NYU's archives reveal how previous generations grappled with moments of historic uncertainty.
As our community continues to adapt to the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic—and related chages to social and academic life—the NYU News team has been looking to the past for examples of how the students, faculty, staff, and administrators who came before us confronted the challenges of their own time. Special thanks to University Archivist Janet Bunde from NYU's Special Collections for helping us find inspiration in the pages of wartime yearbooks.
A Campus Transformed
A hundred years ago, as they looked forward to graduation, rising seniors from the Class of 1920 contemplated how the conflict that would come to be known as World War I had shaped their college experience. "We have flourised during, and in spite of the war," wrote one class representative to the NYU yearbook. "And so we stand today at the close of three of the most trying years the civilized world has ever known, conscious of what we have achieved and justly proud of it, but preferring to be judged by those who know us rather than judge ourselves."
The Student Body, Dispersed
It was "the yearbook that almost didn't succeed." Writing during a time when many students had left to serve in World War II and the University Heights campus had "metamorphosed into a military camp," the editors of the 1943 Violet hoped that it could "act as a bond between the students who are scattered so widely over the Earth."
"Never before has a New York U. Student body gone so far afield in so short at time," they wrote. Sound familiar?
Renewed Purpose After Chaos
In a rousing letter for the 1918 yearbook, College of Arts and Science Dean Archibald Bouton made a prediction about how World War I would shape the lives of the graduating class. "Its great effect will be, I think, upon your standards of value, your motives for action. You cannot look forward now to careers whose normal goal will be accumulated wealth and easy living. You will not now be satisfied with any merely material ideal of success. The world is on fire. Of what worth are the material rewards of our civilization, if the political and moral system, on which they are based, fails for want of adequate response?"
Honoring Sacrifice With a High Quality Education
“The war has taught us how to work together in ways that we have never contemplated before,” wrote NYU Chancellor Harry Woodburn Chase to the graduating class in the 1944 yearbook. “It has taught us how to do without many things for a while and yet we have made every effort to keep up the quality of our instruction. And it is a good quality. Reports of many sorts have come to me from many places speaking of the way in which the educational qualifications of New York University students stand up under competition with those from other places. This is a tribute both to the students and to the faculty and one of which we are proud, as we are proud of the records of advancement, promotion and bravery made by thousands of our former students in every branch of the armed forces.” How’s that for #VioletPride?