The 1918 Influenza and COVID-19 Pandemics: An Archival Perspective

As we are sure it is for all of you, COVID-19 (commonly known as Coronavirus) is heavy on the minds of all of us at University Archives. This global health crisis has impacted the lives of the University of Maryland community in so many ways, both large and small. In light of this, the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections and University Archives is launching the “Shell-tering in Place: Terp Stories of COVID-19” project. The goal of this project is to compile the stories of the UMD community’s experiences during the pandemic. We invite all members of the University community to contribute to the collection as we strive to record the ways our lives have been impacted by this historic moment.

As we arranged this collecting project, we also took time to reflect on the current global health crisis from an archival perspective. We reflected on the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic and how it impacted the University of Maryland campus community (then called Maryland State College). We hoped that seeing how the Spanish Flu was reflected in our archive might inform our understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be remembered. What resulted was an observation on the ways archival collections might obscure the past and the ways we can contextualize archival materials to shed light on the past.

The Origins of the Spanish Flu:

In March 1918 soldiers at an Army base in Kansas fell ill with flu-like In March 1918, soldiers at an Army base in Kansas fell ill with flu-like symptoms. What began as traditional flu symptoms of headache, fever, and nausea rapidly developed into severe pneumonia for these soldiers. Their ailment? The Spanish Flu: an avian flu that caused a pandemic in 1918. Within one week of the infections in Kansas, the number of cases had quintupled and the illness rapidly spread across the globe as soldiers traveled to Europe to fight in World War I. The 1918 flu pandemic unfolded in three waves of illness: the first in spring 1918, followed by a second wave in September 1918, and a third in January 1919. Historians estimate that approximately 500 million people contracted the virus, resulting in 50 million deaths worldwide. The Spanish Flu remains one of the largest pandemics in world history.

Gaps in the Record: Spanish Flu and Maryland State College

The first place we searched for information about the effect of the Spanish Flu on campus was the 1919 yearbook. Given that the influenza did not really take effect until April 1918, we knew that it would mostly appear in the yearbook of the following year. However, we were surprised to find no mention of the pandemic. Even in the sections that served as a reflection on the school year, there was no mention at all of the disease. Knowing that the disease had a widespread effect, we found it unlikely that no one on campus had contracted the flu, so we turned to the student newspaper, the Maryland State Weekly. From this, we discovered a relatively small number of mentions of the Spanish Flu or influenza. The most significant mention was in a published letter by the President of Maryland State College, Dr. Albert F. Woods, who wrote one short paragraph addressing the influenza:

We learned that the administration put classroom instruction on hold for the month of October and students mostly did outdoor coursework, which made sense since we were known as an agricultural school. According to Woods, this measure helped prevent the spread of the illness but other than this short paragraph, we found no other mentions of how the University dealt with the pandemic.

A handful of other mentions of the influenza in the paper seems to have fallen into one of two categories. The first is community updates. There are a smattering of short blurbs across issues of the Maryland State Weekly where they note the illness, recovery, or in a few cases, the passing of Maryland State College community members. From these, it is clear that the campus was significantly affected. Many members of the professoriate seem to have suffered from the flu at one point or another, and one esteemed faculty member, Professor E. F. Stoddard, died as a result of it.

In contrast to these somber accounts, the second type of mentions seem to be more humorous. We found two poems in the student submitted sections that seemed to make light of the effects of the flu. There was also a reference to the flu in an article about the new dining hall that read:

“How can the old mess hall, in which there was no space, where the students had to crowd together like packed sardines; and where the danger of worse diseases than the Spanish Influenza was imminent, be compared with our new and spacious ‘Hotel’?”

Maryland State Weekly, 11/6/1918
A humorous poem about the Spanish Influenza in the February 1919 Maryland State Weekly.

We connected this sort of reference to the lighthearted responses to we are seeing across Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms right now. As people seek to alleviate the stress they are feeling, some are turning to humor in funny memes, tweets, and TikTok videos. In contrast to the huge amount of humorous quarantine related content saturating the internet right now, it was surprising to us that there were only three joking mentions of the Spanish Flu in the Maryland State Weekly.

