What was it like to go to college during the Civil War? How did colleges support the war effort? How did colleges change after the Civil War?
This past Wednesday, Michael Cohen, a Carleton alumnus who graduated in 2002 gave a talk on the affect of the Civil War on colleges.
“I was intrigued by the temporary nature of classes, with students leaving for the war then coming back to class. That discontinuity must have been hard,” said Kiera Wilhelm ’15.
Michael Cohen discussed the story of Sallie Love. Sallie, who lived in the South, travelled to five separate colleges during the war and attended four of those. Eventually she did get her liberal arts degree at great risk to her life.
Students in the University of South Carolina formed military companies and marched on the streets of Columbia. Students left to fight in the Battle of Fort Sumter and then returned afterwards to the college. Before each battle in South Carolina, students would leave to fight and afterwards, fewer students would return to the college.
Colleges also participated in the civilian war effort. “I’m currently in a history class on the Civil War, and colleges’ responses to the war are an aspect of the civilian war effort we hadn’t covered,” said Sarah Goodman ’14.
Many colleges during the Civil War were religious schools and responded to the war through prayer. “(during College prayer times) you pray for your country, you pray for the soldiers, you pray for the soldiers related to you,” said Cohen.
In addition, colleges changed their curriculum for the war. In Mount Holyoke, which was a women’s college, students learned how to knit socks to send to soldiers.
Women also formed mock militias to defend their towns. Colleges gave women paper hats for uniforms and wooden guns for weapons. For example, women from Wesleyan College drilled in front of the college town during a Strawberry Festival.
At men’s colleges, almost every man enlisted in either the Union or Confederate army. “Enthusiasm was very high at the beginning of the war all over the country,” said Cohen.
The Civil War also greatly changed the nature of colleges. “[The Civil War] created radical differences in college life and culture, for better or for worse, and the change it brought about has had lasting effects on current college life,” said Wilhelm.
Before the Civil War, public universities did not receive state funding. “What I think was surprising about [Cohen’s] findings was that after the war, the state governments in the South tend to become sponsors of higher education in ways they had not anticipated before. That there is some general public support for education in the South,” said Clark Clifford, Professor of History.
Public universities in the South needed state funding, because the Civil War had devastated colleges in the South. Armies converted colleges like other public buildings into hospitals and did not generally respect their facilities. For example, soldiers sold books in the University of South Carolina library for whiskey.
After the devastation of the war, people in the South wanted economic benefits from college or would not pay tuition.
In response, Colleges started professional schools, engineering schools, agricultural schools and mining schools. “people looking for jobs or wanting to increase the productivity of their farms start attending colleges,” said Cohen.
Colleges also started normal schools also known as teaching schools after the war. Given that teachers were women, teaching schools soon began to teach women even when the rest of the college was all male.
Eventually, colleges allowed women in teaching schools to attend classes in other college schools and finally, to attend the colleges themselves.
In sum, the Civil War has a profound affect on colleges and the lives of college students. College education would not be the same.