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During fall term 2023 Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!

Blog post written by Cecily R. Evonuk.

During World War II in the United States, women’s increasing autonomy in the labor force stirred up heightened gender expectations and anxieties. The year before the war, the number of women in higher education was at an all-time high, followed by a decline during the years of the war as women entered the war effort.[1] Worries about youth and society becoming morally corrupt intensified during wartime, and this was only antagonized by demographic shifts in the numbers of women in higher education and the labor force. Through archival material such as photographs, scrapbooks, and newspapers at Oregon State University’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC), we can chart the rise of these anxieties at Oregon State University during the years of World War II.[2]

Picture1 1
1937 photo of OSC Alum Edna Bellow’s husband in uniform (name unknown) and their two year old child Joanna. The scrapbook page says they were living in Grass Valley California when the photo was taken. Many of the photos sent by OSC alumni for the scrapbook were of themselves, husbands, and children. Image from the Delta Zeta Sorority Chi Chapter Scrapbook.

The Delta Zeta Sorority-Chi chapter scrapbook, which includes sorority-related materials ranging from 1919 to 1949, provides invaluable insight into the lives of women at Oregon State University prior to and during the years of World War II. The scrapbook primarily includes information on past and current members, letters, and photographs. The vast majority of the material in the scrapbook is from OSC alumni responding to invitations to anniversary events for the organization over the years. What is especially compelling is that, though the scrapbook consists of accounts from approximately 70 women, nearly all of the material discusses several common themes: gender, labor, military or military-related service, and most prominently, family. The majority of the photos in the collection consist of photos these women sent of themselves and their families to be included in the scrapbook, and these alumni described and focused on the idealistic parts of their lives in their photo descriptions and accompanying letters.

Two photos of a man and a woman in uniform.
An old photo of a man and woman in uniform.
A photo of two women standing in front of a tree.

Photos of OSC Alumn Dorothy Bailey Knapp with her husband Mac in uniform, 1943. Knapp provided the captions for the images in the scrapbook. Interestingly, Knapp emphasizes how her husband, Mac, is her “whole family,” this is especially important to note within the context that most of the women who had sent photographs for the scrapbook included pictures of their husbands and children, and Knapp does not. Betty Hanson with her husband in uniform, 1944. During the years of the war, bragging about their husband’s participation in the war effort was a common theme throughout the scrapbook. OSC alumni and sisters Hazel and Katherine Saremal submitted pictures of themselves posing in their Women’s Army Corps (WAC) uniforms to the scrapbook. Many women in the WAC were eager to show off their patriotism and participation in the war effort through the scrapbook.

A photo of a woman and a picture of a woman.

Barbara Ness, an OSC alum’s photos with cheeky captions in the Delta Zeta Sorority-Chi chapter scrapbook.

World War II had profound impacts on the anxieties and policing of vice and sexuality in American society. Opposing vice and promoting morality became synonymous with ideal citizenship and aiding the war effort. Women often joined and participated in clubs and organizations such as the YWCA and the Red Cross that promoted “moral” ways of living and hostessing. The YWCA, the Red Cross, and other club organizations helped to maintain the patriarchal nurturing and caretaking expectations of women while utilizing them as a tool to assist in the war effort through acting as hostesses.[3]

The WAC also imposed gendered expectations on women. Women serving in the military was perceived as a masculine concept that would open up opportunities for sexual and gender deviance, so organizations such as the WAC were encouraged to promote femininity and enforce gender and sexual expectations.[4]

A black and white newspaper page with a picture of a man and a woman.

These ideas surrounding vice and sexuality seeped into both the social and academic sectors of OSC. The pressures to conform to the archetype of the ideal woman in the war effort significantly impacted women at OSC. These attitudes are reflected in the Delta Zeta Sorority Chi Chapter Scrapbook through written correspondence and photographs. This pressure to conform to a womanhood of morality and respectability to aid the war effort created intense anxieties surrounding vice and venereal disease during the war.