Asking the Right Questions:

As you can see, the 1918 pandemic has a relatively small presence in our archival collections compared to the magnitude of the event worldwide. However, this seeming lack of sources has the potential to reveal a great deal about the pandemic and its impact on the Maryland State College campus. Historians employ the practice of reading sources “against the grain,” examining limitations, silences, and power dynamics in their sources alongside the information those sources actually contain. Why does our archive contain limited sources on this topic? And why did the College, the students, and the faculty hardly write about the personal impact of the flu, preventative measures, and its global spread? The lack of source material at University Archives relating to the 1918 flu prompts us to ask these questions and place our sources within a broader historical context to help us understand what may have actually been going on.

A lack of a response to a large historical event is a response. By placing our University specific sources within the larger historical context of 1918 and asking the right questions, we are able to gain a clearer understanding of what may have been happening on campus.

A key factor to consider when studying the Spanish Flu pandemic, is the U.S. involvement in World War I. The U.S. entered the global conflict in April 1917 and by June 1917, Congress had passed the Espionage Act which, among other restrictions, allowed censorship of the press. The government censored the information disseminated by large news agencies, and local journalists self-censored in fear of government sanctions. By government decree, the news was not allowed to reflect negatively on the military or hamper the war effort in any way. What does this have to do with Spanish Flu? Well, the very naming of the Spanish Flu was the result of WWI-related censorship of the press. Although historians now present evidence that the virus originated in Kansas, Spain was the first country to report infections in its newspapers. A neutral party during WWI, Spain did not censor its press while the U.S., Britain, Germany, and other warring nations prohibited the spread of news related to infected soldiers. With this information in hand, we can bring new perspective to the Maryland State Weekly’s mentions of the influenza outbreak. Rather than statistics, we find personal notices of illness. Instead of reports of the spread there is lighthearted poetry. What impact did the WWI culture of censorship have on the local campus press? Were mentions of the flu purposefully left out of print?

Asking specific questions about the historical context of WWI and censorship helps us understand the limitations of newspapers as sources during the pandemic. However, censorship does not explain other gaps in our archival record. The archive has almost no photographs, scrapbooks, or other papers describing the impact of the Spanish Flu on campus. Was the massive death toll too difficult to talk about in the wake of the pandemic? Were people embarrassed by the way they treated other people during the outbreak? Was the disease poorly understood and therefore not discussed on campus? These are all questions that beg greater exploration by researchers using our collections.

We also can question what materials made it to preservation in University Archives, examining gaps and silences in the collection of historical records. While individuals at the University of Maryland informally collected records pertaining to the history of the University, University Archives was not professionalized and did not hire an archivist until the early 1970s, over fifty years after the 1918 pandemic had subsided. Most of the earliest records on campus burned in a 1912 fire, and from 1912 until the 1940s materials related to the history of the University were not given collecting priority by the libraries. Collecting priorities shift over time, and it becomes difficult to collect items fifty years after events have passed. According to archival theorist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, silences are written into history at the moment of source creation, when the archives are created, and when researchers select which sources to use. Individuals chose what to record in 1918 about the flu, archivists chose what was important to collect regarding the flu, and researchers will choose what is important to highlight from our collections. All of these factors combine to limit what the archive tells us about the 1918 pandemic.

All of these factors are important to understanding our current situation and the role of archives in remembering the past. The sources highlighted here appear in marked contrast to the reaction now, where the University’s measures to keep staff and students safe are frequently updated and reported by many. The Diamondback has ongoing coverage of news related to COVID-19 and the topic is inescapable in any news source as it has impacted so much of our lives. While understanding the past does not prevent future disasters, there are important lessons we can learn today from studying and comparing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 pandemic. How will future researchers look back at the University of Maryland’s response to COVID-19? How can we account for differences and similarities in the way the campus responds to pandemics in very different historical moments? Are the silly flu poems of 1918 showing a similar response to the darkly funny memes and tweets of today? How have silences already worked their way into the ways we report on and preserve people’s experiences of COVID-19? And how can we work to eliminate these silences in our reporting, collecting, and writing?

