In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of World War II, HWS initiated a series featuring the service of alumni, alumnae and community members who were involved in war efforts overseas and at home. To honor all alums who have served, the series explores themes of change, patriotism and pride that were felt at the Colleges and across the globe.
When the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allies in December of 1941, Hobart and William Smith Colleges responded to the call to action immediately. During the course of the war, the Colleges hosted members of the Navy V-12 Unit on campus, allowing the recruits a space to train for combat and gain a college education. At the same time, the student body, dynamic in its response, contributed vastly to the war effort.
Mary Louise Walworth Koch ’48 was a student during this critical period in American history and recalls the changes that the Colleges underwent in service to the nation.
“I remember hanging out an upstairs window at the Sigma Chi house watching the young V-12s march up Main Street for their early morning drill,” she reflects. “There was a girl in every window. Why were girls in the Sigma Chi house? Because the V-12 had come to Hobart and needed large housing, so they commandeered the girls’ dorms and the girls dispersed to smaller housing like the fraternity houses.”
During the war years, men were housed in traditional all-female dormitories, such as Comstock or Blackwell. Though HWS has long had a history or preserving the customs of Hobart College and William Smith College, the decision was made in order to bolster the Navy V-12 Unit. This ensured continued enrollment at Hobart during the war, and it helped to fulfill the community’s commitment to the patriotic efforts.
Koch recalls the war years as an exciting time to be in college and discovering her role in the effort. Just as the Colleges were changing and students were becoming new people, Geneva and the greater society were being altered just as much.
The “hundreds of young men in their cute uniforms” remembered by Koch was one representation of those major changes. World War II was such an expansive effort on the part of citizens that it became known as “total war” because every aspect of the nation underwent rapid change to aid the nation’s campaign.
Even after the war, the nation and the Colleges, too, were forever altered. The Navy V-12 program set the precedent for the community’s continued devotion to public service. The GI Bill brought in hundreds of veterans seeking a higher education. Even today, HWS as a proponent of Americorps, the Peace Corps, and other globally-impactful endeavors is the site of significant global citizenry.
Koch also has led a life of service which began during her time in Geneva during the war years. After graduating from William Smith in 1948, she received a master’s in American and British literature from Northwestern University. Following this, she became an English teacher within the Rochester City School district in addition to raising her three children with her husband, Bob.
“As I reminisce, it occurs to me that life’s a great ride; some hills and bumps along the way but all in all a great trip,” she reflects. “The years roll by so fast. I have found that as you age, you don’t have to give up the things you love to do; you just modify how you do them.”
The photo above features the yearbook photo of Mary Louise Walworth Koch ’48 and the campus during the 1940s.