WCSA and the War

There has never been a time when the world has needed food as much as it does today, and the farmer is the only man from whom this may be obtained.”

–WCSA Admissions Material, 19181F.A. Stever, Registrar to Admitted Male Students, Morris, MN, September 7, 1918, University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota.

In July of 1914, war was declared in Europe…but the idea of war itself couldn’t have felt farther away from students and staff at the West Central School of Agriculture. The WCSA was flourishing; the two newly constructed dormitories facing each other on opposite sides of the campus mall were far from all the WCSA had to be proud of. Agriculture was thriving in the area, and students from all over western Minnesota were coming to the West Central School of Agriculture in order to gain an appropriate education and take full advantage of those abounding agricultural opportunities. The student population was slowly growing; by the 1918 winter term, school administration began to worry about a need for overflow housing, as registered students were exceeding the number of spaces available in the dormitories on campus.2Morris Tribune (Morris, MN), January 10, 1918.

With the onset of the war, the push for agriculture became even greater. Even before the U.S. entered the war in 1917, they were playing an active role in the war effort by supplying food to Europe. Food shortages became common in Europe during the war years and the allied forces turned to the United States, with its abounding agricultural landscapes, to provide assistance. Agricultural food production in Stevens County became exceptionally important, as it utilized its rich agricultural lands to assist in the U.S.’s effort to send food over to Europe.3 Ibid.

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Great War-era WCSA Advertisement

The West Central School of Agriculture’s administration was very aware of this need and pushed extensively for the importance of a good, strong agricultural education in their advertising. As the advertisement pictured on the left points out, the school stressed that, in order to feed the world as a farmer, a boy must be properly trained in agricultural practices and technology.4West Central School of Agriculture Administration, WCSA Registrar to Prospective Male Students, Morris, MN, n.d.,University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota.  Once the U.S. declared war in April of 1917, the WCSA revamped its curriculum in order to accommodate technical courses that would prepare boys for engineering work in the service, including courses in electricity, steam, and gas; boys were encouraged to attend school before serving in the war because the technical skills they would gain at the WCSA would allow them a better rank upon their entry into the service.5Ibid.; “War Activities of the West Central School,” West Central School of Agriculture, Mocassin 1919 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1919, 1919), University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota, and Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota. All in all, an education at the West Central School of Agriculture would benefit the student and the country in more ways than one. The importance of homemaking was emphasized for girls–according to WCSA pamphlets, working as a housewife was one of the most far reaching occupations available. As described in a WCSA advertisement for girls from 1918, even in times of war, “the demand for those things which are the essentials of life–food and clothing, and the things for which they are made”6West Central School of Agriculture Advertisement for Girls, 1918, Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota. was still readily apparent in every day life. In other words, daily life does not stop while a nation is at war; an education at the West Central School would fully prepare young woman to heed those demands. In acting as housewives, women would be indirectly assisting in a better tomorrow by providing families and guests with the comforts of home, especially during the trying times of war. Red Cross classes were also implemented as a means for the girls to become more actively involved in the war effort.7 “War Activities of the School of Agriculture,” West Central School of Agriculture, Mocassin 1919 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1919, 1919), University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota-Morris, Morris, Minnesota, and Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.

1919 Soldier pictures

WCSA Boys at War

During the War itself, the WCSA was involved in the war efforts in many different ways. In August of 1917, the campus hosted a large patriotic gathering that attracted visitors from throughout the county.8From Peace and Prosperity to War and Nationalism. Faculty meeting minutes from 1918 encourage faculty members to be enthusiastic about war efforts and to actively show patriotism on campus.9F. A. Stever, Faculty Chairman to Superintendent P.E. Miller, October 11, 1918, University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota. Groups of students and faculty members were created to help with Red Cross efforts.10Ibid; F.A. Stever, Committee Appointments, Faculty Meeting, October 23, 1918, University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota-Morris, Morris, Minnesota. The campus nurse, Florence Hulett, a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, enlisted shortly after the war and worked in a hospital in France. Hulett was not the only faculty member to serve in the war, though she was the only woman; faculty turnover was not uncommon with enlistments. A number of students–alumni and current–served as well. The 1919 Moccassin, the WCSA student yearbook, provides an honor roll of a list of faculty, students, and alumni who served in the war in some way–though the yearbook staff does admit that they weren’t able to compile a complete list. Six WCSA boys died while in service to their country.11 “War Activities,” Moccasin 1919 Yearbook.

In the fall of 1919, the school erected a flagstaff memorial for the WCSA students who served in the war. The memorial, which was funded through subscriptions from current students and alumni, was located on the campus mall. While this flagstaff no longer stands, there is a plaque dedicated to the WCSA boys who fought in the Great War in the WCSA War Memorial Garden just outside the present-day Education Building (the WCSA Infirmary) on the University of Minnesota, Morris campus.

The Selection of the flagstaff and dedication tablet is a most appropriate one for our War Service Memorial and every student may feel proud of this tribute to the boys who answered their country’s call. It will throughout the years to come, ever support our Country’s flag and remind us of the support our boys gave to their country during the years of national peril.

–“The War Service Memorial,” 1919 Moccasin12West Central School of Agriculture, Mocassin 1920 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1920, 1920), 78, Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.

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Image Citations:

1. “West Central School of Agriculture Advertising Poster,” 1918,  Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.

2. “WCSA Boys at War, Collage,” Mocassin 1919 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1919, 1919), University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota-Morris, Morris, Minnesota.

3. Britta Buchanan, “WCSA World War I War Memorial Plaque,” 2015, JPEG.

References   [ + ]

1. F.A. Stever, Registrar to Admitted Male Students, Morris, MN, September 7, 1918, University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota.
2. Morris Tribune (Morris, MN), January 10, 1918.
3.  Ibid.
4. West Central School of Agriculture Administration, WCSA Registrar to Prospective Male Students, Morris, MN, n.d.,University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota. 
5. Ibid.; “War Activities of the West Central School,” West Central School of Agriculture, Mocassin 1919 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1919, 1919), University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota, and Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.
6. West Central School of Agriculture Advertisement for Girls, 1918, Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.
7. “War Activities of the School of Agriculture,” West Central School of Agriculture, Mocassin 1919 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1919, 1919), University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota-Morris, Morris, Minnesota, and Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.
8. From Peace and Prosperity to War and Nationalism.
9. F. A. Stever, Faculty Chairman to Superintendent P.E. Miller, October 11, 1918, University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota, Morris, Morris, Minnesota.
10. Ibid; F.A. Stever, Committee Appointments, Faculty Meeting, October 23, 1918, University Archives, Rodney A. Briggs Library, University of Minnesota-Morris, Morris, Minnesota.
11. “War Activities,” Moccasin 1919 Yearbook.
12. West Central School of Agriculture, Mocassin 1920 Yearbook, (Morris, MN: Graduating Class of 1920, 1920), 78, Stevens County Historical Society, Morris, Minnesota.

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