Blast from the Past: Dartmouth Then & Now

by Jacob Maguire | 1/3/18 2:30am

Although more than seven decades have passed since the end of World War II, and Dartmouth College has grown in size, prominence and scope over the past nearly three quarters of a century, some things haven’t changed. A few interviews from “The War Years at Dartmouth: An Oral History Project,” a collection of over 100 stories of Dartmouth alumni and relatives, illustrate what has changed and what hasn’t.

For instance, in an interview with Mary Donin, former Oral History Project editor at Dartmouth, Walker Weed ’40 alluded to a phenomenon to which many Dartmouth students can relate: the “Dartmouth bubble.”

Weed, who enrolled at Dartmouth in the fall of 1936, attended Dartmouth during the years in which World War II escalated in Europe but graduated a year before the U.S. entered the conflict, said that he felt isolated from world events in the quintessential New England town of Hanover.

“We were in a shell,” Weed said in the interview. “I was at least. I donʼt know why we werenʼt more conscious of international affairs. Probably because it just wasnʼt of great interest [to us].”

Weed recalled that, to his knowledge, only one of his peers, William Howard Wriggins ’40, who later went on to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 1977 until 1979, stayed up-to-date about foreign affairs at the time.

“[Wriggins] knew very much what was going on during those years whereas I was not [informed],” Weed said to Donin.

Even though today’s students at Dartmouth have access to cell phone service and the internet, which allows them to be informed about current events if they choose and stay in touch with their friends in other parts of the country, many share the sensation of feeling trapped in a shell, or bubble, in Hanover.

Although Weed and other Dartmouth students felt secluded from world events during the early 1940s, numerous servicemen and veterans attended Dartmouth during and after World War II.

Gordon Thomas ’49 started his college education at Dartmouth in July of 1945 but entered the U.S. military after two terms on campus and served until the fall of 1947. Thomas, who was studying at Dartmouth throughout the summer of 1945, vividly remembered celebrating Victory over Japan Day on Aug. 15 of that year.

“Everybody of course was glued to the radios for news in those days because the War was still on ... and everybody knew that the end of the War was coming,” Thomas said— “And when Japan capitulated, there [were] huge celebrations — parades, spontaneous parades on campus. I remember up North Main Street in front of Parkhurst and people screaming and hollering and waving flags and passing bottles … there was a lot of drinking.”

The majority of the students at Dartmouth were affiliated with the military, predominantly the U.S. Navy, with a student-serviceman to civilian ratio of 3 to 1. According to Thomas, Dartmouth only “had a few dorms for civilians: Butterfield, Russell Sage, New Hamp[shire], Topliff and Wheeler.” Thomas recalled that the Gold Coast and the Massachusetts Row dorms entirely housed U.S. Navy servicemen, and Hitchcock housed many U.S. Marines.

Many of the servicemen were assigned to Dartmouth under the V-12 program, where aspiring officers of the United States Navy were able to earn degrees at participating colleges. Although Dartmouth is now considered to be one of the best institutions of higher learning in the United States, not all of the servicemen wanted to attend the College. Even if they did not come to Dartmouth by choice, Thomas said that most World War II veterans eventually became fully engaged in the community.

“A number of [the servicemen] were here by sufferance and not by choice… [Some] were never involved in anything at the College afterwards,” Thomas said. “But I would say the vast majority of them became part of the College and the mentality of it and the history of it.”

Many of these students later attended class reunions, which are held in September and June. In general, each graduating class at Dartmouth has a reunion every five years, and reunions for different classes are often scheduled concurrently.

Gordon also had fond memories of Dartmouth’s Greek system. Dartmouth, which did not begin admitting women until 1972, had several fraternities in the 1940s, and they included a mix of veterans and civilians.

“Fraternities had returning vets, and they had young people in it,” Thomas said— “So it was a mixed bag. And of course a number of the vets were married ... a lot of those did not join fraternities, they just lived with their wives off-campus.”

Today, Dartmouth has 28 recognized Greek chapters, including several coeducational houses, and nearly 90 percent of Dartmouth students live on campus in residence halls, College-approved Greek houses and interest-based houses.

One other aspect about Dartmouth has not changed: the brutal winters and students’ reactions to them. Waldo Fielding Med’43 recalled that Dartmouth’s winters as tremendously cold. Although he adjusted to the New Hampshire climate, some of his peers, especially those from the southern United States, struggled to adapt to the extreme temperatures.

“In the first winter we were there, the paths of the common had been plowed and the snow was piled up over your head on both sides of the path, and I happened to be walking back to North Fayerweather ... and there were two of these Naval guys in front of me,” Fielding said in an oral history project interview. “They were obviously from the South, and I actually heard one of them say to the other: ‘You know, itʼs a good thing we didnʼt win the Civil War; we would have had to occupy this damn country.’”

In 2018, Hanover remains cold during the winter, with temperatures frequently hovering in the low single digits. For Friday, Jan. 5, for example, the National Weather Service forecasts that the temperature on Dartmouth’s campus will range from a high of 3°F to a low of -16°F.

Gordon fondly remembered another aspect of Dartmouth during the 1940s: the low tuition rates. When Gordon first began his academic experience at Dartmouth in 1945, and when he returned in 1947, tuition cost just $450 a year. When adjusted for inflation in 2018 dollars, Gordon paid approximately $5,000 in tuition at Dartmouth.

“It was amazing how far you could stretch a buck back in those days,” said Thomas in the interview, adding that the G.I. Bill provided him with $500 per year and he could use that to cover tuition and books, as long as he bought used volumes.

During the 2017-18 school year, tuition at Dartmouth costs $51,468, a significant increase since the 1940s. However, Dartmouth distributed $95 million in financial aid to over 50 percent of its students during the 2016-17 academic year, with an average award of $47,833 per year to a qualifying student in the Class of 2020.

It’s clear that Dartmouth continues to evolve in many respects, while maintaining certain features.