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All Things Augustine

VILLANOVA MAGAZINE

Spring 2002

Amidst the Depression and War, Progress Still Prevails
by Holly Stratts


Although the harsh economic reality of the Great Depression endured, the College steadfastly held to a progressive vision for the future. In 1929, the surging enrollment and physical growth of the 1920s prompted the planning of a capital campaign. As noted in Villanova University 1842-1992, Contosta wrote: “The administration and board of trustees hired the John Price Jones Corporation of New York City, experts in planning and fund raising, to examine Villanova and make projections about its needs. In its “Survey and Plan,” the consulting firm projected enrollment of about 2,000 students at Villanova by 1940 and recommended an ambitious construction plan combined with a campaign to raise $2,300,000 with $800,000 earmarked as a permanent endowment. In January 1930, Villanova announced its campaign and building plans.”

The Great Depression continued and caused palpable economic ramifications on the look and feel of the College. The College, however, managed to erect Fedigan Hall opened in 1930 and the new Commerce and Finance building in 1931, later called Vasey Hall. Surging enrollments of the 1920s began to plummet and by 1935 it was down to 700. Plans for new construction of a library, dormitories and a dining hall were postponed.

In order to help seniors stay in school during the winter and spring of 1933, which included the worst months of the Depression, the administration allowed needy students to take courses tuition-free. About two dozen seniors took advantage of the offer. That same semester the board of trustees voted to cut professors’ salaries by 10 percent in order to offset lost revenues to the college, Contosta further noted.

1932: A Most Memorable Year

- It was the year the Field House opened featuring a combined auditorium/gymnasium and swimming pool.

- The Rev. Edward V. Stanford, O.S.A. became president in the summer and remained until 1944.

- Villanova established a nursing department. The program that was developed offered a bachelor of science in nursing in nursing education and was administered through an extension arrangement under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It has no nurse administrator, nor did it provide a legitimate nursing major at the college level. College credit was given for nursing courses taken in hospital-based schools; courses in arts and sciences were taken at Villanova culminating in a bachelor’s degree.

- St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery burns. Fire, an enduring enigma to the physical plant, destroyed most of the Monastery. The west wing was spared. Contosta wrote in Villanova University 1842-1992, “Among the treasures saved from the flames was the portrait of Father Fedigan painted by the renowned artist Thomas Eakins. Ironically, the portrait, which showed Fedigan standing beside the architect’s original rendering of the building, was one of the few item that survived unscathed from the two buildings Fedigan had fought so hard to erect only three decades earlier.” Despite the continued economic pressure of the Depression, a new monastery was completed two years later.

Football bowl game makes history

According to Villanova’s football media guide, “Villanova’s history in bowl games began in 1937, when the Wildcats were invited to participate in the 1937 contest which eventually became known as the Bacardi Bowl.
Not only was it Villanova’s first bowl game appearance, but it was also the first bowl game to be played outside the United States. The ‘Cats opponent, Auburn University, had rolled up an impressive 7-2-2 record and had closed out the regular season with impressive wins over Loyola, 44-0, and Florida, 13-0, their fifth and sixth shutout wins of the season. Villanova, under coaching great Maurice “Clipper” Smith, piled up a sterling 7-2 record, and had earned victories over the likes of Penn State, Boston University, Detroit and South Carolina. Like Auburn, Villanova boasted of an outstanding defense, one that recorded four shutouts and had not allowed any opponent more than seven points.

Played in Havana, Cuba as the climactic event of Cuba’s National Sports Festival, the game almost never came to be because of a bloodless revolution led by Fulgencio Batista, who, 20-some years later, would be overthrown by Fidel Castro.

At halftime, Auburn led 7-0. Late in the fourth quarter, with time running out for the Wildcats; Auburn had possession of the ball inside its own 15-yard line. Facing second down and eight yards to go for a first down, Auburn mentor Jack Meagher called for a quick kick, a play Auburn had used successfully on a couple of occasions in the first half. Shifting into the quick kick position at the Auburn goal line, Villanova’s John Wysocki and Valentine Rizzo blocked the kick and lineman Matthew Kuber grabbed the ball at the two-yard line and went in for the touchdown. William Christopher kicked the all-important point after and the Wildcats had gained a 7-7 tie.”

