World War I in Lawrence: KU faculty reacts to the war

More than a month before the U.S. entry into the conflict, the “European War” was on the minds of faculty at the University of Kansas. On March 2, sixty-three members of the KU faculty signed a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson, pledging “their support in any measure which may be adopted to preserve the honor of the United States.” Less than two weeks later, Prof. W. A. Whitaker sent a letter to all KU chemistry faculty, inquiring what service they could render to their country in case of war. Most of the chemistry professors who were willing to serve expected “to be assigned to duty in munitions factories.”

Toward the end of March, Chancellor Strong spoke to the students on the subject of patriotism, saying, “I hate war and hope it will never come, but if it does we want the President to feel that we are willing to do our best to defend the highest ideals in the world – even to the last drop of our blood.” A week later, Chancellor Strong opined that the war would last at least two years, possibly four; while several faculty members presented a resolution to abolish KU’s upcoming commencement exercises, saying the $5 graduation fee from the 400 students should be instead donated to a hospital fund.

The KU Senate foresaw the possible necessity of dropping some faculty members due to decreased enrollment as students continued to enlist. Another adjustment to the faculty was announced on April 24: “Dr. James A. Naismith, head of the physical training department at the University, has been granted a leave of absence for the duration of the war. Doctor Naismith is chaplain of the First Regiment of the Kansas National Guard and was on the border with the regiment last summer.”