The Impact of World War I
The Impact of World War I
The importance of World War I as a watershed in twentieth-century American history has long been recognized, and recent studies agree that that interpretation applies to higher education and to American Catholic history. Not surprisingly, it also applies to the development of Catholic higher education. The war did not in itself revolutionize that activity, but by reinforcing and accelerating tendencies already at work it closed the door on one epoch and set the stage for another. The decisive difference between the two eras was that the war settled in favor of the modernizing reformers the debate over the organizational issues discussed in Chapter 2. This came about because efforts to rationalize Catholic higher education were swept along in what David M. Kennedy has called “the great war-forced march toward a better articulated structuring of American life.” Coming after two decades of industrial consolidation and in the midst of a craze for “efficiency,” wartime mobilization brought the movement for planning and control to an unprecedented level of intensity. “Czars” were appointed, or national commissions established, to supervise industrial production, agriculture and food distribution, fuel supplies, labor, the railroads, and shipping. Mobilization of opinion was entrusted to the Committee on Public Information, which reached into every corner of the land, including the schools. This was all carried on at a high pitch of patriotism; the same emotion, along with the felt need to keep pace with ongoing changes, led to the creation of many voluntary agencies of coordination, such as the American Council on Education and the National Research Council, to mention two quite important for higher education. By far the most important result of this impulse among American Catholics was formation in 1917 of the National Catholic War Council and its transformation after the war into a permanent organization called the National Catholic Welfare Conference (both of which used the initials NCWC). Scholars have only recently begun to unravel the complexities of this story, but their work makes clear that, precisely because the NCWC represented so important a step toward centralization, its formation aroused fierce opposition from Catholics fearful of encroachments on their own freedom of action.
Keywords: Americanism, Boston College, Catholic high schools, Educational associations, Middle States Association, National Research Council, Smith-Towner bill, Students' Army Training Corps, Veterans, World War
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