Archives contain important tools and sources for understanding the past, but researching in our collections often requires a critical eye and a larger understanding of context. Archival research requires asking the right questions and reading between the gaps and silences in the historical record to gain a greater understanding of the past. At University Archives, we envision an inclusive and diverse collection that paints a broad view of the experiences of the University of Maryland community, including community experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.We invite members of the community to visit the collections landing page to read more about contributing to the COVID-19 collection. We hope to hear your stories soon!

Further Reading

Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.

Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” 1942. 

Billings, Molly. “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.” Human Virology at Stanford University. February 2005. https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/

“The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918.” National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/records-list.html.

Stoykovich, Eric. “History of Special Collections and University Archives.” University of Maryland Libraries. January 2019. https://www.lib.umd.edu/special/about/history-of-scua

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 

“1918 Pandemic (H1N1 Virus).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 20, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html.

Hats Off to the Co-Eds: Elizabeth Hook

As the University of Maryland developed over the course of the 20th century, slowly becoming more inclusive, many exceptional women stepped forward as pioneers, leading the way for other women to follow. The next few blog posts will highlight these pioneering women and their experience at the University of Maryland. 


Our first feature is Elizabeth Hook. Elizabeth Hook was the first woman to graduate with a four year degree from MAC. As we noted in the last blog post, she matriculated in the fall of 1916, shortly after the school became Co-educational. During her first semester, she was the only female student, as Charlotte Vaux did not arrive until the spring semester.

Entrance register 1916, entry for Elizabeth Gambrill Hook

Hook studied Entomology, the study of insects, which was under the department of “Plant Industry” as at the time, the university departments were organized by industry. We don’t know much about Hook’s day-to-day experiences, but can imagine the challenges of being the only female student at the institution! 

Elizabeth Hook at a Microscope, 1920

"Miss Hook Accepts Scrubby Jones as a protector on her weekly trip to Berwyn church. They get struck between the Experiment Station and the bridge by an automobile. Cartoon of incident .
Hook appears in the yearbook after a run-in with a car

reveille1919 Review Staff

In spite of being the only women in the Class of 2020, Hook did not shy away from involvement on campus. Throughout her time at Maryland, she was a Class of 1920 officer. She was also involved in the Maryland Review, the school newspaper, and the Baltimore City Club. She was a founding member of Sigma Delta, the first women’s sorority at MAC.

 

After graduating, Hook worked as a high school teacher at Hyattsville High School, and she later married Franklin D. Day, another UMD alumnus. Their son, Franklin Jr., was the first student to attend the University of Maryland who had two alumni as parents!  

reveille1919 Elizabeth Hook poem
1919 Reveille

reveille1920 Hook Senior Page
Hook’s Senior Page- 1920 Reveille

Class of 1920
Commencement Photo Class of 1920

 

For our next pioneering woman, we will jump forward to the 50s with Elaine Johnson Coates! Come back next week!

Hats Off to the Co-Eds: Snapshots of Women’s History at the University of Maryland

As we enter Women’s History Month we’re excited to share moments in women’s history and the stories of women who have made an impact on campus. From the first woman to graduate from the University of Maryland to the creation of the Women’s Studies program, women on campus have come a long way, and we’re pleased to showcase their history and accomplishments. Stay tuned for a series of posts over the month of March, focusing on different moments in the history of women at the University.


First up: Maryland goes co-ed!

Before we were the University of Maryland, this institution was called the Maryland Agricultural College (M.A.C.) and later, Maryland State College of Agriculture. From its inception in 1856, it was an all-male institution. However, in the 1916-1917 academic year, the first female students, Charlotte Vaux and Elizabeth Hook, matriculated. As an agriculture college, a large portion of the students studied agriculture-related fields such as agronomy and animal husbandry. The other fields of study Maryland offered were biology, chemistry and engineering. Vaux matriculated into the two-year agriculture program and became the first “co-ed” to ever graduate from Maryland. Hook studied Entomology.

