Campus Life and the War

Service flag

During World War I, Knox College was lauded as one of the most patriotic campuses in the Midwest. Knox students and faculty members expressed sympathy for the Allies (countries including France, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, Serbia, and Japan) prior to April 6, 1917, when the United States officially declared war on the Central Powers. 

 

"Knox College Goes to War"

Focus on military matters quickly became of paramount importance for Knox students and faculty members alike, as expressed in editions of The Gale (Knox's yearbook), newspaper articles written about the college, and intracampus mail. Knox's support for American troops abroad is made clear by the following documents. 

Soon after the United States declared war, Knox's faculty and students leapt into the war effort with enthusiasm, expressing support for France and "suffering humanity" and pride in the American military. 

In the article "Knox's Response," published in the college's yearbook, it is noted that "Each week saw some Knox man lay down his books and depart for service in the Army or Navy..." Women sprung to the nation's aid and "responded to the call in a body and worked zealously at all kinds of Red Cross work." According to the December 1917 edition of The Knox Alumnus, "Knox College was the first '100 percent college' in the American Red Cross membership drive Christmas week. Every student and faculty member had joined the Red Cross by Tuesday noon - a day before the canvas started in Galesburg."

The April, 1918 issue of The Knox Alumnus noted that the theme for the alumni dinner prior to commencement that year was "The Value of a College Education in National Emergencies," noting that "surely the war has demonstrated as never before the college trained man's ability to assume positions of responsibility and courage."

The war brought many changes to the campus, but the college adapted to shifting circumstances. Many students and faculty members left Knox to support the war in various ways - as soldiers, nurses, researchers, bureaucrats, and more. Even though, according to the October 1917 edition of The Knox Alumnus, Knox's enrollment dropped precipitously - approximately 23.5% - between October, 1916 and October, 1917, the college carried on. The December 1917 issue of The Knox Alumnus reports that "Knox is somewhat above the average in the number of men in the government service. More than a fourth of the men registered last year are on the honor roll." 

Knox College adapted to these changes, preparing itself for a war that developed in ways no one initially imagined in the midst of nationalistic fervor.