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World War I and the Crestomath Society

As the vast majority of readers know, 1917 was the year that the United States formally entered the Great War, later known as World War I.  President Woodrow Wilson asked the U.S. Congress for a declaration of war against Germany on April 2, 1917, and Congress granted Wilson’s request on April 6, 1917.  

Things soon began to change at Arkansas State Normal School (now the University of Central Arkansas).  The students were dedicated to the war effort, but also wanted to continue to observe the customary traditions of the Normal as much as possible.

The most obvious change was in the enrollment of male students.  In the spring of 1917, 200 men were enrolled in classes, but only 12 men were enrolled by the spring of 1918.  The men did not disappear from campus as quickly as that last sentence made it sound.  The county draft boards were drafting men into the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces each month.  Male students that were enrolled in classes in September of 1917 may have been drafted by October 1917, and so on.  As each month went by, more and more male students left the classrooms and were drafted, until only 12 remained by April of 1918.

The enrollment in the fall of 1916 was 441 students, according to enrollment statistics released by the Normal at that time.  By the fall of 1917, the enrollment was 328, a decline of 25.6%.  By the fall of 1918, the enrollment was 301, a decline of 31.7% from the fall of 1916.  After the war ended, enrollment shot up to 446 by the fall of 1919.

As the social scene changed somewhat, the women students made adjustments and did what they could to contribute to the war effort and to also observe the aforementioned annual traditions.   On December 14, 1917, the Crestomath Literary Society (a women’s literary society and a forerunner of today’s sororities) held their annual Christmas Bazaar in the first building on campus.  That building was known in 1917 as the State Normal Building, but later was given the name of E.E. Cordrey Science Building.  

The Crestomath members were intent on continuing the tradition, and also on raising money for the war effort.  Former Crestomath members extended their generosity to the Crestomaths of 1917, by donating items that could be sold to help raise needed funds.  The dedication of the members of the Crestomath Literary Society can be seen in a poem that was written in 1917 by their treasurer, Bess Warren.  Ms. Warren was president of the Crestomath Literary Society in 1918.

CONSERVATION

 

Just sacrifice and give a slice

Of bread or meat each day,

For one small bite may give the might

That will the Hun drive away.

 

This means you too, not just a few’

Our boys have gone for all,

Don’t fail to do, and then be true

To those who met the call.

 

For you can give, and surely live,

In far more ease than they.

The pledge then sign and get in line,

With patriots today.

 

You would feel bad, if some fair lad

Should brave his life for you;

If he return and then should learn,

You sought no help to do.

 

Then stop and think before the brink,

Whose others’ lives will fall;

Then save the cost, if only a drink,

To answer bugle call.

 

If clothes it be, or trips to see

Friends in another town,

Just sacrifice, let this suffice,

And fling the shackles down.

 

The Normal Echo, published an article about the Crestomath Bazaar in its December 20 issue.  According to The Normal Echo, “Weren’t the things pretty though?  Who would have thought that Etta and Pauline and Katie and all the others could sew so daintily?  But we would have been lacking in our usual amount if our old Crestomaths scattered over the state hadn’t sent us so many things.  Yes, they sang out, ‘Once a Cresto, always one, that’s our motto.’”  

After the Crestomath Bazaar had ended, the women were taking down the Christmas decorations and cleaning up after themselves.  One of the Crestoes was quoted by The Normal Echo as saying, ‘“Who said hard times?’ Asked a quiet girl who was taking down the festive decorations.  ‘We could have sold twice as many things as we did, if we had only had them.’”

The treasurer for the Crestomath Society tallied up the sales at the Christmas Bazaar’s end and had great news that she was very eager to report.  According to The Normal Echo, “About this time with face beaming, the treasurer of the society rushed into the room, ‘girls,’ she cried, ‘just think, we can finish paying for our Liberty Bond and our Students’ War Friendship Pledge, and have some to carry also.  Hurrah for the Crestoes!’”

The Students’ Friendship War Fund (actual name) was a project created by the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.).  This particular fund drive was created to provide relief for Allied prisoners of war.  The goal was to raise one million dollars, and the fund drive was launched at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania.

The Crestomaths had worked since April 1917 to support their fellow students who were in uniform, and the war effort in general.  After the Christmas Bazaar had ended, the women had time to reflect on the various things they had done in 1917 to earn money, and some of the money-raising projects included selling popcorn each week and picking cotton for area cotton farmers.  The first mechanical cotton pickers were not produced until 1949.

In regard to the Liberty Bond that the Crestoes had paid for, their sponsor asked what the Crestomath members were going to do with it.  According to The Normal Echo, “Every day we decide to spend it in some different way.  But if war demands call for it, we will turn it over to Uncle Sam; otherwise we want to buy something for our new Administration Building.”

The women had considered using the additional funds they had acquired through the Bazaar, and by the selling of popcorn and picking cotton, to use on themselves.  Then, after some additional thought, they decided that they would not be happy doing so with the war raging and people suffering.  

One Crestomath member made a great humanitarian suggestion, to adopt a French orphan.  According to The Normal Echo, ‘“Let’s adopt a French orphan for a year, for just three dollars a month we can keep one back in France warm and clothed and fed.’”  The Crestomath sponsor agreed and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The members of the Crestomath Society had all agreed on the adoption of the French orphan and were more than satisfied with their decision.  They were convinced that they had done the right thing, and had upheld the traditional values of the Crestomath Society.

After the Crestomaths had agreed to the adoption, and had congratulated themselves on a productive but difficult year, they ended their celebration.  According to The Normal Echo, “Things were in order about this time, and with happiness in their hearts, the Crestoes started off merrily across the snow covered lawns to their home at Doyne Hall.”

For the sake of full disclosure, the author’s great aunt, Cora Bryant, was a member of the Crestomath Literary Society in the fall of 1917.

Photographs of the 1917 Crestomath Literary Society. Both of the following photos are courtesy of The Scroll, 1918.