The James Administration | 1904 – 1920 - Mapping History

When Edmund Janes James became President in 1905, he regarded the University as a “hollow shell” in need of filling out, and that’s exactly what he did. During his first decade, he brought in first-rate faculty, created the Graduate School (College?), acquired a medical school, and set the Library on its path to greatness. His second decade witnessed the death of his wife, World War I, and a stroke. Still, upon his retirement in 1920, he told his successor, “Leaving the University of Illinois is like cutting off two arms and two legs.”

“Our desire is not for mere greatness. . .. nor for many departments. . ., but far more for those qualities of mind and heart which have been in all great teachers of mankind and in all great centers of learning to a greater or lesser extent, and most of all in the greatest.” Edmund Janes James, 1904

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Speaking in 1905 at the inauguration of the University’s new President, fifty-year-old Edmund Janes James, Andrew Draper predicted that “this institution is now to be made great as well as big.”[1] Draper’s confidence was warranted. The Illinois-born, German-educated James would put Illinois on the academic map during his 16-year-long administration (1904-1920). James defined a university as “a higher center of learning where young people . . . may be prepared for any calling which requires . . . a thorough training in the sciences.”[2] The U of I president wanted to create such “a higher center of learning”–one which served the state through scientific research and the production of knowledge. To achieve this goal, he mobilized public support, lobbied the Legislature, attracted first-rate faculty, built up the graduate school, championed medical education, and set the Library on a path to greatness. By the time James retired in 1920, the University of Illinois had become a major name in the realm of higher education. After a dynamic first decade, James’ last years at the University were frustrating ones. Distraught over his beloved wife’s death in 1914, caught up in the turmoil of World War I, and increasingly ailing, James seemingly began to drift.[3] In 1916 he contemplated running for U. S. President and then for Illinois governor.[4] When the United States entered the war, he lobbied for a position in the Wilson administration. Shortly after the war’s end in November 1918, James fell victim to a stroke. He submitted his resignation from the University the following June, but he was given a one year’s leave of absence instead. Finally, in March 1920, the Board of Trustees accepted his resignation.[5] “Leaving the University of Illinois is like cutting off two arms and two legs,” James told his successor David Kinley, “but the interest of the institution is above everything.”[6] Edmund Janes James spent his last years with relatives in California. He died on June 17, 1925 at the age of 70. He was buried beside his wife in Urbana’s Mount Hope Cemetery.[7] The Draper administration and its predecessors had created the structure of a university; President James gave “the hollow shell” life and made the U of I into a true university.”


[1] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 5, 5, University of Illinois Archives. [2] Daily Illini, 31 October 1914. [3] Richard Allen Swanson, “Edmund J. James, 1855-1925: A ‘Conservative Progressive’ in American Higher Education” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Illinois, 1966), 156. [4] Ibid., 290-300. [5] Ibid., 318-20. [6] Quoted in Karl Max Grisso, “David Kinley, 1861-1944: The Career of the Fifth President of the University of Illinois” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Illinois, 1980), 380. [7] Swanson, 320.

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President James’ academic ambition for the University was to turn this geographically isolated institution into a rival of the best schools on the East Coast.

Students at leisure, 1912 (Courtesy of the University of Illinois Alumni Association)

He thought nothing of poaching professors from his ultimate rival, Harvard (name one), and even from the U.S. Bureau of Standards (chief chemist William A. Noyes).

To “leaven the lump,” as he put it, he created the Graduate School, thanks to a first-ever legislative grant for graduate studies. Because his ambitions required nothing less than a first-rate library, he oversaw the Library’s growth from a mere 66,639 books to 420,000 in the space of x years, with the ultimate goal of a million volumes.



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Organized in 1894 by President Draper, the powerful Council of Administration continued to supervise student conduct during the James era. Composed of the president, the vice-president, and the deans, the Council not only disciplined individual students for academic misconduct but also for such infractions as drinking, hazing, and gambling, thus attempting to regulate the general behavior of students.[1] In 1909, for example, the Council extended the Board of Trustees’ 1891 ban against smoking in University buildings, widening it to include “anywhere on the campus between Springfield avenue and the auditorium.”[2] Despite the ban, so-called “smokers”–social gatherings often featuring smoking–were still routinely held on campus, even in University buildings—a fact that attracted the ire of certain professors, including College of Agriculture Dean Eugene Davenport.[3]

Military Dance, 1912 (RS 41/20/23)

The “matriarchal, patriarchal” Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark was a major player in the Council of Administration. When Clark was named dean of undergraduates in 1901, the handbook of student regulations totaled only 32 pages; by 1915, the volume had quadrupled in size. A “thin nervous man with a cropped mustache and watery blue eyes,” Clark believed that the primary purpose of a university was to develop an individual’s moral character.[4] In keeping with this view, he kept a close watch over the social lives of the male students, introducing to the University what one critic called a delayed “Victorianism.”[5] Clark’s dedicated efforts to “keep the students from being sinful” received a boost in 1907 when both Champaign and Urbana “went dry,” closing their saloons and banning the sale of alcohol. Clark later estimated that the ban had reduced student drinking by 75 percent.[6] In 1913 the Legislature endorsed the efforts of the “drys” and voted to ban the sale of intoxicating beverages within four miles of the University.[7] Seven years later, the Eighteenth amendment would make Prohibition the law of the land.

Thomas Arkle Clark, n.d. (RS 41/20/23)

Nonetheless, drinking continued throughout this period. Writing to President James in 1918, Professor Stephen Forbes reported hearing that the four-mile-limit law was “practically a dead letter in this county.” Earlier that year a committee of the Champaign County Board of Supervisors began cracking down on area vice, prompted by the U. S. Department of War. The committee described the conditions it faced as it embarked upon its task. “Sixty-four boot-legging joints, besides a number of hip-pocket peddlers, were operating more or less openly in Champaign, and twenty-two held forth in Urbana,” the committee wrote. “Many prostitutes were living in the Twin Cities, Champaign being the worst offender in this regard. Gambling . . . was rampant in Champaign, and one or two quiet games were going in Urbana.” In the end, the committee caused the arrest of 199 people, including 84 alleged prostitutes and 56 bootleggers. “Now that Uncle Sam has spanked the community into approximate decency,” Forbes told James, “I hope that some way may be found to hold the advantage to which he has helped us.”[8]

During much of the reign of Thomas Arkle Clark, the office of Dean of Women was largely a revolving door. Between 1905 and 1920, no less than five women filled the position: Martha Kyle (1905-6, 1913-16); Lily Kollock (1907-10); Mary E. Fawcett (1910-13); Fanny Cook Gates (1916-18); and Ruby Mason (1918-23). Thanks to the high turnover rate, “continuity of policy and leadership were lacking,” according to historian Carl Stephens.[9] Assuming the deanship in 1923, Maria Leonard finally brought stability to the office: she would serve as Dean of Women until 1945.

