Friday, June 13, 2014

Peirce College during World War I

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, an event which would trigger one of the bloodiest wars in history, the First World War. When conflict broke out in Europe a few months after the assassination, in August 1914, most Americans seemed unaffected by the distant event. The administration at Peirce was finalizing the purchase of the Delancey School building at 1420 Pine Street, and preparing for the upcoming school year. Yet, by 1916 many Americans believed entry into the conflict was unavoidable. Col. Leonard Wood, gave the Class of 1916 commencement address, which focused on the need for preparedness and when the United States entered the war in April of 1917 the students, alumni, faculty, and administration mobilized.

The Alumni Association hosted a gala for sailors stationed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, renting trolley cars to transport the men down Broad Street to Peirce. The Association’s journal would feature letters from the front, and offer a comprehensive list of Peirce graduates who were serving in the war. Mary Peirce, the school principal, organized the “Comfort Kit Club,” which sent care packages to wounded soldiers in France. Peirce students and alumni shipping off to Europe posed for a photograph in front of the school before leaving, and many of the men and women staying behind enrolled in special war courses which provided them with training for war-related government positions.

Former President Teddy Roosevelt addressed the Class of 1917, his speech emphasizing the need for civilian and military participation and preparation. When the war ended in 1918, Peirce School Director Louis B. Moffett went to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressional representatives and educators to discuss programs for returning soldiers. Hundreds of Peirce students and alumni would serve during the First World War, and many who returned would visit their alma mater to discuss their experiences.