Centennial Edition: 1940s

By Mallory Grossman

In the midst of life-altering events like the start of World War II and the Pearl Harbor… In the midst of life-altering events like the start of World War II and the Pearl Harbor attacks, The Pitt News managed to cover race discrimination, housing shortages and fashion contests during the ’40s.

Although the paper was able to maintain light-hearted coverage throughout the decade, much of the reporting from the first half of the ’40s centered around World War II.

When the United States entered the war in 1941, The Pitt News covered its impact on the University.

Genevieve Wilson, one of the few women working as a reporter at The Pitt News in the ’40s, recently said she remembers soldiers’ constant presence on campus, some of them essentially “living in the Cathedral.”

“I saw them every day and was very aware that they were there,” Wilson said.

In the issue that came out on Dec. 10, 1941, The Pitt News reported about the “sunless, grey Tuesday” that America entered the war.

It was the day that “grim young faces, calm, serious, indicated that boys had suddenly become men, girls had become women,” The Pitt News wrote.

Students waited anxiously in their classes while professors read Mark Twain to calm their students’ nerves and drown out the newsboys’ chants of “War! War! War!” that penetrated the classrooms.

Chancellor John Bowman tried to comfort students.

“The most optimistic thing that I know of in Pittsburgh is the character of the student body here. Tomorrow and tomorrow is a blackout, but the students will find their way through,” Bowman said.

In an issue that came out exactly one year after Pearl Harbor, The Pitt News called World War II “the beginning, the ground-breaking, of what may be the greatest revolution in American education yet written into the history books.”

The war affected many parts of student life. Veterans totaled 80 percent of the new class in 1946, gasoline rationing affected 50 percent of the student body’s method of transportation in 1943, air-raid safety instructions were put out for students in 1941, and two sirens were installed on the 38th floor of the Cathedral of Learning to service the entire Oakland district in 1942.

The Pitt News covered all these developments.

Even the cafeteria in the basement of the Cathedral was used for the war effort to serve the military in a mess-hall style, until it opened up to civilians in 1945.

The Pitt News came out with a one-page “War Extra” edition on Dec. 8, 1941, which included an editorial written by The Pitt News staff, which felt that America’s entrance into World War II was the greatest crisis that ever faced the country.

“We want a community of the world. We want peace, and time to love and mate and breed, time to educate ourselves and our children, time to live creatively without the pressure and worry of a disintegrating world,” the editorial said.

Throughout the decade, Pitt students were not afraid to speak their minds and fight for what they believed. “Only a young America can hate war itself so greatly that they will fight for a brave new world,” it said.

Despite the gravity and tragedies of World War II, students still found a way to enjoy the college experience.

Mervin Stewart, a chief photographer for The Pitt News and a 1948 graduate, said he remembers The Pitt News as “a very collegial group of people who used to have great parties quite often.”

His greatest memory from The Pitt News is when he got tackled during a Pitt football game while he was trying to snap a picture from the sidelines.

James Pettican — a columnist who graduated from Pitt in 1946 and wrote about a wide variety of issues — also remembered The Pitt News as a fun job that helped him to develop his skills in writing.

Some traditions from the ’40s, such as the April Fools’ edition, are still carried on at The Pitt News today.

One of the April Fools’ issues was titled “The Pitt Nudes—a takeoff on University life.”

The establishment of a University basketball squad was still big news around campus during the decade. In 1941, the Pitt basketball team met North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and in 1946 Pitt joined the Big Ten conference for all of its sports.

Other sexual health and race issues also occupied The Pitt News staff.

In April of 1941, Pitt offered all students free Wasserman Tests, which checked their blood for the existence of syphilis.

The Men and Women’s Health Services offered the test in cooperation with The Pitt News and the Pittsburgh Syphilis Control Board as a preventative and educational measure.

In 1942, The Pitt News covered the committee set up to study the Pitt Band’s race policy, with regard to the admission of black students into the organization.

The administration set up the committee to deal with the exclusion of Charles Rickmond, a black student who was denied entrance into the band.

The band explained to Rickmond that he would not be allowed into the organization because “it would hamper the efficiency and expediency of band performance to have a negro member.”

After critical coverage and student opposition, a new policy was put in place in June 1942, “A student is eligible for either the University band or for the concert band if he is qualified from the standpoint of marching and musical ability,” according to the paper.

As the ’40s moved on and World War II ended, The Pitt News was able to focus on the best brunette on campus.

On March 28, 1947, The Pitt News covered a contest where students picked a “Brunette Titleist,”

their favorite dark-haired woman who was going to represent Pitt in Bob Hope’s nationwide “My Favorite Brunette” contest.

The winner — Ursula Halloran, who was picked based on beauty, personality and scholastic standing — was to compete with the winners from other Pittsburgh colleges to be the city’s representative in Hollywood.

In that same year, the University’s two-man debate teams received the highest award for college debaters when they won the grand national championship, beating 89 teams from 44 colleges.

The affirmative team, which was composed of Thomas Skiffing, a junior, and David Rhodes, a sophomore, won the highest award, the grand national title, winning seven out of eight debates.

The negative team, made up of Richard Hazley, a sophomore, and Jack Gilbert, a junior, was runner-up in the competition but ranked first in the Big Ten group.

Additional headlines include:

April. 16, 1941: Wilson Asks ROTC Students to Wear Uniforms in Class

Jan. 9, 1942: Engineers Must Take Physical Education Courses

Feb. 13, 1942: University Adopts Trimester Plan

Dec. 21, 1942: University Sets Up Nine-Point War Program for Men, Women

Jan. 2, 1946: Pitt Women Will Write Climax to Fifty-Year Success Story

April. 3, 1946: Pitt Will Replace Chicago in Big Ten

Jan. 9, 1947: Measure Barely Passes Requiring that Student Congress have Representation of Two Men for Every One Woman

April. 8, 1947: Nation’s Highest Award Won By Men’s Debate Club

Jan. 11, 1948: University Gets $148K for Polio Research

Jan. 10, 1950: Work on $3,700,000 Clapp Hall Expected to Begin This Year