Pearl Harbor Attack Plunges DePaul into WWII: 75 Years Later

Lisa Geiger
December 15, 2016

This month Americans marked the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the country into World War II. The outbreak of war posed challenges to DePaul faculty, students and staff that would shape the university's development for decades to come.

Immediately after the Sunday attack, the "The DePaulia" called for voluntary student enlistment in military and Red Cross service and spread news of a DePaul-sponsored civil defense unit in Lincoln Park. In the attack's aftermath, many senior men entered their final semester knowing they'd move immediately on to voluntary or drafted military service. The 1942 yearbook lamented how many seniors, who'd sat for their graduation photos just two months before the Pearl Harbor attack, hadn't imagined they'd be trading their "cap and gown for helmet and uniform."

Women at DePaul also saw immediate changes after the attacks, as defense support and fundraising groups formed at both campuses. The "Singing Knitters" began meeting in the Loop to sew clothing and roll bandages while practicing patriotic songs, and DePaul's dean of women organized a Red Cross unit in Lincoln Park. In the following months, DePaul women also took part in war bond drives, defense industry instruction, and military service like the Navy's WAVES and the Army's Auxiliary Corps programs, fulfilling one upperclassman's understated prediction that "war time women will be more interested in rivets than her nails."

Part of a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps advertisement in the Jan. 14, 1943 'The DePaulia.' (DePaul University/Special Collections and Archives)

War inevitably meant a drop in university enrollment, as defense work called men and women from their studies. To keep faculty employed and cut costs, university President Rev. Michael J. O'Connell moved most academic work to the school's 64 E. Lake St. building and leased parts of the Lincoln Park campus to the U.S. Army. The Army Specialized Training Program and the Signal Corp sent several cohorts of more than 500 men to the campus for military training combined with coursework, designed for officers and technicians. Providing amenities to army trainees proved a challenge to a university that, at the time, didn't offer residential services. Trainees slept in DePaul Academy, attended classes in the college buildings, and drilled in the athletic field and College Theatre. "The DePaulia" ran a special section edited by ASTP men detailing campus events and intramural sports.

DePaul also sponsored tuition-free courses for non-students in preparation for defense plant work, including industrial sciences, management and accounting classes. Army and defense training kept DePaul faculty fully employed during the war, despite enrollment dropping from 6,600 to 4,200 students by 1943. Some staff members left DePaul for military service leading up to and after the outbreak of war, including basketball coach Tom Haggerty in 1940, while several Vincentian priests left campus to become military chaplains. 

While the outbreak of World War II challenged the DePaul community, it also heralded programs that helped shape the university's growth. Credit reimbursement programs for defense training preceded the massively popular 1944 G.I. Bill's tuition payment program. Many service-people, whose first exposure to a DePaul education came during those training courses, returned to the university for post-war studies. The ensuing enrollment boom helped expand academic programming and new facilities over the next several decades. Those achievements, however, were far from the minds of DePaul's student body in December of 1941, as the anxious undergrads prepared to march off "to meet the fate of their generation."