World War II: Virginia Gentlemen Become Officer Candidates


Blue uniforms replaced coats and ties as the standard dress uniform for Lawn and Range residents during World War II, when the University of Virginia became an Officers Training School.

After Pearl Harbor, college students throughout the United States rallied for the cause, and University gentlemen were no exception.

As an all-male school, the University of Virginia temporarily might have lost most of its student body to the war effort if not for some innovative programming changes that made it possible for classes to continue during the war years.

In April 1942, Univerity President John L. Newcomb informed students that every young man aged 17 to 26 would enter the armed services within six months, completing college courses and officer training simultaneously.

By January of the next year, the Alumni News reported, "The dorms [had] become barracks, and the counselors naval officers."

With a Navy ROTC program already in place, the University simply added to its curriculum. University faculty worked with the Navy to provide an education that included "principles of flight, aerology, aircraft, engines, mathematics, physics, naviagation, [and] communication," the magazine noted.

On completing the accelerated program, the officer candidates were "commisioned and sent out to win the war," recalls Walter H. Beaman, who inhabited several Lawn and Range rooms both before serving in the Navy and after returning to college. "Because of the draft," he says, "civilian students were in the minority."

Without this transformation, funded largely by federal money, the University might indeed have shut down. Virginius Dabney wrote in Mr. Jefferson's University, "All these various military and naval units located at the University during the war kept the institution alive and functioning when so many of the regularly enrolled students had left college to enlist."

Even the athletics programs continued, Dabney wrote, noting that star athletes from other institutions were among those enrolled in military programs and therefore eligible to play for Virginia.