Feb 1, 2021 Thoughts/Opinions Wade Fullerton

Alma College in World War I



“There can be no turning back.” These were President Woodrow Wilson’s words when he asked Congress to declare war on Germany in early April 1917. Debates across the United States ensued concerning the extent of militarization. Over one hundred years ago – at the cost of five cents per copy – on April 10th, 1917, The Weekly Almanian opened with this question to the campus community. Will military training become a part of the regular course of the male students of the College?

The College answered with an almost unanimous agreement to prepare students and select professors for training. The writer’s introduction begins, “now that war has been declared and that real action seems imminent, it is the duty of every able-bodied man to prepare himself for the aefence of the flag, and for the liberation of the world from a German autocracy.” Life at Alma – as well as the rest of the nation – was about to change.

Name-known figures of Alma College spoke their minds in The Weekly Almanian. Dean Mitchell – known now as the name of Mitchell Hall on north campus – was hesitant to military mobilization at Alma College. He spoke to the interviewer explaining that “I don’t’ believe in military training because I think it tends to create a military caste, where the civilian has no rights such as a military man has, when it comes to respect. However, I believe it is now in order, and we ought to have it.”

However, a multitude of students and professors were in favor of training. Many of the professors quoted in the article have had prior military training and believe it to be more beneficial than athletics. Aside from the recent declaration of war, Alma College life thrived as it usually did.

The Almanian added personal touches. Advertisements of local businesses could be found between the articles’ margins. Alma College Alumni took the time to write about what they were doing and where they have been after they graduated. Wright Hall once had a section of the Weekly Almanian where students would report where they were traveling to on weekend breaks from school. Although these early editions of the Almanian were – for the most part – not that long ago, much of their language read of mannerisms and topics from a bygone era in Alma’s history.

With the addition of this new section of the paper, histories long-forgotten; of times where students would gather by the Pine River or socialize in Wright Hall; might come back. Not in a physical sense, but in something far more important than that. Remembrance.

In the words of Frank Hurst – class of 1904 – to the song “I Want to Go Back to Michigan,”

“There’s a school in Michigan,

And I often wish again,

That I was back just to live those days once more;

Then was I a student gay,

And I’d while the time away

On the river at night; by day I’d study, snooze and snore.

And lonesome soul am I,

Here’s the reason why: –

I want to go back, I want to go back,

Back to Alma College years;

Back through smiles and tears;

Back to Wright Hall and the dears;

I miss the teachers – the cruel creatures

That made me bone ’till four a.m.

They thought we came to College just for knowledge,

Nevertheless, we bluffed in classes and buzzed the lasses;

And our work was mostly play.

My heart would jump with glee

Could I but only see

Alma today!”

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