Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Northern had just over 1,000 students. But as students enlisted or left to work in war-related industries, the campus population quickly fell to less than 500. The war loomed large for everyone. A Faculty Defense Council was established, along with a Civilian Morale Committee. Students and faculty sold war bonds, went without food and materials, and sent packages overseas. The school displayed pictures of its service men and women in Altgeld Hall.
Students volunteered locally to help the war effort: offering day care for mothers doing war work, or working in DeKalb’s war industries, industries which produced everything from planes to parachute harnesses. DeKalb’s Wurlitzer factory landed a top-secret Navy contract to produce the largest components of wooden drone aircraft used in the Pacific war theater.
Some 400,000 Americans died in World War II; 37 were students from Northern.
Perhaps the greatest impact on Northern came after the war, when the school was flooded with returning veterans. In 1946, enrollment jumped to 901 men and 541 women—the first time that men outnumbered women—and more than 50 percent of the students were veterans. This sudden student influx resulted in a housing shortage. Relief came in the form of surplus army barracks from Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Northern set up nineteen structures on land at Lucinda Avenue and Garden Road. The area, known as “Vetville,” became the social center of campus and remained so for many years.
You can find more episodes of The Northern Almanac at WNIJ.org.