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Class of 1940...



Dedicated to “the Fight to Keep America out of War,” the 1940 Microcosm yearbook reflected the tumultuous world events happening throughout the graduating students’ time at The City College of New York. There were efforts to aid Loyalist Spain; the College was shocked when the conflict claimed the lives of Ralph Wardlaw, instructor of Public Speaking, and Jack Freeman ’39. Vojta Benes, brother of the Czechoslovakian president, pleaded his country’s cause, and the German college flags in the Great Hall were draped in black with the words, “Till the old Germany shall awake.” In April 1939, a Student Council-American Student Union anti-war demonstration drew 2,000 people, while an opposition strike, where the Oxford Pledge was taken, drew only 400. In the fall of 1939, nonetheless, students returned from their vacations with the declaration of war ringing in their ears.

The key words regarding student-administration relations for the Class of 1940's first two years at CCNY were, according to Microcosm: “Oust Robinson.” In 1938, City College’s fifth president, Frederick Robinson, retired. Professor Nelson P. Mead became Acting President, and the change “ushered in a new deal in student relations with the Administration.” (The next CCNY President, Harry N. Wright, would assume office in 1941.)

Campus facilities remained an issue, even with a more cooperative administration. The Student Council elected in the fall of 1938 succeeded in having decrepit lavatories repaired, although for sometime after the toilets were not separated by partitions. A sympathetic member of the Board of Higher Education, Mrs. Carrie K. Medalie, promised, if possible, to have lounges and study rooms installed, but “rosy dreams vanished before budget economy.”

“Budget economy” did not prove too daunting for the Senior Prom, however. Held at the Hotel Ambassador, the affair was so successful that last minute sales had to be refused. And the House Plan Carnival, which had grown too big for the gym and took over the Main Building, had the Mauve Decade as its theme and offered a Bowery atmosphere, with a great variety of booths and entertainment. Guest of Honor Ben Bernie, a radio personality known as The Old Maestro and famous for his catchphrase, “Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah,” was on hand to crown the Queen of the Carnival.

It is interesting to note that the Microcosm Editor-in-Chief, Alan L. Otten ’40, went on to a distinguished career as a journalist, writing for the Wall Street Journal for 44 years. He passed away in August 2009, at age 88.

The editors of Lexicon dedicated their yearbook to Professor Herbert Ruckes, member of the Biology department and faculty adviser to Lexicon and the Class of 1940, because “he humored us and helped us whenever we needed him; he never ceased his untiring efforts in our behalf.”

The senior class of The City College, School of Business and Civic Administration of the College of the City of New York held its Senior Prom on the night of December 9, 1939. “The Italian Gardens of the Hotel Ambassador shone brightly as the seniors and their escorts danced into the wee hours of the morn to the strains of Geroge Strete’s orchestra.” For Senior Week, the famous team of Abbott and Costello (before they were film stars) provided comic entertainment. “They were great and kept the audience in stitches throughout the performance.”

A survey of the senior class, included in a section of the yearbook called What We Think, provided some interesting questions and answers, a quick snapshot of what was on the collective mind of the Class of 1940. How much do you spend on your average date? $2.00. Who is your favorite movie actor? Paul Muni. Movie actress? Bette Davis. Whom do you consider the most famous scientist? Professor Albert Einstein. What is your favorite novel? The Grapes of Wrath. Favorite play? Abe Lincoln in Illinois.

In a more serious question capturing the anxiety of the time, students were asked, under three different sets of circumstance, “Would you enlist or wait to be drafted or would you be a conscientious objector?” In a war on foreign soil, 5 percent of respondents said they would enlist, 39 percent would wait to be drafted, and 56 percent would be conscientious objectors. In a war in North or South America, 11 percent would enlist, 65 percent would wait to be drafted, and 24 percent would be conscientious objectors. In a war on U.S. soil, a large majority of respondents - 69 percent - said they would enlist. Another 30 percent said they would wait to be drafted, and just 1 percent answered that they would claim “conscientious objector” status.

Many of these class notes are excerpted from the 1940 Microcosm, Editor-in-Chief Alan L. Otten, and the 1940 Lexicon, Editors-in-Chief Arthur Fox and Russell Knopp.



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