Like Clark, the Deans of Women saw themselves as upholders of student virtue, both inside and outside of the classroom. Dean Martha Kyle, for instance, disapproved of certain new-fangled dances like the tango, with its “wriggle,” and applauded when the Council of Administration called for the University-wide elimination of such “doubtful new trippings.” Ball-room dancing was okay so long as it was conducted in “loose formation.” Kyle had no problem with students having some fun on the weekends–just not too much fun. “The idea that Friday and Saturday nights and all day Sunday are to be spent in jollification should be discouraged,” she wrote. “The number of students disabled on Mondays and Tuesdays is far too large.”[10]

Dean of Women


[1] Winton Solberg, The University of Illinois 1894-1904: The Shaping of the University (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 293-94. [2] Daily Illini, 22 September 1909. [3] Eugene Davenport to Edmund James, 9 May 1914, Dean of Men General Correspondence (41/2/1), B: 2, F: James, University of Illinois Archives. [4] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 6, 44, ibid. [5] Mary Louise Filbey, “The Early History of the Deans of Women, University of Illinois,” Filbey Family Papers (41/20/38), B: 2, 39, ibid. [6] Daily Illini, 5 April 1910. [7] Ibid., 23 June 1913. [8] Stephen Forbes to Edmund James, 14 December 1918, Edmund James General Correspondence (2/5/3), B: 180, F: Forbes, University of Illinois Archives. [9] Stephens, Chapter 6, 28. [10] Dean of Women Annual Report 1913-14, Edmund James Faculty Correspondence (2/5/6), B: 37, F: Kyle.


“The grain of mustard seed planted by the Bone Yard stream in 1867 has indeed become a great tree. When the ground first parted and the bud of promise appeared on that famous eleventh of March 1868, when the University was opened, two professors and a head farmer, and two non-resident lecturers made up the faculty and fifty-seven pupils the student body. The former has grown to over 600, (in the present year,–1916) and the latter to 6,500.”Foreword by Edmund James, p. V,University of Illinois Directory, 1916

President James’ academic ambition for the University was to turn this geographically isolated institution into a rival of the best schools on the East Coast. He thought nothing of poaching professors from his ultimate rival, Harvard (name one), and even from the U.S. Bureau of Standards (chief chemist William A. Noyes).

To “leaven the lump,” as he put it, he created the Graduate School, thanks to a first-ever legislative grant for graduate studies. Because his ambitions required nothing less than a first-rate library, he oversaw the Library’s growth from a mere 66,639 books to 420,000 in the space of x years, with the ultimate goal of a million volumes.

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President James believed that a primary goal of a university was to advance knowledge. With that end in view, he recruited top-notch faculty who were excellent scholars and researchers as well as teachers. The U of I president was more than willing to poach professors from other universities, not excluding Harvard. Supposedly, Harvard President Charles Eliot himself traveled to the U of I in 1908 to have a look at the upstart school that was attracting so many of his young professors.[1] James’ notable faculty acquisitions included Gustav Karsten, founder of the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, William Albert Noyes, chief chemist of the U. S. Bureau of Standards, William Freeman Myrick Goss, Purdue’s dean of engineering, the zoologist Henry Baldwin Ward, the classicist William Abbott Oldfather, the literary critic Stuart Pratt Sherman, the geologist William Shirley Bayley, the chemist Roger Adams, the astronomer Joel Stebbins, and the physicist Jakob Kunz.[2]

Altgeld Hall Library Card Catalogue c1900

James also built up the Graduate School, hoping that it would serve as “the leaven in the lump” and stimulate professors to do original research.[3] In 1908 the president helped secure from the Legislature a $100,000 appropriation for graduate study in the arts and sciences—“the first legislative grant specifically for graduate work in America,” according to historian Allan Nevins.[4] The number of University graduate students more than doubled during James’ tenure, increasing from 118 in 1903-4 to 380 in 1919-20. Illinois minted its first PhD in 1903; less than 20 years later, it ranked ninth in PhDs granted by an American university.[5] Scholarship demands books—and lots of them, so James set about creating a great Library. Such a library was needed thanks to the isolated location of Urbana-Champaign: nearby libraries outside of the University housed a mere 34,000 books. Under the careful supervision of James and Phineas Lawrence Windsor, the University Library saw its holdings balloon during this period from 66,639 to 420,000 volumes, well on the way to James’ goal of a million volumes.[6] James’ educational efforts had quickly borne fruit. As early as 1909, Vice President David Kinley could speak of “the increased estimation” for the U of I shown by “her sister institutions throughout the country.”[7] That year A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s University’s new president, presented James with an honorary law degree and praised him for helping raise Illinois “to the front rank of American Universities.”[8]


[1] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 5, 12-13, University of Illinois Archives. [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid., 9. [4] Allan Nevins, Illinois (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 233. [5] Robert Geiger, The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014), 360. [6] Edmund J. James, Sixteen Years at the University of Illinois, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1920), 100-106. [7] Stephens, Chapter 5, 13. [8] Ibid., 14.

Further Resources


The University of Illinois Directory for 1929 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1929)

Campus Architecture & Planning


When President James arrived in 1904, the look of the University lacked coherence. With no plan in place, buildings were sited willy-nilly, depending on a president’s whim. That changed in 1905, with a plan for a quadrangle anchored on the south by an auditorium and buildings grouped by college along the east-west axis.

In 1909, a formal Campus Plan Commission, whose members included not only the State Architect but also Chicago’s most famous architect, Daniel Burnham, brought about Lincoln Hall, the Armory, and the Auditorium, to name a few. It was the start of a veritable building boom.

James Era Building Tour: 1904-1920
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Quad in winter, 1910

Before the James administration, real campus planning did not occur at the U of I: buildings were located willy-nilly, often merely upon the whim of a particular president. In 1905 the Boston architect Clarence Blackall, an 1877 U of I graduate, developed the University’s “first true campus plan,” one that enshrined the embryonic Quad as the University’s central space.  Blackall envisioned a major north-south axis for the campus, approximately midway between Burrill and Mathews avenues. He situated the auditorium toward the bottom of this axis, where it formed the southern boundary of the main quadrangle. Buildings were grouped by college or department, with the sciences on the east side of the Quad and the liberal and fine arts on the west. For the area south of the auditorium, then occupied by fields and minor agricultural buildings, Blackall proposed a secondary quadrangle for the schools of commerce and education. The Blackall Plan of 1905 both organized a chaotic main campus and decisively laid out the lines of future University growth. The scheme quickly demonstrated its value, with Blackall’s “road map” soon determining the locations of two important structures: the Physics Building (now Materials Science and Engineering Building) and Lincoln Hall. At last, the days of arbitrary building site selection were over.

