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Military conflicts shaped Baldwin Wallace University starting with Civil War

With an institutional life story more than 175 years in the making, Baldwin Wallace University has been shaped by a significant portion of U.S. history, including all the major armed conflicts starting with the Civil War.

Civil War Losses

BW X Ray Yearbook CoverWriting in the 1898 yearbook "The X Ray" for then-Baldwin University, Arthur H. Perry recalled the devastation of the "Great Rebellion."

"When the college was in its most flourishing condition and its classes filled to overflowing … the dark cloud of war suddenly overspread our fair land. There was a call to arms. Sumpter had been fired upon. Books were thrown down, studies forgotten, and with few exceptions, all who were eligible marched to the front …

Few ever came back to finish their college course. Many gave up their lives to uphold their country's honor, and instead of their names being enrolled among those of the alumni, they may be found engraved on the marble tablets in the beautiful Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Cleveland."

Among the lost were two of the five promising graduates to earn the very first bachelor's degrees awarded by Baldwin University, who "met their end during the Civil War."

As so many male students went off to the battlefields, women outnumbered men in the remaining ranks of students during the era.

World War I Nationalism

The same gender imbalance occurred when World War I erupted just a few years after the 1913 merger of Baldwin University and nearby German Wallace College. The 1920 "Grindstone" yearbook bemoaned that "the fate of athletics at Baldwin-Wallace hangs in the balance" due to the loss of athletes to military service. In fact, BW decided to withdraw from conference competition because "to remain there always at the bottom of the list was undesirable."

1917 Exponent front pageWith the declaration of war on Germany in 1917, anti-German nationalism also emerged along with a new BW Men's Patriotic League. The league successfully pushed to update the inscription cut into the stone of the Conservatory building from "German Wallace College" to "Baldwin-Wallace College."

Although BW President Arthur Breslich, a German immigrant, declared his allegiance to the U.S., he was ousted by the BW Trustees, who noted that he never "unequivocally denounced the crimes and atrocities of Germany." A 1918 issue of The Exponent described his patriotism as "passive and colorless rather than active and inspiring."

World War II Innovation

Navy V12 students outside Marting Hall at BW.The adaptation to World War II brought different changes. Shortly before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, with military service once again looming for many students, BW rolled out an accelerated, year-round schedule with 12-week terms that enabled students to graduate in less than three years.

In mid-1942, the ranks of male students actually swelled as the Navy established a V-12 unit for the technical training of Naval officers at BW. The program brought more than 350 men to campus.

A trailer park accommodated Navy V12 students and spouses.Among the changes made to meet the influx of these student sailors was the addition of a swimming pool for aquatic training and a trailer park on north campus where many V-12 Program participants and their spouses lived.

Former BW Historian Jeremy Feador told cleveland.com, "There was no running water, and they did their laundry under the stadium." As the last of the trailer homes were sold off in 1953 (at the close of the Korean conflict), The Exponent noted that there had been 55 trailers in use at the park's peak.

In 1946, as returning veterans began to enroll in droves on the GI Bill, BW innovated once again by offering evening classes to meet the demand of working adult students. By 1965, it was possible to earn a BW degree entirely in evening classes.

Vietnam War Activism

BW student peace activist arrestedDuring the Vietnam War era, an estimated one-quarter of the student body joined a nationwide college strike to protest U.S. military involvement in Cambodia. Students also passed petitions, student senate resolutions and carpooled to Washington, D.C., protests where the president of the BW Peace Forum was arrested.

A day after the National Guard shooting that left four Kent State students dead, 500 BW students gathered on the Berea triangle for a candlelight march. The May 8, 1970 issue of The Exponent described all the anti-war activity as "active and non-violent means of expressing concern."

Modern Veteran Support

In recent years, veterans who've done tours in Middle East conflicts or served in locations around the world find specialized services to meet their needs at BW. With a focus on supporting the transition to civilian life and careers, the University is recognized as a Yellow Ribbon school by the Department of Veterans Affairs and named a Military-Friendly School by G.I. Jobs magazine.

Britnee Davis, president of BW’s Student Veteran Organization, addresses the crowd at the 2019 dedication of BW's All Star Veterans Center.

In July of 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cleveland Indians unveiled a new All-Star Student Veterans Center at BW, a "Legacy Project" tied to the Indians hosting MLB's annual Midsummer Classic.

Calling BW student veterans "a family," Britnee Davis, then-president of BW's Student Veteran Organization (SVO), expressed extreme gratitude for the gift of the new center to elevate support for "our brothers and sisters in transition."

"I can't imagine where I would be today had I not received the support and commitment from our veterans support program here at Baldwin Wallace," she said.

Find out more information on current military and veterans services at BW.

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