In the 1917 yearbook, the yearbook editors published a welcoming message to the new female students (referred to then as “co-eds”) and expressed their eagerness that more female students come to M.A.C.  The administration shared the sentiment and, in the following years, created new programs and curricula to entice a greater number of female students. By 1920, M.A.C. was home to over twenty-two female students, and had developed Home Economics and Liberal Arts programs. 

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As the Maryland State College of Agriculture began to accept more female students, they found themselves limited by the space they had to house them. While the old President’s house sufficed at first, eventually the school had to rent a house off-campus to house as many students as they could, and the rest were left to find housing of their own. In 1920, college governance requested funding for a women’s dorm. The Home Economics department built a “Practice House” which came to serve as housing for female students, helping assuage that need for a time. But as the percentage of female students grew through the years, the university had to develop to accommodate them. By 1958, there were eight female dorms, and, in 1969, Hagerstown Hall became the first co-ed dorm.

Gerneaux Hall, the first dorm for female students- photo from 1925 Reveille
Gerneaux Hall, the first dorm for female students – photo from 1925 Reveille

The presence and experience of women on Maryland’s campus has changed a lot since 1916, and we have these first women to thank for leading the way. Stay tuned! As March goes on, we will be highlighting several of the university’s pioneering women.

If you are interested in exploring the collections referenced in this post, you can visit our home page here and browse through the digitized yearbook collection found here.

 

“Your application is complete”: History of Admissions at UMD

As the application deadline for the Class of 2024 rapidly approaches, University Archives explored the history of admissions at the University of Maryland, College Park!

In 1877, prospective students of Maryland Agricultural College were expected to “pass good examinations in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Grammar, Geography, and History of the United States” and applications were submitted directly to the President of the college. The trend of in-house admissions testing continued into the 20th century, as the University continued to require passage of a University administered examination until 1925. 

By 1926, students were given three options for admission to our campus. Students were approved for admission based on completion of a certificate from an approved high school, transfer from another college or university, or passage of the exam administered by the College Entrance Examination Board. The exam was likely the SAT, first administered by the College Entrance Examination Board in 1926 and gaining in popularity for use college admissions in the 1940s. 

Nevertheless, the University continued to not require an examination for students seeking admissions throughout the 1930s and 1940s, even as applications increased dramatically with the implementation of the GI Bill following World War II. 

By 1961, however, the University changed its policy to include three requirements for admissions. Students needed to have graduated from an accredited secondary school, have received a letter of recommendation from the school’s principal, and taken the required high school credits necessary for admission into a particular academic program. Non-Maryland residents were also required to submit exam results from the College Entrance Examination Board. 

It was not until 1962 that our admissions policy first required a standardized test for admission, making students to submit results from the American College Testing Program, also known as the ACT. 

Even as the ACT and SAT became standards for admission to the University of Maryland, students, faculty, and administrators began to question the effectiveness and equity of standardized testing in admissions practices. Student newspapers The Diamondback and Black Explosion reveal growing frustration with UMD’s admissions policies beginning in the 1970s. One article in Black Explosion in January 1980 points to a study conducted by the Office of Minority Student Education (now the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education or OMSE) that revealed the “cultural biases of standardized tests” and their inability to “accurately predict academic success.” 

A more recent 2018 editorial in The Diamondback points to further issues with requiring SAT or ACT scores for admission, highlighting the financial inaccessibility of these expensive tests and the ways the testing requirement disqualifies financially disadvantaged students. 

Despite the continued advocacy of students for test optional admissions policies, the University of Maryland continues to require submission of ACT or SAT scores as a part of the application for admission. 

For more information on the history of undergraduate admissions at the University of Maryland and the debate over standardized testing, take a look at our Course Catalogs  and Student Newspaper Database or visit us in Hornbake Library!

