Over a hundred years ago, World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Great War was the end of an era and the beginning of another. The years after the war would see the rise of the Jazz Age, Women’s suffrage, Prohibition, and a myriad of changes that shaped the course of the twenty and twenty-first centuries. The origins of change, their first tremors, were felt even as far as Slippery Rock State Normal School.
Slippery Rock Students enlisted their services for the war. Eight seniors from the class of 1919 enlisted, including a young football player named Mornewreck, whose absence was reported to be the reason for the embarrassing 6-0 loss against Evans City. An alumnus from the class of 1907, Lieutenant Frank Glending died in No Man’s Land in July of 1918. Emma Kathleen Frisbee, class of 1909 and school nurse in 1917 left the school for the U.S. Red Cross Service. Like some Americans, Dr. John M. Jackson of the class of 1908 did not want to wait for U.S. involvement in the war and signed on with the British Army. He was wounded in France in battle, and died several days before the signing of the Armistice.
November of 1918 was a big year for SRSNS. The Slippery Rocket, the school’s first newspaper, took their hundred dollar starting funds and began printing their first issue. On November 1st, the school got the “peace news.” Students began to celebrate the end of the Great War. Bells were rung, flags were waved from dorms, and an impromptu parade was held. Students ate in the dining hall amidst hanging American flags, and one old, lonely Union Jack. Afterwards, students and faculty gave speeches, held another parade, and celebrated in the gym. When Dr. Murphy informed the student that peace was not official, they all agreed that their celebration was a good “rehearsal” for the peace to come.
In the November edition of the Slippery Rocket, patriotism for the war still continued. Ethel Manor, class of 1919, published a fiction short story about a boy from the Allegheny Mountains. He, like his elders, had no urge to join a war in Europe. That is, until reading about the sinking of the Lusitania. After some soul searching, and criticism from his largely German community, Jimmie packs his bags and sets of the join the English Army, a triumphant hero before even seeing the trenches.
The school as a whole however, was not overly consumed with war spirit. The Music Department, worried about the proliferation of jazz and ragtime, began a series on music appreciation, starting with “La Danse Macabre.”
Slippery Rock was a part of the experience the whole nation was going through. Focus shifted from the war to what was supposed to come next very quickly. Slippery Rock began to show the trends that would pick up in post-war America. The paper published a letter from President Wilson to Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, expressing his concern “our national welfare and efficiency when the war is over.” President Roosevelt desired “that the Nation may be strengthened as it can only be through the right education of all its people.” Slippery Rock agreed, stating that “intelligent citizenship needed for a world safe for Democracy.”
By December, the legacy of World War I had already begun to reveal itself, as well as the altered feelings towards war and society that the United States, and the world, would feel going into the 1920’s. Professor I.N. Moore wrote a piece in the paper about the use of planes in World War I. He reached a conclusion that planes would now be a permanent part of war making, and that as such, a commercial use would soon be developed for the airplane. The Slippery Rocket looked at the figure of Uncle Sam, shown in the war to be a “big brother” to other nations; whose only “blot” is his “love of alcoholic drinks.” The writer makes the astute observation that this would be corrected soon, chiefly by the 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol that was passed in 1919, setting the stage for the Roaring Twenties. The December edition also featured a short fiction piece by Alice Casey, about a young soldier signing up hastily into the Canadian Army, only to become a prisoner of war, experiencing horrors that ultimately lead him to declaring “there is no God.”
By January of 1919, two months after the war, Slippery Rock moved on, and had its eyes on the future. Students were no longer concerned with war stories. Instead they were discussing the changing role of education, such as the necessity of physical fitness for students, or whether or not sex education should happen in schools. The school was mourning for the death of Theodore Roosevelt, a female student wrote a poem describing what degradation would befall the American family if women were allowed to vote, and Alice Casey wrote another short story, this time about the wealth disparity in the United States, and the poor moral character that accompanies wealth. In two months, the Great War had already become history in the minds of Slippery Rock students.
World War I was the catalyst for the change that characterizes the twentieth century. Even a rural teachers school, pushed into the remote farmlands of Western Pennsylvania caught the fever of change, the rush of post-war cynicism, and the desire, above all, for something different.