World War II had a significant impact on the male and female population at Furman University. Even though many students were commissioned for the war, the university responded with patriotism and dedication to the cause.
Before the U.S. entered World War II, the need for soldiers and navy men was not required. The University reported that “enrollment dropped no more than 19 students in 1941” (’25-’75 Toward a New Identity 114). At the end of the 1940-1941 school year, 100 Furman men had graduated. Also during that school year, the first fifty women were admitted and resided in Montague Hall. It was later in 1941 when Furman men would be called to the war effort in massive numbers and the male/female ration would begin to change. Although women were admitted, it would not be until the early 1960’s that the women’s college would merge with Furman.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, the U.S. declared war on the Japanese and Italy. As a result of the attack, more and more of Furman men were being drafted into the war. According to the Furman newspaper, “over a hundred Furman men were serving in the armed forces.” The newspaper also pointed out that “some are even planning to volunteer…..and like true Americans, the Furman boys are willing.” It was evident that the Furman male population was true patriots, whom were ready to respond immediately to the call of duty. One such Furman man who responded to the call of duty was J. Warren White. During the 1941-1942 school year, when Mr. White was drafted, 92 men graduated from Furman. The number was down only eight from the previous year. However, the university responded to the decrease in male students by enrolling more females. “The increase in women’s admissions seemed to be the best solution to the enrollment problem” of the men (F.U. T.A.N.I. 115). The women admissions increased by about 50, totaling one-hundred by the fall of 1942. As the statistics indicate, the ratio of males to females was about 50/50.
The war was in full swing from late 1942 through 1943. With the Battle of the Atlantic in North Africa, it was clear that America needed more troops. Throughout that school year, “students were rapidly called into the service, so that by May 20, 1943, enrollment was only 40 percent of its normal capacity” (F.U. T.A.N.I. 115). The male population continued to decline, numbering at only 89 at graduation. During this time, faculty members were also leaving. Chemistry teacher, Dr. J.A. Southern, was called by the war department to Washington earlier in 1942. As in 1942, the Furman admission continued to enroll more women; during this school year the number of women surpassed that of men.
The 1943 – 1944 school year saw a sharp decrease in the number of male students. By the start of that year, “the number of male military trainees [preparing to go to war] increased to almost 400]” (F.U. T.A.N.I. 117). By the end of that school year, only 47 men had graduated. On June 6, 1944, American troops landed at Normandy in France which would become one of the most decisive and bloodiest battles in WWII. It was evident that America needed a massive soldier quota in response to the dire situation overseas. However, 94 women had graduated from Furman at the end of the 1943 -1945 school year; it was the first time women outnumbered male graduates. The following school year saw another slight decrease in the male graduates; only 38 males graduated at commencement in 1945.
Reid, Alfred Sandlin. Furman University-Toward a New Identity 1925-1975. Duke University Press: Durham, 1976.
Interview with John Plyler Jr. July 4 2001
Bonhomie, 1941-1945, Furman University Archives, Greenville SC.
Furman Hornet, January 25, 1943 & January 28, 1943, Furman University Archives, Greenville SC.
George B. Tindall, David Shi, & Thomas Lee Pearcy. The Essential America: London: New York & Company, 2001.