Despite President Roosevelt’s advice that Americans had “nothing to fear but fear itself,” rural Texans were deeply affected by the Great Depression. East Texas State Teachers College historically afforded its students opportunities for a better life and a brighter future. The Great Depression and the world’s apparent march towards war fueled lingering fears about the uncertainty and unpredictability. By the 1940s, Axis aggression threatened world peace, as members of the university community along with individuals nationwide began speculating about U.S. involvement in the war.
Although the country’s entrance into the Second World War ended the Great Depression, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 further shocked a disoriented campus community. President Whitley urged students: “Keep your head with calmness and deliberation.” Many students volunteered for military service or were drafted.
The college’s curricula shifted to prepare students to cope with wartime circumstances. Students learned to maximize food production, first aid procedures, and to use Morse Code. The college also hosted and helped train students for the services. From 1943, the college housed a group of 600 members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and enrolled male students in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).
When the war ended in mid-1945, the city and college communities honored their members lost in the war and celebrated the Allied victory with meetings and parades.