When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, Northern’s enrollment was 424 women and 58 men. By the fall of 1918, enrollment plummeted to 223 women and no men. Many male students enlisted, some were drafted, while others left to tend family farms or provide other services for the war effort. Several male faculty and staff also enlisted. There was no football team from 1917 to 1919. Nearly the entire baseball team enlisted as a unit in the Hospital Corps of the 129th Infantry.
Female faculty and students joined Red Cross efforts providing gauze bandages. They also made candy and other gifts for soldiers. The 1918 Senior Class voted to forgo a yearbook and used the $800 they saved to purchase a fully-equipped ambulance. It was sent to France where many of their classmates served on the front lines.
Each morning, students attended General Exercises in Altgeld Auditorium. Over the stage hung a Service Flag with 121 stars, one for each student serving in the war. The flag eventually had four gold stars sewn onto the back in honor of four students killed in action. Also in 1918, the Northern community was hit hard by the flu epidemic, causing President Cook to close school for a time in October of that year.
“When we shall begin again is a matter for the future to decide,” Cook wrote. “There is nothing that seems of consequence now but the war and the epidemic.”