John H. Light, An Infantryman Remembers World Wtzr II. Shippensburg PA: Beidel Printing House, Inc., 1997. vii, 157 pp. Paperback, $10.95.
It was Pearl Harbor Day plus four. In that four years Dickinson College had lost most of its students to war service. It had lost one president, and its current one had been ailing since a March heart attack. It had lost much faculty and engaged the rest along with its facilities and energy in a training program for the air corps. Its senior students had entered in the fall of 1942 when the campus was still awash with freshman clinks and armbands, football games and pep rallies, compulsory chapel, pranks, and songs about the old stone steps.
The small band of students who had stayed on campus, watching as college life, friends, traditions, and student activities drained away, had become accustomed to a pervasive air of gloom. News came too frequently of yet another classmate killed in action. Those who were left stood aside with no complaints as the air cadets filled the sidewalks with the "hup, two, three, four" march from class to class. What faculty still available to teach college students scheduled classes at the edges of the day--eight o 'clock in the morning, war time, that is, or daylight time in the winter, double daylight in summer, or five o'clock in the evening. The thirty-minute walk from Metzger Hall to Baird Biology Building on the Mooreland campus was long and dark at either end of the day. One of the few activities to remain vital was the Social Service Club. The crisp uniforms of nurses aides seemed to multiply as more and more women filled a need at the Carlisle Hospital--a war bred need.
What social life there was centered in the Chocolate Shop, that narrow oasis on High Street, or in the rooms which the women's fraternities were permitted to rent for their activities. "Permit" was a big word. For women, everything that could be done had to be "permitted. " Most things were not permitted. Things like a Wheel and Chain (senior women 's honorary society) card party at fratemity rooms. No, according to The Dickinsonian of February 17, 1944, the card party had to be held in the Metzger Gym. That meant, among other things, no smoking. Smoking in 1944 was not thought to be harmful; it was recreational and one of the few pleasures available- but only in certain places, of course, and only when war scarce cigarettes could be found.
As air cadets arrived at Conway Hall for their training on campus, the strict curfews for women were moved up even earlier. Saturday night closing hour for dormitory doors was moved up from 12:15 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. During the week it was 10:15 p.m., and that only for upperclasswomen with decent averages. Others had to be in and quiet by 7 p.m. Stories have been repeated by generations of Dickinson women about the Victorian age rules and advice Dean Josephine B. Meredith dispensed at regular and sometimes spur-of-the-moment Metzger lectures, attendance mandatory, of course. The perils of wearing red, or patent leather shoes. If one could find a man still on campus and one who had a car, one was to be sure not to sit on his lap without the protection of a telephone directory or The New York Times. Young people never welcome advice that is "for their own good," but there was something incongruous about the war news, the deaths of classmates, and the patent leather shoe lecture.
As the fraternity houses emptied of men, the college rented some of them as women's dormitories. Junior women lived in the Beta Theta Pi House, West High and Mooreland. Seniors lived in the Phi Delta Theta House behind Denny Hall on North West street. Those women had thought the food at Metzer was bad. What they did with the ration books we turned in! But a new low was reached in what was called the "College Commons," really a barely convened Old Gym behind West College. A typical lunch might be fried noodles and fried potatoes. I once invited Gilbert Malcolm, of the college administration, to eat lunch in the commons cafeteria. He took a stab at the meal, but soon left in what I took to be disgust. Returned veterans often said, Why do you eat there? Come downtown with us. But women were not PERMITTED to eat downtown, only in the commons.