English Building 1904, 3D model

Thanks to Blackall, planning became fashionable at the U of I, and so in 1909 the board of trustees appointed a Campus Plan Commission to select the sites for future buildings, including a planned Armory. The commission members were all architects: Clarence Blackall, State Architect W. C. Zimmerman, U of I Supervising Architect James White, Architecture Professor Frederick Mann, and Daniel H. Burnham himself, perhaps America’s foremost urban planner. After three years of off-and-on deliberations, the commission in 1912 approved the locations of the Armory at the terminus of Fifth Street; the Stock Pavilion on the campus meridian due south of the Auditorium; and the greenhouses east of Mathews.

Armory before additions, c1915

Planning had become absolutely vital during the James administration because of a building boom. By 1914, the Legislature was spending as much money on the U of I in a single two-year period as had been appropriated in the school’s first 36 years: much of this money went to buildings. These new buildings were now located according to a particular plan, but their architecture remained a welter of different styles, running the gamut from the Renaissance revival Lincoln Hall to the Gothic revival Education Building (University High School). The State Architect and the University Supervising Architect divided architectural responsibilities during this period, a fact that partly explains the variation in building design. Other important structures built during the James administration included the Auditorium, the Physics Building (now the Materials Science and Engineering Building), the Transportation Building, the Stock Pavilion, the Armory, the Commerce Building (now Henry Administration Building), and the Ceramics Building.[1]


[1] Information for this unit came from Lex Tate and John Franch, An Illini Place: The Campus of the University of Illinois (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, forthcoming).



The University during the James years was surprisingly diverse. From x foreign students in 1904, foreign enrollment ballooned by 1911 to 115, especially from China (one-third of all Chinese students in the U.S.), Japan, Russia, India, Mexico, and Canada. African-American enrollment also grew, from 11 in 1904 to more than 30 in 1915.

Discrimination, however, was alive and well. Despite having one of the largest Jewish student populations in the country, these students were forbidden from joining fraternities and sororities, so they formed their own. Rooming houses often refused to take non-Caucasian students. For African-American students, the only choice was rooming with families in the segregated part of town, a mile from campus.

Polonia Club, 1917
Philippine Illini, 1920
Kappa Alpha Nu, 1914
Cosmopolitan Club, 1921
Latino American Club, 1914
Chinese Students’ Club, 1912
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During the James administration, the student body became notably more diverse. Exemplifying this trend, student organizations from this period included the Cosmopolitan Club (for international students), the Chinese Students’ Club, the Polonia Club, the Club Latino-Americano, the Catholic Students’ Association, Ivrim (for Jewish students), Zeta Beta Tau (a Jewish fraternity), the Il-li Club (for African-American students), Kappa Alpha Psi (an African-American fraternity founded as Kappa Alpha Nu), and Alpha Kappa Alpha (an African-American sorority).[1]

Cosmopolitan Club House, 1910

Arthur Seymour attended to the needs of the University’s large and growing number of international students. In 1909 President James tapped Seymour, an associate professor of Spanish, to be the University’s Adviser of Foreign Students, reputedly the first position of its kind in the United States. Seymour kept a close watch over the international students: He monitored their grades, arranged for English tutors if necessary, found work for those wanting it, and generally helped the students get acclimated to a new country. Seymour enjoyed his job, finding it to be “an inspiration to be in touch with so many earnest students gathered here from all parts of the world.”[2] Writing to President James in the spring of 1913, Seymour indicated that there were 115 international students attending the U of I that semester. The students came from 22 nations, with the largest numbers hailing from China, Japan, Russia, India, Mexico, and Canada. “These figures tend to show that the U. of I. is becoming widely recognized throughout the world,” Seymour asserted. “About half of these students are following courses in engineering, a considerable number in agriculture, and some few in science and in literature and arts. Almost without exception our foreign students are taking technical courses aiming to prepare them for definite lines of work.”[3] Among international students, the growth in the number of Chinese students was particularly remarkable. An internationalist, President James actively encouraged the enrollment of Chinese students. “China is on the verge of revolution,” James wrote to U. S. Secretary of State Philander Knox in 1905. “. . . The nation which succeeds in educating the young Chinese of the present generation will be the nation which . . . will reap the largest possible returns in moral, intellectual and commercial influence.”[4] Thanks to James’ “Open Door policy,” Chinese students flocked to the U of I. By 1911, Illinois was attracting one-third of the Chinese students in the United States; five years later, there were 64 Chinese students at the U of I.[5] Notable Chinese graduates from this decade included the government official C. C. Wang, the educational theorist Tao Hsing-chih, the industrialist Yu-Chu Moh, and the architect Tsin Chuang, who is said to have used the U of I Quad as a model for his design of Beijing’s Tsinghua University.[6]

Chinese Ambassador Wu Ting Fang with students at UI President’s House, June 10, 1908


Chinese Students’ Club, c1912-13

Arthur Seymour reported receiving “frequent complaints that landladies furnishing rooms or board would not receive foreigners, especially Chinese, Hindus, Filipinos and Latin-Americans.”[7] Nonetheless, many international students managed to secure housing quite close to campus. In 1910 there were ten Chinese, three Japanese, two Indians, and one Filipino all living within a two-block area of Urbana, on Oregon Street.[8] African American students were not so fortunate: they were forced to board with African-American families one mile or more from campus in north Champaign. More African Americans than ever attended the U of I during this period, but the numbers were still quite small. In 1904, there were eleven African American men and two women at the University; a paper in the Dean of Men’s correspondence file from about 1915 lists thirty African American male students.[9] Between 1900 and 1920, some 45 African Americans received degrees from the University, including the educator Maudelle Tanner Brown (later Bousfield), the architect Walter Thomas Bailey, the lawyer and civil rights leader Earl Dickerson, and Saint Elmo Brady, the first African American recipient of a chemistry Ph.D. in the United States.[10] Early in 1913, Dickerson, George Dickson, and several others founded the second chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi (then Kappa Alpha Nu), a pioneering African American fraternity.[11] One year later, eight Illinois women organized the Gamma chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African American sorority.[12] According to historian Tamara Lynette Hoff, “the first and second group of African American women (at the U of I) used their privileged position as college students to create a pathway for more African American women to attend the University.”[13]

Maudelle Brown Bousfield ’06 (Illio 1907)


