Springfield College was founded in 1885 as the School for Christian Workers. The school had two main purposes, to train YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) professionals and Sunday School teachers. In 1890, the YMCA training school split off to become the International YMCA Training School. In 1912, the school changed its name again to the International YMCA College, a name it kept until 1954. Though its roots were in training YMCA professionals, the school quickly offered much broader educational opportunities. The broadest of which is its international influence in sport, health and physical education. This can be seen most clearly in it being the Birthplace of Basketball, created by then professor Dr. James Naismith.
Due to the multinational composition of Springfield’s student body, many alumni enlisted in 1914 at the outbreak of World War One. These young men fought in northern France, particularly in the Battle of the Somme which lasted between July 1 and November 18 1916. Aside from those in the trenches, the College’s ties with the YMCA resulted in many alumni, students and faculty going overseas to work as YMCA camp secretaries. The United States entered World War One on April 6 1917 and in response Springfield College offered war work courses for YMCA secretaries beginning on June 5 1917. The training of war work secretaries and physical education directors were important contributions to the war effort by the college.
The YMCA provided canteen services at the invitation of the US government and raised more than 150 million dollars (equivalent to 2.7 billion dollars in 2014) in order to comply with the request. They imported flour and sugar to canteens in France and established factories to manufacture tins of candy, jam and biscuits. YMCA huts provided entertainment in the form of libraries and films and more importantly for those back home, workers at the YMCA acted as amanuenses and wrote letters for the wounded. Some of these ‘Y’ huts were only a few hundred yards away from enemy lines. Of the 26,000 war secretaries, ten percent of them were women, four of them died in action, three died of wounds sustained in combat, and three hundred received citations for bravery. Even during the Spanish American War, the YMCA was involved in setting up huts for the troops.
Also during World War I, Springfield College hosted a Student Army Training Corp unit. In August of 1918 an amendment to the Selective Service Act of 1917 allowed enlisted men between the ages of 18 to 45. The creation of the Student Army Training Corp was an attempt by congress to prevent the premature enlistment of college aged men. The establishment of SATC units at institutions allowed them to utilize the facilities, equipment, and faculty to provide technical and vocational training and selection of officer candidates. Like many colleges and universities across the country, Springfield established their own SATC unit on campus and built a barracks for them in 1918.
During World War Two, the college housed multiple branches of the military. The soldiers billeted on campus included those in the 323rd college training detachment, the Navy at their contractual Convalescence hospital, Quartermaster Corps and a unit of military police. On March 29 1943 Air Corps Trainees from the 323rd College Training Detachment arrived on campus. Comprised of some five hundred men, they took the campus by storm after Springfield College campus was inspected and approved by the Army Air Corps as a training center for flying cadets. The army transferred the Air Force training detachments to southern colleges closer to Army training fields in February of 1944.
A number of changes to the college campus occurred during World War Two in order to make room for the navy convalesce hospital and 323rd college training detachments. The Administration building changed drastically in order to accommodate living quarters for nurses and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the administrative offices for the navy. In 1943 the top two floors were deemed unsafe by the State Department of Public Safety. In June of 1944 the Administration Building was remodeled by EJ Pinney Company, Inc. to reduce the building’s top two floors in order to be ready for the US Navy. Along with the deconstruction of the Administration Building a covered walkway was built between Alumni Hall (hospital) and Woods Hall (cafeteria). This allowed for soldiers easy access no matter what their injuries were or the weather.
The Navy hospital was established through a government contract which began in May 1944. The first contingent of one hundred and fifty patients arrived on September 22 1944. It was estimated that the full capacity of the building was five hundred. This hospital was part of a larger streamlined convalescence program where 80 to 90 percent of the men exiting the hospital were able to continue their service, either actively or as instructors. The extent of the injuries suffered by the occupants of the hospital include but not limited to fractures, shrapnel from German U-boat torpedoes and artillery shells, and spine injuries. The Navy departed the campus on February 28 1946.
The Quartermaster Corps was created in 1775 and is one of three units of the logistical branch of the US military, the other two being the Transportation Corps and the Ordnance Corps. The logistics that fall within the purview of the Quartermaster Corps are providing support to the troops by supplying general supplies (except for ammunition and medical supplies), petroleum, water and field services such as aerial delivery (parachute packing) and laundry. They have been a part of every US military engagement since the Revolutionary War. Springfield College provided housing and space for the Quartermaster Corps to learn how to repair and service motorcycles in the field with the Indian motorcycle company.
The Springfield College Armed Forces Collection contains materials that showcase the sacrifice and service of alumni during war. Series 1 contains correspondences between faculty and alumni during World War One and includes postcards, handwritten and typed letters. These letters include first-hand accounts of the Battle of the Somme. Also included is a letter from Dr. James Naismith, the creator of basketball. Series 2 contains photographs ranging from the late 1890s to the end of World War Two. The large bulk of the collection is sub-series c) World War Two 1943-1945. These World War Two era photographs originate from Springfield Union newspaper and the Springfield College Bulletin. Series 3 contains drawings, one ink wash painting by Ross Reverdy Osgoode and two illustrations done by Springfield graduate Montagu Frank Modder. Series 4 contains the service records of alumni during World War One and materials detailing the efforts of Springfield College to ensure physical well being of the troops serving during both World Wars. Series 5 contains publications which include booklets, posters, bulletins, pamphlets and photographs about Springfield College and YMCA work during World War One and the publications of Springfield College during World War Two. Series 6 contains documents which list information about students serving during both World Wars, mailing lists of alumni serving overseas, and World War Two enlistment records. Series 7 contains a memorial scrapbook, publications and photographs honoring students from Springfield College during both world wars. Series 8 contains five photographic scrapbooks of students who served during World War One arranged by graduation year and cover the years 1887-1921.