Also, check out these admissions materials from 1970 to 2011!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Minnie Hill, Class of 1925, had a special piece of advice perfect for Valentine’s Day: ‘A Recipe for Kisses’

To one piece of dark piazza, add a little moonlight. Take for granted two people. Press in two strong ones a small soft hand. Sift lightly two ounces of attraction, one of Romance. Add a large measure of Folly. Stir in a floating ruffle and one or two whispers. Dissolve half a dozen glances in a well of silence. Dust in a small quantity of hesitation, one ounce of resistance, two of yielding. Place the kisses on a flushed cheek or lips. Flavor with a slight scream and set aside to cool. This will succeed in any climate if directions are carefully followed.

minnie_recipe-for-kisses

Come discover this, and other treasures in Minnie’s scrapbook at University Archives!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Couple.jpg
A couple in McKeldin Library, 1958. 

 

Lefty’s Legacy Saved in Digital Collections!

As we continue to celebrate the 100th Season of the Men’s Basketball, devoted Terp fans reminisce on the many standout players and coaches who have come and gone through this program. Over the years, University of Maryland basketball footage has poured in from the athletic department and the private collections of former Terps, and University Archives is excited to announce that we have digitized and preserved footage from the recently inducted Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, Coach Lefty Driesell!

Coach Driesell formal

In fall 2016, our University Archivist Anne Turkos and Athletic Archivist Amanda Hawk left College Park and drove to Virginia Beach to meet with Coach Driesell. They had previously discussed his interest in donating the archival footage he accumulated from his time as a Terp, and while very excited to add to our athletic history, both Turkos and Hawk were a bit nervous about the state the footage was in. Once the University Archives team arrived, they found 113 pieces of videotape and film spread between Driesell’s personal storage locker and condo! Even stored in optimum conditions, videotapes recorded as recently as 30 years ago are in danger of becoming unplayable, and film could lose sound after 40 years of deterioration. Safe to say, the urgency to digitize Lefty’s footage was immediately apparent.

Lefty Footage

But Coach Driesell and the University Archives shared a goal of trying to save these audiovisual pieces and make them accessible to the public. So after packing up the van and making the 3.5 hour trip back to College Park, the Archives staff set immediately to work to make sure to digitize every piece of footage. Lefty’s contribution to Men’s Basketball history can be found at go.umd.edu/leftyfootage.

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You can support the University Archives’ work to continue to digitize more Men’s Basketball footage by making a gift to Help Preserve Maryland Basketball History. Our Launch UMD campaign is now open to the public and will run through the conclusion of basketball season on March 8, 2019. Check the Launch site frequently to see how we are progressing, and encourage your family and friends to make a gift as well. What better way to celebrate the 100th season of men’s basketball than by making sure that the games that Terp players and fans once enjoyed on the court will be preserved for generations to come!

GO TERPS!

 

New Exhibit: Year of Immigration

Visitors to H.J. Patterson Hall can now view a new Special Collections and University Archives exhibit highlighting the history of international students on campus. The display is a part of the Year of Immigration, an initiative across all of the University of Maryland’s schools, that seeks to increase awareness about immigration, global migration, and refugees. The Year of Immigration strives to create a more diverse and inclusive community at the University of Maryland.

Immigration

 

 

The exhibit is located on the first floor of H.J. Patterson Hall, right next to the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. Materials featured in the exhibit include photographs of UMD’s earliest international students, Pyon Su and C.C. Chen. Other images portray the many international student groups on campus. Documents and brochures describing international student life at UMD are also a prominent part of the exhibit.

The Year of Immigration display was created by Ashleigh Coren, Special Collections Librarian for Teaching and Learning, and graduate assistant Clare Kuntz. Coren and Kuntz consulted President’s Office records, yearbooks, university publications, and The Diamondback in their research on international students at the University of Maryland.

When discussing the exhibit Coren said:

Exhibits are incredibly time intensive projects. It took us over a month to find materials, design the concept, and the print the materials and captions for the display. But, we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done. One of my favorite items is a 1966 letter by the Director of International Education Services and Foreign Affairs to then President Elkins about the housing discrimination experienced by students from Africa and the West Indies. While upsetting and in many cases, relevant to some of the struggles experienced today, it is nice to see that even in 1966 there were advocates for international students on campus.

