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Throwback Thursday: Cruel War

At left, the campus-based Student Army Training Corps, circa 1918, awaiting a meal in the cafeteria. At right, Edward E. Potter, who died heroically in a World War I flying accident. (Photos courtesy of UAlbany Archives)

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 7, 2017) — An 1847 Normal School graduate, Phoebe Bernard, serving as a nurse during the Civil War, wrote her sister on Jan. 12, 1865, “O cruel, cruel war!”

War’s cost and heartbreak was scarcely eased during America’s next military engagement, World War I, where trench warfare, disease and genocide killed more than nine million combatants and seven million civilians in Europe and western Asia.

U.S. troops were a decisive factor in ending the more than four-year (1914-18) struggle when they sent in ground forces with less than a year left in the conflict. Among these were 117 students, two faculty and 34 graduates from the newly (1914) named New York State College for Teachers.

In addition, several women students, alumnae and one faculty member — Greek and Latin instructor Gertrude Valentine ’13 — worked in canteens with American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France.

Gertrude Valentine

Gertrude Valentine ’13 aided the war effort and then the post-war philanthropic work of the YWCA.

A Student Army Training Corps unit was set up on the campus, with more than 60 Teachers College students trained there. Barracks were erected just adjacent to the now-Downtown Campus and the college cafeteria served as an army mess hall, soldiers being served by members of the Home Economics Department.

Casualties for the college during the war included seven dead — six students and one faculty member — and many wounded. Typical for World War I’s conditions, four of the deaths were from pneumonia.

One of the students died heroically in a crash landing of his mechanically troubled Haviland DH-4 bomber as he made a dangerous flat turn to avoid civilians working on an Orly Field airstrip in Paris. He was college senior Edward E. Potter, namesake of a longtime UAlbany fraternity, Potter’s Club. A Potter’s Club Alumni Association will commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death in May of next year.

Wars have aftermaths. Anti-German sentiments was so strong in America that the college suffered major course enrollment declines in that language. College President Abraham Brubacher changed his first name to Abram to sound less German. College alumni paid tribute to the fallen by planting seven oak trees near Hawley Hall, five of which still stand, and installing a bronze tablet of commemoration in Draper Hall.

Gertrude Valentine, who had remained in Europe after 1918 to aid war-ravaged England and France with the YWCA, was killed in an automobile accident while on a service mission in 1919.

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