An Army of Students

Jessica A. Bandel

During the course of the Great War, every aspect of American society—men, women, and children, black and white— mobilized in hopes of bringing about a swift and decisive victory. Military preparations extended well beyond camps of instruction and canneries, onto the campuses of colleges and universities throughout the country.

Early military preparation programs were established at select institutions in the summer of 1918, including fourteen African American colleges and universities, Negro Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro among them. The successful addition of military training to academic curriculum prompted the Secretary of War to roll out a more formal organization of college students in October 1918. Under the auspices of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), students were formally enlisted into the United States Army but remained at their college or university to continue their studies.

The SATC was established at twelve colleges and universities in North Carolina. All but one of these were designated as “collegiate sections” of the corps, meaning that they only admitted students who had graduated from a four-year secondary school or equivalent. Student-soldiers in the collegiate section attended regular physical training sessions and completed courses in drill instruction, military theory, chemistry, geometry, foreign languages, law, and political sciences, to name a few.

The “vocational section” operated on campuses where admission required only a grammar school education. Vocational section training prepared participants for service as trade experts, with curriculum focusing on technical training of military value, like mechanic and electrical work, driving instruction, carpentry, forging or blacksmithing, and metal work, to name a few.

Regardless of section affiliation, all SATC students were formally enlisted in the United States Army as privates and placed on active duty status. With the help of federal funding, participating schools provided each student with room and board and the necessary resources (such as lab space and fields for drill instruction) to meet the needs of the program. The men were issued, where practicable, uniforms and arms and were subjected to the formal reviews and inspections that typify regular army life. Additionally, each student received a monthly stipend of $30.

Following news of the armistice in November 1918, a debate quickly erupted over whether to continue the corps. War Department officials argued that in the absence of a national wartime emergency, the expenditures required to fund the program were just far too high. Ultimately it was decided to demobilize the corps, with students handing in their guns, uniforms, bedding, and other items in December 1918, just two months after the corps’ formal organization. Many students were happy to see their campuses return, as one UNC student put it, “to those good old days of true college freedom.”

Student Army Training Corps units in North Carolina.
Name of Institution Location Section HBCU?
Atlantic Christian University Wilson Collegiate  
Biddle University Charlotte Collegiate Yes
Catawba College Newton Collegiate  
Davidson College Davidson Collegiate  
Elon College Elon Collegiate  
Lenoir College Hickory Collegiate  
Negro Agricultural and Technical College Greensboro Vocational Yes
N. C. State College of Agriculture and Engineering Raleigh Collegiate  
Shaw University Raleigh Collegiate Yes
Trinity College Durham Collegiate  
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Collegiate  
Wake Forest College Wake Forest Collegiate