The Administration of Nicholas Murray Butler
Above: Butler's autographed photo of Marshal Joffre; Below, telegrams of support to Wilson from Butler and Columbia trustees
Columbia’s administration, led by President Nicholas Murray Bulter, was the driving force behind much of the war enthusiasm on campus. It was Butler, along with the University Secretary Frank D. Fackenthal and the trustees of the university, who were responsible for the Columbia personnel surveys; for the reorganization of the university along war lines; for the series of demonstrations and parades that took place on campus; for the militarization of student life; in short, for the war as it came to Columbia.
But Butler’s enthusiasm seemed to stand out from the rest. He seemed to positively relish in the possibility of subsuming the purposes of education to the needs of war, and constantly pushed and encouraged Columbia’s involvement in almost any war-related endeavor he could find. The surviving photographs of the era show Butler beaming effusively when reviewing Columbia’s would-be soldiers; he appears happier still when presiding over the university’s July 1917 “first war commencement,” at which Marshal Joffre, who presided over some of the war’s bloodiest battles, was given an honorary degree.
Butler, apparently a fan, got an autograph.
Under Butler, Columbia’s administration also encouraged university staff to get involved. Like other institutions, Columbia offered to act as an agent of the national government in funding the war. Columbia staff were encouraged to participate in a liberty bond program, wherein a certain portion of their salaries were deducted and used to buy bonds. In lieu of a more comprehensive taxation bureaucracy, institutions like Columbia stepped in.
Above: Fragments of the speeches given at the Automobile Club; Below, a newspaper article on that same gathering
With the possible exception of Nicholas Murray Butler, no one beat the drum louder than Columbia’s alumni. In fact, prior to the war’s declaration, this was a major source of tension between Columbia students and alumni.
In late 1916, responding to what they thought was the low level of enthusiasm among Columbia students for war preparedness, the alumni invited Major General Leonard Wood to speak on the subject at a gathering of alumni held at the Automobile Club, at 247 West 54th Street. Incomplete fragments of the meeting can be found below, wherein the alumni present (including the mayor of the city, John Purroy Mitchel) and General Wood castigate Columbia students for their failure to enroll in preparedness programs, citing their lack of manliness and resolve. The alumni were deeply disturbed, particularly by the pacifists who seemed to have a strong foothold among the student body (it’s worth noting that those present were happy to announce that 242 Columbia men had gone to the camp at Plattsburg, about 75 of which were undergraduates; at the same meeting they also announced that hundreds of students had attended a pacifist rally. The contrast was not lost on them).
Why exactly the alumni were so jingoistic is difficult to say exactly. It may have been that many of them, particularly those with degrees from the 1880s to 1910s, had a sort of war envy, having missed serving in the Civil War, or chosen not to participate in the Spanish American War, which was much more limited in scope. Historians have noted a similar sentiment in the Southern generation of the post Reconstruction period (there, mixed with the shame of defeat), and indeed it may have extended across the country as well. This, however, is only a guess.
Still, it is clear that the alumni were well invested – even personally invested – in the concept of a war-mobilized Columbia. Indeed, alumni even responded to student anti-war activism in the media, believing that the students were besmirching their alma mater’s good name.
When war was declared and pacifist sentiment on campus was either repressed or dissipated, Columbia alumni remained supportive. They paid for various festivities and publications. They comprised of a large component of the Columbia University Battalion.
Trustees of Columbia University, New York City
It is indeed an honor to be an alumnus of a University with a heart and a spirit that prompts and inspires its leaders to go across the sea to minister to and cheer those of its members who have gone and may go in the service of their country.
I am certain that this thoughtfull (sic) step by Columbia will find a most cordial response in all of us who go – and many must. The silent, but unexpressed appreciation to Columbia for her part in establishing the American University Union by Columbia men will be a lasting tribute to the patriotism fostered the by University and a foundation stone upon which the love of freedom will forever grow.
F.M.A.-K.S.C (in pen) Forrest M. Anderson
Letter of Nov 6, 1917, from the Law office of Locke and Locke, Praetorian Building, Dallas, Texas
Indeed, they could occasionally be opportunistic about the war’s advent, as several ex-pats in Europe were; they saw in the war, and the coming influx of American Columbia graduates, an opportunity to boost the membership of their own alumni social club, the Columbia Paris Association.