The exhibit will be on view in H.J. Patterson Hall for the remainder of the semester, be sure to check it out in the next couple of weeks!

 

Take a Walk Down Route 1

Cutting along the eastern edge of UMD’s campus, Route 1 is a familiar site and busy thoroughfare for students. Students roaming the sidewalks of Route 1 have immediate access to food, shopping, and housing. But that’s not all the highway has been used for over the years. Check out these changes to Route 1!

Route 1

Farmers walk oxen down Route 1 near the Rossborough Inn, 1900.

This rural scene shows what Route 1 and College Park were like before the road became a bustling, paved main street. With the rise in popularity of the automobile, traffic on the road increased, and the state mandated that the road be paved in 1904. Officially designated “State Route No. 1,” the College Park segment of the road wasn’t paved until 1910.

Route 2

Dairy cows crossing Route 1, 1933.

Widened and added to the official US highway system in 1926, Route 1 connects the country from Maine to Florida. But even as the road expanded, the sections around College Park remained rural. Cows and other livestock were frequently seen crossing the highway in the 1930s!

The growth of the University of Maryland drastically and rapidly changed the character of Route 1 in College Park. As the university expanded, businesses congregated along its waysides to cater to students. Stoplights were added, and the road was widened again in the 1940s to accommodate increased traffic. Below you can see the lit signs of businesses and the large number of cars parked along Route 1 in College Park after World War II.

Route 4

Route 1 at night, 1949.

In the 1970s, Route 1 became a site of protest. In 1970, UMD students blocked this busy thoroughfare during protests against the escalation of Vietnam War into Laos and Cambodia. Similar scenes occurred again in 1971 and 1972. The National Guard was called to campus three times in three years.

Route 5.png

Student protesters congregate on Route 1, 1970.

Today UMD students continue to have a deep appreciation for Route 1. In 2010, an alum named her online clothing company Route 1 Apparel. The company sells Maryland state pride and Maryland-themed clothing. Additionally, many of students’ favorite hangout spots are in Route 1’s many restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

Route 3

Route 1 at night, 2018. Photo credit: Washington Post

More changes are on the way for US highway 1. The street will intersect with WMATA’s new Purple Line that is scheduled to open in 2022, and new businesses continue to spring up along the street.

From cows to light rail transit, Route 1 has seen it all!

 

 

 

New Acquisition: Band Memorabilia and The Sournote!

In October 2018, University Archives received an amazing addition to our records of the Maryland Marching Band. Donated by Dotty Reitwiesner, the acquisition includes band memorabilia, a publication called The Sournote, and general records of the band.

The Sournote was a humorous magazine published by Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma, the national honorary fraternity and sorority for the band. The publication contains satirical comics, illustrations, quotes from band members, games, advice columns, and song lyrics about the marching band. Check out these great cover illustrations!

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The new acquisition also includes formation charts and playlists from the band’s Country-Western Halftime Show at the Maryland-North Carolina game on September 20, 1975. The Terps won 34-7, and the Mighty Sound of Maryland was there to cheer them on!

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“Recording Star” marching formation, 1975.

In addition to this fun glimpse into the lives of players in the Maryland Marching Band, Ms. Reitwiesner’s donation also includes a number of t-shirts and jackets worn by band members in the 1970s. Here are some photos of Dotty with the excellent memorabilia she donated to us!

University Archives is delighted to have these new records of the band in our collection. We are grateful to Dotty Reitwiesner for her generous contributions which help us preserve the history of the Mighty Sound of Maryland! Stop by the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to take a look at these exciting pieces of the history of the band!

 

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bomb?”

