|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XXIV NUMBER 2 WINTER 2008|
Time and Again
Centennial Memories of Keene State College 1909-2009
The 1940s and 1950s
By vote of the state legislature, Keene Normal School officially became Keene Teachers College (KTC) on May 31, 1939. The change acknowledged that the institution was already doing college-level work and its credits would be accepted by four-year universities. KTC's new president, Lloyd Percy Young, was instrumental in getting full accreditation for Keene as a four-year college in 1940.
To the chagrin of the administration, the newly recognized college was soon known for something else: panty raids. Early in 1941, while the students were at supper in Fiske Hall, someone raided Huntress Hall, the women's dorm, and stole all of the underpants on the premises. The mystery raiders were never apprehended. [Editor's note: Now that the statute of limitations has run out, it would be OK to confess.]
And then came the serious business of World War II. Even before Pearl Harbor, Young started a new Civil Aeronautics program to train civilian pilots. Taking off from an airstrip at the Barrett Farm in West Keene, budding pilots learned to climb, swoop, spin, and practice forced landings in a cornfield. KTC was approved as a training ground for Navy pilots. The Navy took over most of Huntress Hall, and the college put its female students in housing vacated by male students going off to war. Part of Huntress by necessity became co-ed, the first such official mingling.
Except for the air cadets, the campus during wartime was mostly female. At one point in 1943, KTC had only two male students. Women served in the Red Cross, worked in defense industries, helped raise money for war bonds, donated blood, and helped local farmers with the harvest. KTC students in the military kept in touch through English professor Sprague Drenan, who wrote frequently to nearly all of them.
The initial postwar years were a time of energy and optimism as soldiers came home and returned to campus. Students had a new sense of independence, too, and in 1947 they petitioned President Young for looser rules, asking for late curfews (midnight) on Friday and Saturday nights and a co-ed recreational room in the basement of the gym. Finally, a co-ed campus club was built in a barn behind Proctor House. It was called the Owl's Nest.
By the late 1940s, liberal education in general and KTC in particular were under attack from the state legislature, which proposed closing either Keene or Plymouth and restricting the other to two-year programs only. Keene citizens rallied in support of the college while President Young debated the naysayers in Concord.
Student life in the 1950s seemed a whirl of dates, proms, and sports rivalries, spiced up with hard-hitting editorials in the new campus paper, Monadnock. The first new campus building since 1930, Monadnock Hall, was built in 1955, followed by an addition to Butterfield and a bookstore.
In 1957, protesting the suspension of some students for allowing a group of men to invade the female precincts of Huntress, students gathered in what was described as a " riot." Dean of Men Fred Barry held an all-campus meeting in Spaulding Gym to hear student complaints about too many old-fashioned rules. Other meetings followed. The Union Leader blamed the fuss on " gimmie, gimmie" students and " irresponsible behavior of our national leaders."
President Young pacified the situation by agreeing to the students' more reasonable suggestions, but the incident heralded an era of student activism and questioning.
Fashions were beginning to change, too, and not everyone was happy about it. One male student wrote in to the school paper: " When the women start wearing sneakers and jeans to Saturday night dances, where's the limit? What's coming next?"