William Walter Smith ‘00, ’07, c1900-1907

Jewish students also faced discrimination. In 1908 Illinois reportedly was one of only a few universities in the country to have considerable numbers of Jewish students, the others being Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and Minnesota. Winton Solberg estimates that there were almost 150 Jewish students at the University in the early-1910s.[14] Barred from most fraternities and sororities, Jewish students formed their own groups. In 1907 twenty-nine students (including at least eight women) were charter members of Ivrim—the first Jewish student group on the U of I campus. (Ivrim was later absorbed by the Menorah Society.) Jewish fraternities and sororities followed: Zeta Beta Tau and Sigma Alpha Mu chapters were established in 1912 and 1918, respectively, and the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority appeared in 1920.[15] In 1907 certain students attempted to form a group—the Ilus Club—that explicitly excluded Jews and Catholics from its membership.[16] But anti-Semitism was not limited to the student body. Writing to President James in the spring of 1915, Karl Epstein expressed unhappiness at the treatment of Jewish students in campus publications. James referred Epstein’s “justifiable grievance” to Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark. The dean responded bluntly. “This office has done more in the past two or three years to protect the Jews than it has done with reference to any other nationalities or individuals all combined,” Clark wrote. “. . . From an unprejudiced point of view they have deserved all that they have received. From their own standpoint they have been brought into prominence more than they thought fair. I believe, however, that when any race or individual, whether it is the Jews or the Dean of Men, is easily caricatured and is constantly before the public, as some of our Jews here are, they must expect caricature and comment, and they ought to learn to take it kindly.”[17] Early in 1920, responding to a Jewish student who wondered why the University’s athletic facilities were closed on Sundays, Clark declared that this was “a Christian country established upon Christian traditions and Christian principles” and that it was the responsibility of University officials “to uphold these traditions and to maintain these principles . . . even when they may be opposed by foreigners or by those who would like to wipe out all our Christian traditions.” Clark’s remarks sparked a great deal of controversy, eventually prompting the dean of men to protest in the Daily Illini that “much is read into them that was not there.”[18]


[1] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Record Series 26/1/21, Carl Stephens Manuscript History, Chapter 6, 3-4, University of Illinois Archives. [2] Arthur Seymour to Edmund James, 1913 April 21, Edmund James Faculty Correspondence (2/5/6), B: 29, F: Seymour, University of Illinois Archives. [3] Ibid. [4] Carol Huang, “The Soft Power of U. S. Education and the Formation of a Chinese American Intellectual Community in Urbana-Champaign, 1905-1954” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Illinois, 2001), 30. [5] Ibid., 2, 30. [6] Ibid., 95-96, 99-100. [7] Seymour to James, 1913 April 21. [8] Huang, 88. [9] “Colored Students,” Dean of Men General Correspondence (41/2/1), B: 8, F: Clan-Col, University of Illinois Archives. [10] Albert Lee, “The University of Illinois Negro Students,” June 25, 1940, University of Illinois Archives Reference File. [11] Daily Illini, 13 February 1913. [12] Tamara Lynette Hoff, “The History of African American Women at the University of Illinois, 1901-1939” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Illinois, 2015), 88. [13] Ibid., 112. [14] Winton Solberg, “The Early Years of the Jewish Presence at the University of Illinois,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, 2 (Summer 1992), 216, 226. [15] Ibid., 217-18, 223-24. [16] Ibid., 217. [17] Thomas Arkle Clark to Edmund James, June 1, 1915, Dean of Men General Correspondence (41/2/1), B: 2, F: James, University of Illinois Archives. [18] Solberg, 222; Daily Illini, 26 February 1920.



Women were numerous enough on campus that administrators felt obliged to accommodate their needs. The Women’s Building (now the English Building), conceived of as a safe space for women, opened in 1905. In 1907, the Watcheka League renamed itself the Woman’s League. It was most noted for hosting the annual May Fête, which by 1910 boasted over 300 participants and 7,000 spectators.

Due to unsuitable housing for women not living in sororities or religious housing, the University opened the Women’s Residence Hall in 1917, its first foray into housing since 1881. Because of wartime needs, however, women couldn’t move in until 1919.

Women’s Building 1914
Woman’s Building Lounge
Swimmers in the Women’s Building pool.
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A woman’s building was a long-held dream of U of I women and such trustees as Lucy Flower, Julia Holmes Smith and Mary Turner Carriel, the daughter of Jonathan Baldwin Turner. The dream became a reality in 1905 when the Woman’s Building (now the English Building) was dedicated. Designed by the noted New York firm McKim, Mead and White, the New England colonial structure contained parlors, clubrooms, a gym, and a swimming pool. The second floor housed Isabel Bevier’s Department of Household Science and featured practice kitchens, a chemistry lab, and a dining room.[1] Men were initially not permitted in the building, which was conceived of as a safe space for women; in 1906, however, the Council of Administration relaxed the rule so as to allow men’s visitation between 8:00 and 9:30 in the morning–but only upon approval of the Woman’s Hall head.[2] In 1913 the Woman’s Building was doubled in size: money for the addition had been obtained via the “unaided” lobbying efforts of Nora Dunlap, the wife of a state senator, and a group of University women.[3] Organized in 1898, the Watcheka League—re-named The Woman’s League in 1907–coordinated all women’s activities on campus. The group looked out for the welfare of its members. It formed a hospital association and even set up a room in Burnham Hospital for the benefit of women students. The Woman’s League year ended its year with a party—the Maypole Festival, first held in 1899.[4] In the first Festival, seventy-two women in white wrapped orange and blue streamers around a maypole as the University band played.[5] The event caught on, so much so in fact that in 1910 the May Fete—as it was now called—boasted over 300 participants and some 7,000 spectators, all gathered on Illinois Field. Spurred on by the success of the May Fete, the Woman’s League sponsored carnivals, fairs, and gymnastic exhibitions, with the proceeds earmarked for the aid of women students in need.[6] As the enrollment of women students increased during the early years of the 20th century, the need for more adequate women’s housing became ever-more evident. Dean of Women Martha Kyle claimed that “unsuitable living conditions” prevented many women from attending the U of I. The rising cost of living didn’t help matters: between 1900 and 1915, student living expenses doubled from $300 a year to $600. Flourishing during this period, the sororities helped lessen the problem by housing a considerable number of women students. The Episcopalians also responded to the housing demand, opening a residence hall for over thirty women in 1909 known as Osborne Hall (now the home of the Chi Omega sorority). The Young Women’s Christian Association, the Presbyterians, and the Catholics followed suit, establishing women’s housing of their own.[7] In 1913-14, 205 women lived in sorority houses, 100 in church-affiliated houses, 226 with families or friends, 203 with private families, and 92 in large boarding houses.[8] Aided by trustees Mary Busey and Laura Evans, University women launched a campaign calling for the University itself to “do something for the women” in terms of housing. Fully backing the effort, the Daily Illini condemned “the shameful disparity in the advantages enjoyed by sorority and non-sorority girls at Illinois.”[9] Finally, in 1915, the Legislature appropriated money for a women’s residence hall. President James was adamant that the proposed new structure not be called a dormitory—a term, which, to him, sounded “too much like a ten-cent-a-night hotel.”[10]