In the early 1960s, the threat of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union was on everyone’s mind. In the fall of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world closer to nuclear warfare than ever before. As the Cold War escalated,, and the world seemed to hover on the brink of disaster, many ordinary citizens began to prepare for the worst. In 1961, the federal government started the Community Fallout Shelter Program to create spaces to shelter citizens from nuclear fallout. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy wrote a letter to Time Magazine advising private citizens to prepare for the worst, causing many citizens to construct their own private backyard bunkers. The University of Maryland, like other colleges nationwide, participated in the fallout shelter mania of the early 1960s. The UMD Civil Defense program prepared for the worst by constructing and stocking fallout shelters across campus. Where were these safety havens from nuclear doom at UMD, and whatever happened to these spaces representing life on the brink of nuclear war?

Shelter 1

Shelter 1

In 1961, UMD began the process of constructing 34 fallout shelters on campus to accommodate more than 7,000 people. Shelters were located in the basements and hallways of academic buildings and residence halls. By 1971, there were 43 shelters on campus. The largest shelter, located in the Physics Building, could accommodate 2,472 people while the smallest fallout shelter, in Montgomery Hall, had space for only 50 people. Each shelter stocked enough rations to supply each resident with 8 survival biscuits for breakfast and lunch, 10 for dinner, and 4 cups of water per day. Not the most lavish of meals, but enough to sustain 23,000 people for 2 weeks!

Shelter 2
Students open a tin of survival biscuits during a 1966 fallout center training.

 

 

 

The University’s Residence Hall Council even sponsored a course in fallout center management for interested students. The course involved simulations of conditions and situations that could arise in a fallout shelter during a nuclear emergency. Students could volunteer to participate in the exercise, spending 24 hours overnight in a fallout shelter in Denton Dining Hall. Students ate survival foods and practiced scenarios like decontaminating outsiders who could infect shelter inhabitants with radiation. Female students were even excused from the strict rules of nightly curfews to experience fallout shelter life. The course proved popular and occurred several times and in several different locations across campus in 1966 and 1967. 

Shelter 3
Students sleep during a fallout center management course, 1966.

The University of Maryland also participated in community efforts to prepare for a nuclear attack. In 1961, the Prince George’s County Office of Civil Defense published a call for applicants in The Diamondback. Married college students with families were asked to participate in an experiment in living one week in an underground fallout shelter at Prince George’s Plaza. The Diamondback wrote:

The purpose of the test is to observe the reactions of a typical American family to the confined living imposed by the bomb shelter. The bomb shelter, yet to be built, will be the underground cellar-like type recommended by the Office of Civil Defense Mobilization. Its occupants will live on canned foods. They will communicate with the outside during periodic broadcasts made by radio station WWDC.

We were unable to find evidence in the Archives if the experiment actually happened or if any UMD students participated in the study. However, this call for participants shows the widespread uneasiness of the residents of Prince George’s County, including UMD students, during the Cold War.

The University of Maryland also provided community education about nuclear warfare and emergency preparedness. In February 1963, McKeldin Library featured an exhibit on how to survive atomic warfare, complete with a model basement fallout shelter and recorded messages providing information about survival shelters. The University of Maryland was clearly a part of a larger local community concerned about the impact of nuclear war.

Shelter 4
A model basement fallout shelter on display in McKeldin Library, 1963.

In the mid-1970s, as the nature of the Cold War changed, fallout shelters began to fade from public interest. Funding to replace shelter supplies stopped, food supplies rotted, and vandals ransacked shelter sanitation kits. In 1976, the University gained permission from the Prince George’s County Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness Office to dismantle the shelters, a process that took place throughout the remainder of the 1970s. As the Cold War continued into the 1990s, nuclear emergency plans shifted to focus on evacuation of students instead of efforts to seek shelter on campus.

Today, there is little evidence of the tension and anxiety experienced by students, staff, and administration as they faced the prospect of nuclear war. The idea of surviving a nuclear blast in a flimsy basement shelter equipped with survival biscuits seems naive and silly to us today. However, after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, nuclear war seemed inevitable, and a sense of helplessness consumed many American. These citizens, UMD community members among them, clung to the small amount of hope available to them, using fallout shelters to soothe fears of nuclear obliteration.

 Shelter 8.png  Shelter 6