In the sorority scrapbook, we see these women conforming to this respectability with the exception of a scant few such as Barbara Ness who intentionally used vague language when implicating otherwise. The establishment of stringent gender norms during wartime, fueled by anxieties caused by chang-

ing conditions, firmly entrenched the idea in society that venereal disease was one of the products of moral corruption. Because of wartime campaigns that had linkages between sexuality, morality, respectability, and patriotism, almost all the women in the scrapbook conform to a carefully constructed image of wartime respectability.[5] We can see how this gendered rhetoric and social pressures, reflected in the scrapbook, influenced societal perceptions of vice and venereal disease at OSC.

A newspaper article about women's health in oregon.
A newspaper article about the return of beer as a health determinant.

Picture Will Show Disease Affects” Oregon State Barometer, January 14, 1944: p 1. Cartoon in the Oregon State Barometer, and spread in the paper dedicated specifically to female students that highlighted gendered expectations. “Postwar Oregon State” and “Woman’s World” Oregon State Barometer, June 9, 1944: 2-3. Post-prohibition anxieties as seen in the article “Return of Beer See as Health Detriment” in the Oregon State Barometer, April 1, 1933: 1.

Anxieties surrounding vice and venereal disease at OSC during World War II are clearly seen in the language of the school’s newspaper, the Oregon State Barometer. Through the Oregon State Barometer, we see the rise in anxieties surrounding student health and venereal disease at OSC in the years leading up to the war.

When the war began, these anxieties intensified. During the years of the war, there were many mentions of concerns surrounding venereal disease, morality, and respectability in the paper.

With soldiers nearby at Camp Adair, and with the recent dismantling of the prohibition in 1933, fear surrounding the spread of vice permeated OSC.

Camp dances teach ada to be square dancers.

Camp Dance is to be May 23,” Camp Adair Sentry, May 14, 1942: 1. “Co-eds Teach Adair How to Square Dance,” Oregon State Barometer, November 27, 1943, 1.

Students and soldiers also organized dances as a part of fundraising for the war effort. These dances, though viewed as important to the war effort, frequently bred anxiety about inappropriate fraternization between soldiers and female students. These anxieties are reflected in the subtle language used in the local newspapers during the war. One article in the Camp Adair Sentry details the importance of maintaining a “well-supervised” dance at the MU Ballroom.

During the years before the war, the OSC student health center had been criticized for its lack of emphasis on social hygiene by Dr. Beattie as discussed in the Oregon State Barometer. This indicates the presence of concerns surrounding venereal disease and social hygiene at OSC. OSC’s Dean Langton responds to the criticism by highlighting the required hygiene courses for all freshmen, and the frequency of these courses. 

October october october october october october.

Dean Langton Criticizes Article by Dr. Beattie,” Oregon State Barometer, November 3, 1931, 1, 3. OSC Dean responded to Dr. Beattie’s article stating that “here hygiene is a required subject,” and highlighting how there is “regular hygiene instruction” at OSC. “Oregon State Monthly, December 1931.”

The health center also had “women’s days” one of which was dedicated to breast examinations on January 20th, 1949. The gendered nature of these “women’s days” raises the question of what possible ways the student health center could have targeted female and male students differently. Did the student health center ever explicitly have programs for students who had contracted venereal disease? Were any potential anti-venereal disease campaigns by the student health center gendered? It can be difficult to discern from the written record the scope of institutional action regarding subjects such as venereal disease, which could be considered a contentious and controversial topic for the time that people were hesitant to openly publicly address in the written record. 

Student health center - x rays 411 women.

Student Health Center X-Rays 411 Women,” Oregon State Barometer, January 20, 1949, p 1.

The crusade against venereal disease began before World War I. Its roots came from the anti-vice campaigns that began in the early 20th century and were defined by the prohibition from 1920 to 1933. However, the end of the prohibition was not the end of strong anti-vice sentiments. World War I marked a new chapter for anti-vice movements. Wartime created more opportunities for women to participate in labor, contributing to more interactions between young men and women. A spike in venereal disease for young soldiers that threatened the war effort called American institutions to action. Authorities began policing vice and incarcerating individuals who had contracted or were suspected of having contracted venereal disease. These campaigns to prevent vice and venereal disease disproportionately impacted and targeted women, more specifically, poor women of color. Men were rarely the ones held accountable for the spread of venereal disease. World War II provided a continuation of this anti-vice and venereal disease campaign.[6]

A black and white image of an introduction to a book.