Woman’s Residence Hall

The structure was intended to serve as the nucleus of a “women’s zone” in Urbana and so a site on Nevada Street was selected. A new, roomier Women’s Athletic Field was laid out southeast of the soon-to-be-built residence hall in the approximate location of the present-day Campus Recreation Center East, replacing the old women’s field south of Lincoln Hall (where Greg Hall now stands). The new field boasted tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, baseball fields, and even an ice skating rink.[11] Completed in 1917, the $180,000 Classical Revival Women’s Residence Hall—later called Busey Hall–wouldn’t house women students for almost two years: trainees in the School of Military Aeronautics occupied so-called “Barracks Number Two” until the end of World War I. At last, in 1919, over 100 women took their rightful places in the Women’s Residence Hall—pioneers in the U of I’s first “experiment” in student housing since the demise of “The Elephant” in 1881.[12] (“The Elephant,” though, had been open to only male students.)


[1] The Illini, 9 February 1905. [2] Ibid., 5 December 1906. [3] Daily Illini, 14 March 1912. [4] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 6, 27-28, University of Illinois Archives. [5] Winton Solberg, The University of Illinois, 1894-1904: The Shaping of the University (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 214. [6] Stephens, Chapter 6, 27-28. For Woman’s League Records, see RS 41/3/1, Dean of Woman Subject Files, 1909-1980[7] Stephens, Chapter 6, 37-38. [8] Dean of Women Annual Report 1913-14, Edmund James Faculty Correspondence (2/5/6), B: 37, F: Kyle. [9] Daily Illini, 14 March 1912[10] Ibid., 9 October 1975. [11] Ibid., 9 January 1916. [12] Ibid., 23 September 1919.

Mary T. Carriel, 1897
Lucy Flower, 1897 (RS 39/2/20)
Julia Holmes Smith


Student Activities

Campus student life really blossomed during the James years. Fraternities swelled in number from 12 to 39 and sororities from 5 to 14, a move the campus approved of as a way to better control often unruly students.

Campus publications also enjoyed a boom, with the student newspaper becoming a daily in 1907, a literary magazine whose staffers included two future Pulitzer Prize winners, and a satirical magazine poking fun at it all.

Student organizations also boomed, ranging from the Zoology Club to the University Glee and Mandolin Club in 1907, the forerunner of today’s Engineering Open House held its first Electrical Show, attracting more than a thousand people.

Siren Covers (41/8/804)
Thomas Holman Scrapbook, 1903-1906


Electrical Show Program
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After years of dominance, the old-fashioned literary societies began to exit the campus scene, with the fraternities and sororities taking their place. Between 1904 and 1920, the number of fraternities on campus increased from 12 to 39 while sororities also experienced a healthy growth, going from 5 to 14.[1] The legendary Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark encouraged the spread of fraternities, believing that men in Greek societies were more easily controlled than the independents.[2]

At the beginning of the century, most fraternity houses lined Green Street, but in 1908 the members of Phi Kappa Psi launched a new fraternity district south of John Street in the “Chalmers Street wilderness” when they erected a brick Jacobean Period Revival house at 911 S. Fourth.[3] The sorority district underwent a similar migration, moving east from its original John Street center into Urbana, leapfrogging the nascent Quad. The women of Alpha Omicron Pi led the way, relocating to 712 W. Oregon Street in 1915. The Dean of Women Martha Kyle had encouraged this eastward movement in an effort to create a women’s section of the campus, anchored by the soon-to-be-built Women’s Residence Hall.[4]

Student publications also thrived during this era. Becoming a daily in 1907, the Illini student newspaper improved significantly in editorial quality and soon could plausibly claim to be the “world’s greatest college daily.” Published by the juniors, the Illio continued to chronicle the campus year and to “roast” both fellow students and University officials, most especially the “matriarchal, patriarchal” Thomas Arkle Clark. For the more literary-inclined, there was The Illinois Magazine, staffed over the years by many future luminaries including two Pulitzer Prize winners (Carl Van Doren and Allan Nevins) and “The Jazz Singer” author Samson Raphaelson.[5]

Glee and Mandolin Club

According to historian Carl Stephens, the magazine, in the late-1910s and the 1920s, exhibited “a tone of youth wise beyond its years, a blasé quality contrasting sharply with the guileless, wide-eyed enthusiasm at the beginning of the century.”[6] The Siren satirical magazine also appeared during this period, doing its best to offend one and all with its racy (for the time) content.[7]  More students meant more student organizations and more things to do. “One of the best measures of the growing vigor of student life was the rapid increase in student organizations,” Allan Nevins noted.[8] In 1909 the Daily Illini estimated that one-half of the students took part in one or more organizations.[9]

There were organizations for scientists and science buffs (the Botanical Club, the Chemical Club, the Zoology Club), for engineers (the Ceramics Engineering Society, the Electrical Engineering Society, the Railway Club), for Agriculture students (the Agricultural Club, the Horticultural Club, the Hoof and Horn Society), and for the musically minded (the University Choral and Orchestral Society, the University Glee and Mandolin Club, the University Women’s Glee Club).[10] There was even a short-lived Tall Men’s Club, for men six-feet and over![11] Members of the Electrical Engineering Society attracted national attention in March 1907 when they held their first annual Electrical Show. More than a thousand people, including engineers from across the country, attended the two-day show to view the many amazing exhibits, such as a 100,000-volt transformer, an X-ray machine, and a railroad test car.[12]

Electrical World, a national trade publication, praised the effort, saying that “the combination of exhibits of scientific interest with exhibits that catch the popular fancy . . . prove the assertion we have often made—that the technically trained man is equal to almost any emergency.”[13] The Electrical Show continued to grow in popularity, and then in 1920 it became an all-engineering exhibition: Engineering Open House was born.[14]


[1] Edmund J. James, Sixteen Years at the University of Illinois, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1920), 184. [2] Thomas Arkle Clark to Edmund James, 13 December 1915, Dean of Men General Correspondence (41/2/1), B: 9, F: James, University of Illinois Archives. [3] Daily Illini, 21 April 1929. [4] Ibid., 21 September 1915. [5] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 6, 39-42, University of Illinois Archives. [6] Ibid., 43. [7] Ibid., 45. [8] Allan Nevins, Illinois (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 250-51. [9] Daily Illini, 1 June 1909. [10] James, 179-82. [11] The Illini, 21 May 1907. [12] Ibid., 2 March 1907. [13] Nevins, 258. [14] Daily Illini, 14 March 1920.

