World War II and Its Effect on Utah Universities

By Joe Coles


Soldiers train on the field north of the Field House (old Cummings Field) during World War II. The Life Sciences Building and Presidents Circle are in the background. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

World War II, the last major world war, changed the lives of millions of people around the globe during and after the conflict. Those affected included students at universities. Supplies were rationed, students were drafted, and sports were canceled due to not having enough athletes to field the teams.

One way that these changes were evident were in morale shows, organized by the United States military. These shows were designed to make people feel good. In April 1942, The Utah Chronicle reported that the University of Utah was holding such shows. These “morale shows” originally started out as shows to boost the spirits of Army members, but the shows were so successful that Fort Douglas, adjacent to the University of Utah, put on the show for civilians and students. The shows included dancing, fencing, plays, and music.

A shortage of people, because students and workers were drafted into the war, manifested itself in both the workforce and in college athletics. In April 1942, The Utah Chronicle reported that the demand for workers was very high because the workforce had to replace those who had been drafted. Reported The Chronicle: “From the month of March to the month of April the demand for workers has almost doubled itself,” according to a report from Herald Carlston, the executive secretary of the placement bureau.


A crowd has gathered on Presidents Circle at the University of Utah during World War II, probably witnessing the departure of soldiers. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

The shortage was also felt in college athletics. In May 1942, The Utah Chronicle reported that freshmen, who normally didn’t play in varsity sports, were being considered for varsity teams due to players being drafted for World War II. The Chronicle reported: “Freshmen athletes offer a solution to the problem of team members whose playing lives are measured not by their four years of college, but by their respective draft boards. Several of the major college loops in the East have adopted this policy, but no definite action appears likely in the Big Seven conference.”

Rationing and a shortage of supplies were another consequence of the war. Everything from sugar to slide rules was being rationed, and due to a lack of money, wage scales were implemented and the United States government encouraged people to buy bonds. Even student activities were being cut because of money shortfalls. In May 1942, The Utah Chronicle reported that the university was “pleading” to sororities, fraternities, ASUU, and faculty members to buy war bonds and stamps. In another article published that month, The Utah Chronicle reported that the University of Utah Board of Regents was being rationed sugar at their monthly dinner. Other limited items include “drawing instruments and more expensive slide rules, because of increased demand in war industries.”  In a May 1942 opinion piece, The Utah Chronicle observed that the United States government had established price ceilings, scaled wages and rationed food, and the Chronicle reported changes in its student activities due to the war. “One or more of the university’s four publications probably will be forced to cease publication” and other activities, such as “debate, dramatics, music,” were forced to cut back.

Local universities in Utah also got an influx of dislocated Japanese-American students.  An article in Utah Historical Quarterly discusses the Japanese American Student Relocation Program and the role that universities in Utah had on it. Nisei college students were welcomed by the University of Utah and Brigham Young University after President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which essentially evicted Japanese people from the West Coast. The University of Utah and BYU welcomed the Japanese college students who were forced to leave their schools.

In summary, World War II had a huge effect on college life, especially in Utah. Food and supplies were rationed, college life was dominated by freshmen because upperclassmen were serving in the war, sports were canceled, and dislocated Japanese-American students were welcomed into local universities. The war changed college life in America in a way that may never be changed again.

Joe Coles is a senior at the University of Utah. He will graduate in spring 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism.


“Morale Shows Gain Favor of Audiences,” Utah Chronicle, April 30, 1942, 1.

“Work Swamps Office of Job Dispenser,” Utah Chronicle, April 30, 1942, 2.

“Campus Prepares for Drive On Victory Bonds,” Utah Chronicle, May 7, 1942, 2.

“Freshmen Offer Solution To Athletic Problem,” Utah Chronicle, May 7, 1942, 6.

“Cooking Group Limits Sugar For U Regents,” Utah Chronicle, May 7, 1942, 2.

Harold Heath, “Greater Bureaucracy In Government Endangers Democracy,” Utah Chronicle, May 7, 1942, 4.

Hays Gorey, “War Status to Cause Extensive Change In Student Activities,” Utah Chronicle, May 14, 1942, 2.

“College Life During World War II Based on Country’s Military Needs,” The Harvard Crimson, December 7, 1956.

Welker, R. Todd. “Utah Schools and the Japanese American Student Relocation,” Utah Historical Quarterly 70, No. 1 (Winter 2002): 4-20.