Philippines and his humorous demeanor exemplified the need for strong and high spirits in mentally and physical stressful situations.

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Even during a time of war, humor is found.

If army training programs spark your interest, please come visit us or call us about our holdings, 429-439-4338. If you have family stories or personal experiences with student army training please feel free to comment. Discussion is integral for sharing experiences!

Additional resources on World War I may be found through the National Archives.

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