Related Links

Illio, 1895

The Illinois Magazine

Daily Illini

Popular Illinois men, 1912


Fraternity & Sorority Story Map


Traditions & Sports

Presidents Draper and James both had a common enemy–class rivalries. From unofficial greased-pole challenges to officially sanctioned “pushball” contests, the rivalries led to injuries, something no college president could abide.

It took years to find the solution, which turned out to be intercollegiate sports. With the hiring of football coach Robert Zuppke in 1913, the middling football team suddenly blossomed into a multi-championship-winning team. Baseball under George Huff followed suit, as did track under Harry Gill. Through sports, students now saw themselves as Illini first and foremost.

Illinois Field Story Map

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Sophomore Proclamation (RS 39/2/23)

Class rivalries died hard at the U of I. Despite the active discouragement of presidents Draper and James, these rivalries—primarily waged between sophomores and freshmen– continued to rage on well into the James administration. In the early 1900s, the “class scrap” took the form of a greased-pole rush: sophomores attempted to climb a slippery pole and swipe the freshmen colors fastened at the top.[1] Hoping to impose some order on the inherent chaos of this “scrap,” Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark initially attempted to regulate it, and then he changed it to a pushball contest. First waged in the fall of 1908, the “sophs” and “frosh” battled to move the six-foot ball—imported from Drake University—from the 50-yard line of Illinois Field to their opponent’s end zone. The “sophs” managed to score fifteen “touchdowns” while the poor freshmen came up empty. The contest proved to be a disaster—the casualty list was longer than that for all of the previous “scraps” combined; even so, the pushball contest survived until it was replaced in 1913 by the sack rush—a variation on pushball with fifteen excelsior-stuffed sacks replacing the overgrown beach ball.[2] Finally, in 1915, the last official “class scrap” was held, though the annual freshman cap-burning—begun a year earlier—continued into the 1920s.[3]

Class rivalries were becoming a thing of the past, and students began to create new traditions. In the spring of 1906 students held the first Interscholastic Circus—a “kind of mardi gras” event that graces many postcards of the era. Participants in the Circus dressed up in outlandish costumes and performed in “stunts” to entertain visitors attending the Interscholastic—a state high school track and field championship that had originated in 1893.[4] “Burlesques of local and national affairs and take-offs on all important university personalities formed the largest part of the entertainment,” an authority later said of the Interscholastic.[5] In 1910 W. Elmer Ekblaw and Clarence Williams came up with the idea of a Homecoming to attract alumni. The University of Texas at Austin apparently held the first-ever Homecoming a few years earlier, but the U of I can at least claim to have had the longest tradition called Homecoming. In any case, the 1910 event was a great success, and many other universities followed Illinois’ lead and began holding their own Homecomings.[6]

A football game formed the centerpiece of the U of I’s first Homecoming. In that game, Illinois defeated the University of Chicago, a bitter rival, by a score of 3-0–thanks to a drop-kick field goal by Otto Seiler; the U of I team would not be scored upon the entire season.[7] That year happened to be an outlier for Illinois football: U of I teams had tended to be mediocre at best. Things changed for the better in 1913 with the hiring of Robert Zuppke as football coach. A crafty gridiron tactician, the German-born Zuppke befuddled opposing defenses with his innovative offensive schemes. Between 1913 and 1920, his teams claimed two national titles (in 1914 and 1919), won or shared four Big Ten championships, and included such notable names as Bart Macomber, Harold Pogue, and George Halas, the future Chicago Bears coach and owner.[8] Football was quickly becoming the king of college spectator sports, but baseball remained popular. Coached by the legendary athletic director George Huff, Illinois baseball teams compiled an amazing 161-55-5 record between 1905 and 1920, winning the Big Ten championship seven times.[9] Another legend coached the U of I track team: Harry Gill, hired in 1904. Gill’s teams would win eleven outdoor and eight indoor championships in the space of 29 years. Huff later called Gill “the greatest coach in history.”[10] U of I men’s basketball was in its infancy, only having been inaugurated on January 20, 1906 when the first-ever men’s Illini team defeated Indiana by a score of 27-24: even so, Illinois’ net men won the Big Ten championship outright in 1915 and shared it with Minnesota in 1917.[11] The year 1915 was an incredible one for Illinois sports: Illini baseball, football, basketball, and track teams all won Big Ten championships that year. For better or worse, athletics played an ever-larger role in the lives of students during this period, serving as a morale booster and a rallying point. Sports helped unify Illinois students, breaking down their narrow class outlooks and encouraging them to see themselves as Illini first and foremost. The days of the class canes, class yells, and class colors were rapidly drawing to a close.

“Splash the Frosh” in Boneyard creek, c1910-15 (RS 39/2/20)

[1] The Illini, 22 November 1906. [2] Daily Illini, 30 October 1908; 16 November 1913. [3] Ibid., 31 October 1915. [4] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 6, 36, University of Illinois Archives. [5] C. O. Jackson, “Where, Oh Where Are the College Circuses of Yesteryear,” The Fraternity Month, 7 (May 1940), 33. [6] John Franch, “Origin of the University of Illinois Homecoming,” University of Illinois Archives, available at [7] Ibid. [8] Maynard Brichford, Bob Zuppke: The Life and Football Legacy of the Illinois Coach (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2008), 30-36. [9] Stephens, Chapter 10, 8-9. [10] Ibid., 13. [11] Ibid., 15-16.



Summer Band concert, c1916

Albert Austin Harding was just a senior in engineering when, in 1905, he took over the University’s military band. By 1907, he became the University’s first director of bands, a job he held until 1948. Within his first year, he began the tradition of military band concerts at the new Auditorium.

By 1909, he had taught the marching band to “change magically into a marching block I,” to the amazement of football fans, and his weekly spring concerts on the quad, begun in 1911, attracted thousands. No wonder John Philip Sousa himself proclaimed Harding’s band the greatest college band.