The War Years Approach

In Villanova University 1842-1992, Contosta chronicled, “In actuality Villanova’s contributions to the war began in the summer of 1940 when the house chapter voted to allow the college to participate in national defense training programs, the idea being that such preparations would help keep the United States out of war. Pursuant to this vote, the School of Engineering began offering courses to both men and women in the Philadelphia area who wanted to acquire skills for local defense industries. The College also cooperated with the Civil Aeronautics Board to give classroom work for pilot training. In order to coordinate Villanova’s National Defense efforts, Father Stanford appointed three faculty committees in February 1941: one for engineer training, one for civilian pilot training, and one for selective service.”

The American declaration of war in late 1941 posed a serious threat to Villanova, which had just begun to recover from the Great Depression,” noted Contosta and Gallagher in Ever Ancient, Ever New. “It was evident that the war effort would last for several years and require millions of young men to serve in the armed forces. For an all-male institution like Villanova this was a potential disaster, because every able-bodied student would be expected to serve his country. Since the military did not have sufficient training facilities to handle large numbers of men, the loss of students was not as great as anticipated in 1942-1943.

In fact, military authorities allowed college students to join the Army Enlisted Reserve program and remain in school until they were called to active service, at which time they would be evaluated further for officers training. The Villanova reserve unit received its call for 5 April 1943. The men had a special dinner at the college the night before and left by train early the next morning. Faculty and students walked down to the Villanova station with the men to wave a last goodbye.”

In Villanova University 1842-1992, Contosta wrote, “The departure of these students, in addition to those who were drafted or who joined other military programs, would have been disastrous for Villanova’s enrollment had it not been for the installation of a Navy officer training unit, known as the V-12 program, in the summer of 1943. Father Stanford began petitioning for such a program at Villanova in the summer of 1940, after hearing that the Navy intended to open new officer training programs on college and university campuses. He was unsuccessful at first, because the Navy decided to award new units to larger institutions, but Stanford’s persistence and the American declaration of war in late 1941 eventually resulted in success for Villanova. He not only secured a unit for the campus in early 1942, but was invited to Washington by the Secretary of the Navy to join other educators (Civilian Advisory Committee) to plan the wartime program.

The first V-12 recruits reported to Villanova on July 1, 1943: 400 apprentice seamen and 200 Marines. Of the group, 250 were former Villanova students; the rest came from all over the United States. The Field House became a “ship’s store,” where the men were outfitted with uniforms and other equipment. Navy personnel took over the offices on the first floor of Mendel Hall (now Tolentine), while the 600 V-12 students occupied Fedigan, Austin and Alumni Halls as well as part of Mendel Hall.”

“Villanova adopted a wartime schedule that featured three full terms each year. There were also three commencements annually, following the end of each session. By taking advantage of this accelerated pace a student could theoretically graduate in three years – or at least fit in as much college as possible before being called to military duty. This schedule remained in place until the spring of 1946.”

According to Dr. Richard D. Breslin, who wrote in his VILLANOVA: Yesterday and Today, “Immediately following the war, the Villanova campus, which had been a center of activity during this period training men for the V-12 program, now became a burgeoning center of intellectual, physical and fiscal expansion. Like many other institutions of higher learning, Villanova was not in a state of readiness to meet adequately the influx of returning servicemen. Men were eager to complete their interrupted education, and many now had the opportunity to go to college because of the ‘G.I. Bill.’ Consequently, the Villanova campus was inundated with a large number of men who were seeking an education.

Once again a building program began; and soon the Chemical Engineering Building, the Commodore John Barry Building (housing the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Unit [which replaced the V-12 just after the war]) and a new library graced the grounds. In addition, it was necessary to construct a temporary classroom building and four barracks for living quarters.

Attempting to retain a bit of normalcy during these changing and turbulent times, the College celebrated its centennial with festivities both solemn and celebratory on Sept. 20, 1942.

College life is about adaptation and through all the sorts of hardships endured to this point, Villanova’s progress and foothold on the future proved to be substantial.


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