“I believe it will take the colleges years to recover”

On October 21, 1918 Virginia Tech president Joseph Eggleston received a letter from a concerned parent. The parent, W. T. Goodloe, wrote to inform Eggleston that he had asked his son to resign from school and return home. Goodloe explained that his son entered Virginia Tech expecting to receive a normal education and that he would only be a cadet of the institution, not in the “regular army.” Unfortunately this was not a possibility since the War Department’s Student’s Army Training Corps program affected the entire curricular structure of the university. All students, regardless of age and military status, were required to complete additional military studies at the expense of their non-military education.

Since Goodloe’s son was only 17 and would not be of draft age until September 1919 his father thought it best if his son returned home. Eggleston agreed that Goodloe did the right thing in asking his son to resign, lamenting that “We [the Virginia Tech administration] have been compelled to subordinate everything here to the wishes of the Washington officials.” In a moment of frankness Eggleston told Goodloe that he believed “it will take the colleges years to recover from present conditions.”

Remarkably I’ve found a number of other letters from parents asking Eggleston to allow their sons to leave the university, drop out of the SATC, and return home. Unfortunately the ones I’ve found so far were not as lucky as Goodloe. These students were 18 or older, since they were old enough to be conscripted into the Army and the SATC, they were not allowed to return home. A fact that these parents may have failed to understand or a fact that these parents did not wish to accept.

I these two particular letters remarkable due to the frankness in which Eggleston replies. Due to his position as president of Virginia Tech, Eggleston may have held back his opinions in his letters due to the public nature of his occupation. But in his response he hints at his reservations about the War Department’s use of colleges and universities during the war. Additionally, Goodloe’s letter represents one of the diverse reactions parents of Virginia Tech students had to the SATC and curricular changes associated with it. Goodloe clearly does not want his underage son to participate in the SATC before he is of age, other parents do not want their sons to participate in the program at all, while some parents make inquiries about joining the SATC on behalf of their children. There not one unifying response on behalf of parents, but Goodloe’s letter reveals the careful consideration and reasoning behind his motivation to bring his son home.

Here are the letters so you can read them for yourselves:

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Both letters can be found in: Joseph Dupuy Eggleston papers, Office of the President, RG 2/7, Box 5, Folder 439, University Archives: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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6 thoughts on ““I believe it will take the colleges years to recover””

  1. What a find! This leads me to wonder exactly that the relationship was like between parents and their college students in the first decades of twentieth century. I think we tend to imagine a less intimate relationship given that adolescence and childhood were not as prolonged then as they are now, but these letters pleading with Eggleston seem to be terribly suggestive.

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    1. For sure the war provided new reasons for parents to write about their kids…but I, too, wonder if this parental concern was present prior to the war. Might some of the secondary literature on college students address this question of early 20th century helicoptor parents?

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  2. Many of the sources you have presented lately have shown that support for the war may have been more controversial than initially expected. Of course these sources also stand out from the others I assume. How are these discoveries reshaping your questions or your argument? Have you changed your argument since discovering these sources or do these sorts of revelations have a way of fitting somewhere in your argument?

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  3. It seems from the letter and reply that Eggleston was caught in the middle. Had the War Dept. really taken over to that extent? How does the idea of a college that was essentially hijacked by the Army make a difference in the way different groups at VPI supported (or did not support) the war?

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  4. Wow! That letter is incredible for what you are looking at. The fact that Eggleston acknowledges how changes have been set in motion that will persist for some time would be a great way to open your paper with a vignette. Additionally, I think that these parent reactions could inform another portion of your paper. When you talk about how student life changed, you could talk about these parental responses to the institution. Parents can come visit, and vice versa today as the university has very fluid boundaries. However, this was obviously not the case then.

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