Harding, c1911
Illio yearbook, 1912, p165
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Albert Austin Harding, a senior in Engineering, inaugurated a musical renaissance at the U of I in 1905 when he took charge of the University’s military band. Two years later, Harding was appointed the University’s first Director of Bands—a position he would hold until 1948. Harding, a musical virtuoso who “had a knack for quickly learning to play almost any instrument,” according to historian Carl Stephens, wasted no time in revamping the band.[1] Early in his tenure as Director, he secured $3,500 from the Board of Trustees and purchased fifty-one new instruments for the band, including three piccolos from Germany, two Sousa-phones, and one xylophone. He also acquired new music scores from European as well as American publishers.[2] Under Harding, the U of I band flourished, attracting both members (215 in 1918) and fans.[3] Harding went out of his way to curry favor with the public. In 1908, at the first annual military band concert held in the Auditorium, Harding’s musical program appealed to “the popular taste” by featuring selections from comic as well as standard operas.[4] Harding also proved to be a master choreographer of marching bands: in the fall of 1909, awe-struck football fans witnessed “the band change magically into the marching block I for the first time,” in Carl Stephens’ words.[5] Ever-more intricate marching formations would ensue. Hoping “to arouse some campus enthusiasm, and incidentally show University people what the band really can do,” Harding launched in 1911 the first twilight concert.[6] Held weekly in the spring, usually in front of the Auditorium, these hour-long concerts quickly became a popular tradition, with sometimes as many as 3,000 people attending. They were so popular in fact that Supervising Architect James White bent the campus rules in 1915 and permitted concert-goers to park their automobiles on the Quad.[7] Harding’s musical efforts did not go unnoticed. In the mid-1910s, the Daily Illini started calling Harding’s ensemble “the greatest college band”; no less a figure than the “March King” himself, John Philip Sousa, would later second this assessment.[8]


[1] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 10, 58, University of Illinois Archives. [2] Daily Illini, 20 February 1908. [3] Stephens, Chapter 10, 58. [4] Daily Illini, 16 April 1908. [5] Stephens, Chapter 10, 58. [6] Daily Illini, 13 April 1911. [7] Ibid., 18 May 1915. [8] Ibid., 4 March 1916; 16 October 1926.

Further Resources

• Sousa Archives and Center for American Music • Cary Clive Burford, We’re Loyal to You Illinois: The Story of the University of Illinois Bands under Albert Austin Harding for 43 Years (Danville: Interstate, 1952) • Chapter 10: Athletics and the Bands “To Play Manfully and Courageously” in Carl Stephens, University of Illinois: A History, 1867-1949: Record series description | Chapters


Green Street, c1910 (RS 41/20/23, box 2)

So I love to watch them pass, In a solid moving mass. They walk upon the sidewalk, In the street or on the grass. In the John Street passing show, Almost every one you know, Comes tramping by at noon time, Be it rain or shine or snow

From Roger Hill, “The John Street Passing Show” in Boneyard Babblings: Illini Life in Poetry, Picture and Prose, p19 (RS 41/20/57 Roger Hill Papers, 1914)

The James years saw a revolution in transportation. When he came in 1904, most students and faculty walked to get around. By 1912, bicycles had become popular enough that the University installed bike racks, followed in 1916 with the first bike path through the Quad. Streetcars also crossed the Quad from 1909 until the late 1920s.

By 1917, the DI reported a noticeable increase in student automobiles. Roads, however, were inadequate for long-distance car trips. For those trips, students, faculty, and visitors had access to six-times-daily trains and, for locations like Danville or Decatur, the Interurban system.

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In the early part of the 20th century, most students and faculty used their own two legs to get around campus. Walking was the most common way to go: the procession of students heading to class overflowed John and Green streets and extended as much as three-quarters of a mile from campus.[1] But bicycles became increasingly popular modes of campus transit during this period. In the fall of 1912 the University installed the first bike racks on campus at several locations, including along the south walk of Lincoln Hall, on the east side of the Agricultural Building (Davenport Hall), and in the basement of the Natural History Building.[2] Four years later, a bike path—the U of I’s first—was laid out on the Quad alongside streetcar tracks and trolley poles.[3] Streetcars—trolleys—crossed the Quad back then and offered another favorite means of local travel. In 1909 University officials forced the streetcar line off of Green Street because vibrations caused by the passing trolleys threatened to wreak havoc with “the delicate apparatus” in the Physics Building (the present Materials Science and Engineering Building), then under construction.[4] As a result, the streetcar line was relocated to the Quad of all places: for twenty years, the orange trolleys rumbled across the Quad, periodically bringing to a stop the passing parades on the Broadwalk. The wide sidewalk that crosses the Quad north of the English Building marks the onetime trolley route.

Man in car,1917 (41/20/23)

Student use of automobiles and motorcycles did not become widespread until the late-1910s. Writing in December 1917, the Daily Illini reported “a noticeable increase in the number of machines, from Fords to Cadillacs, that patiently waited on the campus for the owners to finish the day and drive them home.” According to the DI, before 1917, “almost every student and faculty member walked to class.”[5] But cars were not exactly rare before then; especially during Commencement week, when the alumni came to town, the streets could be “lined with automobiles from Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and other cities,” in the words of Allan Nevins.[6] In that era of inadequate roads, students and others often relied on the railroads to travel to and from Urbana-Champaign. Three steam railroads and several electric interurban lines ran over forty trains a day through the Twin Cities, connecting the area with the surrounding world. The Illinois Central provided convenient service north to Chicago and south to New Orleans: Chicago-bound trains departed from Champaign six times a day. The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (the Big Four) operated trains east to Indianapolis and west to Peoria. The Wabash Railroad linked Urbana-Champaign with St. Louis.[7] In addition, during holidays, the railroads usually put on extra cars and ran additional trains — so-called “specials” — to accommodate the large numbers of departing students.[8] Importantly, there were also William B. McKinley’s interurban lines—part of his immense Illinois Traction System, which united C-U with Danville on the east and Decatur on the west. McKinley’s interurban crossed the campus just south of Springfield Avenue along the very same right-of-way that had been used by the area’s first horsecar line.[9] Western Avenue traces a portion of the old interurban route. As if all of these modes of conveyance were not enough, there was also a Kankakee-Urbana Traction Company interurban line, which, despite its name, only extended as far as Paxton.[10]


[1] Allan Nevins, Illinois (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 300. [2] Daily Illini, 15 November 1912. [3] Ibid., 6 April 1916. [4] Ibid., 17 December 1908. [5] Ibid., 18 December 1917. [6] Nevins, 321. [7] The Illini, 17 October 1905. [8] Daily Illini, 17 December 1916. [9] Ibid., 8 December 1918. [10] Ibid., 7 December 1918.

World War I

The country’s entry into World War I in 1917 greatly affected the University. Seemingly overnight, enrollment dropped by 20 percent as men rushed off to either enlist or volunteer as farm workers. Conversely, the number of women students increased, with many entering fields traditionally dominated by men.

The University also hosted one of five military flight schools in the country, and the creation of a Students’ Army Training Corp brought some 3,000 more students to campus. The University ended up sending more people to the fronts than any other university. Those who died are memorialized on the columns of Memorial Stadium.

