World War I in Lawrence: KU students enrolled in mandatory military training

Editor’s note: Local writer Sarah St. John compiles reports on what it was like to be in Lawrence during World War I.

In October of 1918, the armistice was only weeks away, but with no foreknowledge of this, war-work was continuing at a high pitch. Earlier, the state of Kansas had inaugurated a student-soldier program called the Student Army Training Corps, or SATC. All male students entering the University of Kansas in September were automatically enrolled in this corps, with the exception of those who had not yet reached the age of 18.

Enrollment for the corps was held on Sept. 16, two weeks before the remainder of the student population arrived at KU, and work began immediately on at least twelve new barracks to house the student-soldiers.

About fifty students were employed as carpenters on the buildings, and men were sent into neighboring towns to recruit more laborers. Eight buildings were planned for McCook Field, with 2,200 feet of new water mains laid on Mississippi Street to 12th Street, and then east to Louisiana. Until their completion, students roomed in local lodges, fraternity houses, and private homes.

The SATC revolutionized life on campus. Athletics were to continue as usual, but according to a Journal-World article on Sept. 3, “Little more than an hour a day, however, will be available for practice. This will be after class work ends at 4:30 until mess which will be about 6:00. No students will be excused from drill or other work to practice football and other sports. Match games will be played as usual, but all will come on Saturday afternoons.” A four-quarter school year was planned, with no holidays granted and a leave-of-absence required for any students not in attendance. Eleven hours of classwork in “war subjects” were required from each student, with military drill planned for the early mornings. No outside work was permitted for SATC members.

The campus was again turned upside down in October. The close quarters of the new barracks may have contributed to the rapid spread of influenza, which had appeared briefly in the U.S. in the spring and made a roaring comeback in the fall. More details on the spread of the flu through the SATC in the next “World War I in Lawrence” column.


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