Dr. Clifton W. Potter Jr., LC History Professor
As part of the history department’s celebration of Women’s History Month, last Wednesday Jane VanBoskirk, ’70 presented her one-woman show “Eleanor Roosevelt – Across a Barrier of Fear” to an enthusiastic “town and gown” audience. As perhaps the most influential First Lady in our nation’s history, Mrs. Roosevelt served as the eyes and ears of her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a victim of polio. She was also one of his most trusted advisers, and there were only a few New Deal programs implemented between 1933 and 1945 that she did not influence. She was dedicated to gender equality, racial equality and providing the less fortunate with every possible opportunity to build better lives for themselves and their families.
With the entry of the United States into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, life began to change on LC’s campus. As the male students joined the armed services or were drafted, the size of the student body shrank at an alarming rate. To prevent the closure of the college, Dr. Riley Montgomery entered into an arrangement with the United States government to lease certain portions of our campus for use by the Air Force. Would-be pilots received their classroom instruction in Hopwood Hall and their in-flight training at Preston Glenn Field where the Lynchburg Municipal Airport is now located. Our female students who composed most of the regular student body thought that this was a wonderful solution to a potentially critical problem.
At the end of World War II, with the passage of the G.I. Bill – the last great piece of New Deal legislation – LC and every other institution of higher learning in America were changed forever. Education had liberated Eleanor Roosevelt from the stifling conventions of the early 20th century, and she believed in its power to transform the men and women who won World War II into “The Greatest Generation.” As these veterans of the world’s most terrible war filled our classrooms in the fall of 1945, they changed the very nature of LC. According to my uncle, Jim Harvatt ’50, who had spent three years in the navy, when an upperclassman suggested a return to prewar hazing several physically fit vets “persuaded” him that this would not be a good idea. They were also responsible for giving us the blessing of no Saturday classes. Most students on the G.I. Bill had to supplement their government checks with a part-time job, and they needed to work on Saturdays. When the faculty was ready to restore Saturday classes the veterans from the Korean War arrived on campus and put a stop to that.
When I was a student, there was a large plaque hanging on one of the walls in Hopwood Hall listing the names of our students who had served in the war. When I was a first year, I used to stop and read those names and say a silent thank you to them for their service and sacrifice. Hopwood Hall was remodeled in the early 1980s, the plaque was removed, and placed in storage. I still miss that reminder of the generation that realized the American Dream; we should restore it to a place of honor. I believe that Mrs. Roosevelt would approve.