Sweet Briar During the Great War
During the Fall 2016 semester, Professor Lynn Rainville was on leave to finish her book about Virginia’s role in World War I. Titled, Doing Their Bit: Virginia in the Great War (McFarland Press, 2018), this engaging historical retrospective covers the expected and unexpected roles played by Virginians between 1915 and 1919 (the years just before and after America’s entry into the war).
In this newsletter, we will focus more narrowly on Sweet Briar’s role during the war. While SBC students could not serve in the armed forces, they did volunteer for a variety of positions, including that of nurses, ambulance drivers, and the heads of local civic associations that assisted communities in their wartime preparations.
At the opening of the 1917 school year (several months after the April 6th War Resolution which sent American troops into battle), SBC President Emilie McVea wrote, “In common with schools and colleges all over our land, Sweet Briar feels the thrill of a greater purpose and a higher life…Alert, vivid, physically fit college graduates are responding by thousands to the call for national service in agriculture, in hospital and medical service, in ambulance work, in food conservation, in camp santitation, in actual government employ.”
Sweet Briar students enrolled in extra-curriculuar courses about canning (to preserve food on the homefront), stenography, and book-keeping. Meanwhile, male staff members, like janitor Landon Jones, and local residents, like Daniel Bibby, enrolled in the armed forces. Both of these Amherst citizens were African American and served in segregated units.