Blog post by Randi Richardson
On April 6, 1917, more than two years after the beginning of World War I, the United States declared war on Germany. A military draft was instituted in the U. S. for all men between the ages of 21 and 30 and was soon amended to include all men from 18-45. As young men and middle-aged men marched off to war, either due to patriotism or the draft, homes and educational institutions emptied. Gone were fathers and son, many of the students and the teaching staff, as well.
The U. S. forces had a great need for college-educated soldiers. To that end, the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) was created in 1918 and hosted at several hundred different institutions of higher learning from coast to coast including Indiana University at Bloomington.
The S.A.T.C. program was announced in the last days of August 1918. Young men affected by the draft who had passed a high school course or its equivalent could, at their discretion, transfer into colleges or universities for a period varying from three to ten months. The government agreed to treat the enlisted men as enlisted soldiers, quartering them in barracks, furnishing housing, food and tuition along with a private’s pay of $1/day.
At IU, about 60 percent of the student population, 1,102 men, were enlisted in the S.A.T.C. President Bryan estimated that about 400 of those men had enrolled in the University simply to take advantage of the S.A.T.C. In order to give the colleges and universities an opportunity to ready housing for the men, the opening of the program was delayed to October 1.
In February 2020 eight letters were purchased on Ebay from one of the S.A.T.C. enlistees at IU. His name was William Glenn Roberts (1898-1983) from Mooresville, Indiana. He was one of five children born to John T. and Alva L. (Button) Roberts, both of whom were ordained ministers in the United Brethren Church. John T. Roberts is considered the founder of the Indiana Central College now known as the University of Indianapolis. These letters give the reader an inside look at the S.A.T.C. program.
Glenn, as he was commonly known, arrived early on the Bloomington campus in September 1918. At first he boarded with Daniel and Effie Yadon at 315 E. Sixth St. His letters had this to say about his accommodations:
Dear little mother,
I am in a fine room now and am getting room and board for $6 per week. We get all we can carry away to eat. The landlady is choicy (sic) about her roomers and does not have roomers who smoke or play cards, and the room has modern fixtures, so I am well placed. Bath ‘n everything is right on the same floor as the room. There are eight boys here.
Bloomington is a nice town. Drinking water is good where I stay and at the school. The campus is a beautiful place. It covers 118 acres…The school clock has chimes on it, and every morning at 6:45 they play America. They’ve just chimed seven.
We will not be taken up into the army until after October 1st but having signed up for the S.A.T.C, we have to rather watch our step. Absence from class, for instance, would probably be reported to Capt. Dalton…Bye, honey…
Although S.A.T.C. enlistees were initially given a lot of latitude in selecting their courses, eventually the curriculum was narrowed which forced all collegiate students to take the same few courses within a tightly regimented schedule with reveille at 6 AM, drill from 7-8:50, academic work from 9-11:50, classwork and freedom from 1-5; supervised study from 7-9 and taps at 9:30.
My course of study is, besides 11 hours military drill per week, five hours of French, five hours of general geology, two hours of topography and map study, and three hours of history of war causes and aims.
Glenn clearly missed his home. And his mother.
I passed the physical examination this afternoon and made it easy. I only weighed 127.3 lbs. which is 7/10 lbs. below the marine standard. 120 is the limit in the army for my height. I hope to grow some while in the service.
When Uncle Sam makes me a second lieutenant…I’ll take you to Colorado Canon so you can paint it. Won’t that be fine.
I don’t see how you put up [with all that you do] besides half supporting the family, doing without clothes yourself and keeping your temper so sweet. You’re a wonderful little mother, sweetheart. I wish I were good enough to be called “your son!” It would take some pretty tall stepping for any fellow.
By the first of October there were many changes in Glenn’s life, some welcomed and anticipated, others not. Watch for the second part of this blog next week in a presentation titled “Letters Home from an Enlistee in IU’s S.A.T.C. Program: Flu Closes IU Campus.
William David Howe, “An Educational Experiment,” Indiana University Alumni Quarterly, January 1919, Vol. VI, No. 1, pp. 43-46.
“News of the University,” Indiana University Alumni Quarterly, January 1919, Vol. VI, No. 1, pp. 85-87.