November 11 is Veterans Day. Since its first observation in 1919 (as Armistice Day), Americans have marked the day by honoring and celebrating the service of all our military veterans. In the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to take the opportunity to recognize some veterans from Mary Washington’s earlier student body.
After World War II ended, many returning veterans sought to go to school on the new GI Bill (officially known as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944). Colleges and universities all over the country were overwhelmed with young men seeking admission, so to help ease the burden, several women’s colleges allowed for men to enroll. Mary Washington was one such school. In the spring of 1946, Mary Washington College began admitting male students who were eligible for assistance under the GI Bill and who otherwise met the requirements for admission (Alvey 299).
Male veterans admitted at this time weren’t housed on campus, but attended classes and participated in college events and activities with the rest of the student body. Veterans played on a basketball team that competed against other area groups. A Veterans Club formed and was active for several years (photographic evidence seen throughout this post), and there was a veterans’ representative on the Student Council (Crawley 63).
Some wouldn’t last a semester, but between 1946 and 1958, several young men earned their degrees from Mary Washington. Among them was Robert Combs (’48), son of then-president Morgan Combs. The final vet to graduate as part of this cohort was former Marine Dennis Chauncey Moriarty. He earned his BA in Music in 1958 and spent the last two years of his studies as the only male student on campus. The college wouldn’t seek to enroll men again until it became officially coeducational in 1970.
We know that many of our students, past and present, served honorably in the armed forces themselves or have family members who served. To all the veterans in the UMW community and beyond: Thank you for your service!
Alvey, Edward, Jr. History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972. University of Virginia Press, 1974.
Crawley, William B., Jr. University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1902-2008. University of Mary Washington Foundation, 2008.