Launch WWI Story Map

Student Army Training Corp., c1915-1918 (RS 39/2/20)
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“When the nation is at stake, there are only patriots and traitors,” President James thundered in a Chicago speech one day after Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against the German Empire. According to his biographer, James had been “an indifferent neutral” during the run-up to war, but, now with U. S. involvement in the conflict, he had become a firm believer in “the ‘necessity’ that German imperialism be destroyed.”[1] For the German-educated James, the conversion was a difficult one: he, after all, strongly admired German culture, and his beloved, now deceased, wife had been a German native.

On April 3, 1917, James wrote President Wilson volunteering the University’s support for the war effort. Less than a month later, the federal government tapped the U of I and five other institutions to serve as headquarters for military flight schools.[2] Established on May 21, 1917, the so-called School of Military Aeronautics used the new Armory and the Gym Annex as classrooms and the YMCA Building (now Illini Hall) and Bradley Hall as dormitories and mess halls. In addition, the newly built Women’s Residence Hall served as a barracks for advanced aviators. By the spring of 1918, almost 800 men were enrolled in the flight school. In the end, 3,625 “Illini by adoption” would enter the School of Military Aeronautics.[3]

Almost immediately after the declaration of war, Illinois students rallied to the cause, and a mass exodus from the University ensued. At first they flocked to the farm field rather than the battle field. In mid-April an enterprising Canadian official attracted almost 200 students to the wheat fields of Manitoba and Saskatchewan with the promise of good pay and free land: farmhands were desperately needed there since so many Canadian men had enlisted in the war effort. Upon the urging of College of Agriculture Dean Eugene Davenport, over 600 more men left the University to work on farms in the United States. By summer, almost 500 Illini had entered military service as well, including several members of an ambulance unit who soon found themselves in the thick of the action on the Western Front.[4] The following autumn, the University experienced a twenty percent decrease in overall enrollment despite a rise in the number of women. Not coincidentally, Music and Library Science, with large majorities of women, were the only colleges on the Urbana-Champaign campus enrolling more students that fall.[5] During World War I, the campus became something of “a women’s world.” More and more women embarked on fields of study traditionally dominated by men. Illini women also did their part for the war effort. The Women’s War Relief Committee raised thousands of dollars for war work by holding events such as a vaudeville show. University women also spent hours of each week knitting apparel for soldiers and making “bandages, wipes and all necessary equipment for Red Cross use.”[6]

Armory used as Sleeping Quarters, c1910 (RS 26/30/2)

The lowering of the draft age from 21 to 18 early in 1918 threatened to deprive universities of much of their male student body: salvation came in the form of the Students’ Army Training Corps (SATC), which sprang up on hundreds of college campuses in the fall of 1918. Intended to quickly churn out for the armed forces a cadre of trained officers, experts, and enlisted men, the SATC brought some 3,000 students to the U of I campus and turned the University into a “training camp” during the last few months of 1918. The Armory served as the SATC headquarters: a second floor was added to provide sleeping room for a thousand men–“the biggest bedroom in the state,” it was later called. As big as the Armory was, it wasn’t big enough to house all of the SATC men; the University had to lease 65 fraternities and boarding houses in order to secure additional space.[7] The end of the war in November 1918 closed the curtain on the unpopular SATC, and many students celebrated. “Students’ Army Training Corps,” a poet at the University of Iowa quipped. “You sure made us awful sorps.”[8]

Daily Illini, 11 April 1917

As the war neared its end, another cataclysm shook the globe: the 1918 flu pandemic that ultimately claimed a staggering 50 to 100 million lives—three to five percent of the world’s population. The pandemic first struck the University in early October, and soon hundreds of students were sick. The small isolation hospital on the south campus could hold perhaps two dozen people. In what was perhaps his finest hour, Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark, aided by Athletic Director George Huff and University Health Officer J. H. Beard, took charge of the situation. Nurses were obtained, and four buildings converted into make-shift hospitals: College Hall, a private dormitory on the corner of Green and Fourth streets; the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house; Osborne Hall, a private women’s dormitory; and the Woman’s Building, specifically, the gymnasium in its basement. Ultimately, some two thousand students came down with the flu, and nine died. In December the disease re-appeared: this time roughly 500 students became sick, and ten died.[9]

Battery F Training Camp south of Armory, 1917 (RS 39/2/20)

At two in the morning on November 11, 1918, the campus fire siren and convocation bell announced Germany’s signing of the armistice and the end of World War I. The awakening students and faculty rejoiced, and, within moments, a “big procession including all the campus soldiers was formed,” according to the Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly News. “After a trip down town and back the throng filled the quadrangle north of the auditorium. Stretched high above the crowds were the flags of all the allied nations, illuminated with searchlights.”[10] The Daily Illini estimated the crowd at 10,000 and deemed the gathering to be “the most inspiring spectacle ever witnessed in the Twin Cities.” “The sight of the khaki clad men surrounding the various flags, and extending back as far as the eye could pierce through the dusk, was one which Illinois will never forget,” the student newspaper declared.[11]

Daily Illini, November 11, 1918, end of WWI

Final figures showed that 9,442 Illini had served in the war. According to the Cornell Daily Sun, Illinois had sent more people to the fronts than any other university. One hundred and eighty-three Illini men and one woman—the nurse Gladys Gilpatrick—gave their lives while in the service: their names are inscribed on 184 Doric columns—one name per column–lining the east and west sides of Memorial Stadium.[12]

After the Liberty Loan Parade, April 26, 1918 (RS 41/20/101)

[1] Richard Allen Swanson, “Edmund J. James, 1855-1925: A ‘Conservative Progressive’ in American Higher Education” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Illinois, 1966), 311-12. [2] Ibid., 313. [3] Carl Stephens, “The University of Illinois–A History, 1867-1947,” Carl Stephens Manuscript History (26/1/21), Chapter 8, 16-17, 33, University of Illinois Archives. [4] Ibid., 14-15. [5] Ibid., 17-18. [6] Daily Illini, 10 March 1918. [7] Stephens, Chapter 8, 26-29. [8] Benjamin Shearer, “An Experiment in Military and Civilian Education: The Students’ Army Training Corps at the University of Illinois,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, August 1979, 213-224. [9] Stephens, Chapter 8, 29. [10] Ibid., 32. [11] Daily Illini, 12 November 1918. [12] Stephens, Chapter 8, 33-36.

University of Illinois Call of War pamphlet, 1917 (RS 2/5/805)
YMCA Hut booklet, “The Y of the Y,” c1918 (RS 41/69/323)

War Time Activities flyers, c1917-1918 (RS 2/5/805)