A venereal disease booklet from The National Women’s Advisory Committee on Social Protection that highlighted women’s duty to promote morality and prevent venereal disease. As seen in the booklet, syphilis and gonorrhea were the two diseases of major concern.
 “Meet Your Enemy” Venereal Disease Booklet, Federal Security Agency, 1944. Folder 14, Box 35, Defense Council Records, Oregon State Archives

Women continued to assert their independence, autonomy, and sexuality through labor in the war effort.[7] Wartime often manifested these campaigns due to the gendered nature of American patriotism. It was women’s duty to remain the pure and moral guiding force for men.

These attitudes towards gender, vice, and venereal disease during World War II are reflected in the subtle language used in the various materials such as photos, letters, and newspaper articles in Oregon State University’s SCARC. By learning about how these gendered pressures affected women during the war, we can complicate our understanding of what the war effort looked like and its implications on race, class, and gender during World War II.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Camp Dance is to be May 23,” Camp Adair Sentry, May 14, 1942: 1.

“Co-eds Teach Adair How to Square Dance,” Oregon State Barometer, November 27, 1943: 1.

Dean Langton Criticises Article by Dr. Beattie” Oregon State Barometer, November 3, 1931: 1, 3.

 Delta Zeta Sorority Chi Chapter Scrapbook (MSS DeltaZeta), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

 Dorn, Charles. “‘War Conditions Made it Impossible…’: Historical Statistics and Women’s Higher Education Enrollments, 1940-1952.” Studies in the Humanities 36, no. 2 (2009).

Historical Publications of Oregon State University, Oregon State University. “Oregon State Monthly, December 1931” Oregon Digital: 13. Accessed 2023-12-14. https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/fx71bq42r.

“Meet Your Enemy” Venereal Disease Booklet, Federal Security Agency, 1944. Folder 14, Box 35, Defense Council Records, Oregon State Archives https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/ww2/Documents/life-vice1.pdf.

Meyer, Leisa. “Creating G.I. Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behavior in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II,” Feminist Studies 18, no. 3 (1992): 593–596, https://doi.org/10.2307/3178084.

Oregon Daily Emerald, March 05, 1948: 8.

Oregon State Barometer, June 9, 1944: 2-3.

 “Picture Will Show Disease Affects” Oregon State Barometer, January 14, 1944: 1.

 Kimberley Reilly, “‘A Perilous Venture for Democracy’: Soldiers, Sexual Purity, and American Citizenship in the First World War.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 13, no. 2 (2014): 225.

 “Return of Beer See as Health Detriment” Oregon State Barometer, April 1, 1933: 1.

 Strom, Claire. “Controlling Venereal Disease in Orlando during World War II,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 91, no. 1 (2012): 88-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23264824.

“Student Health Center X-Rays 411 Women” Oregon State Barometer, January 20, 1949: 1.

 Meghan Winchell, “‘To Make the Boys Feel at Home’: USO Senior Hostesses and Gendered Citizenship.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25, no. 1 (2004): 190–211. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3347266.


[1] Charles Dorn, “‘War Conditions Made it Impossible…’: Historical Statistics and Women’s Higher Education Enrollments, 1940-1952,” Studies in the Humanities 36, no. 2 (2009) 1.

[2] Oregon State University was known as Oregon State College or OSC during the years of World War II

[3] Meghan Winchell, “‘To Make the Boys Feel at Home’: USO Senior Hostesses and Gendered Citizenship,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25, no. 1 (2004): 190. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3347266.

[4] Leisa Meyer, “Creating G.I. Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behavior in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II,” Feminist Studies 18, no. 3 (1992): 581–587. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178084.

[5] Kimberley Reilly, “‘A Perilous Venture for Democracy’: Soldiers, Sexual Purity, and American Citizenship in the First World War,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 13, no. 2 (2014): 225.

[6]  Claire Strom, “Controlling Venereal Disease in Orlando during World War II,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 91, no. 1 (2012): 88-89, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23264824.

[7] Leisa Meyer, “Creating G.I. Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behavior in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II,” Feminist Studies 18, no. 3 (1992): 593–596, https://doi.org/10.2307/3178084.