Like most universities across the United States, the University of Kentucky experienced an interrupted year in 1918 due to world and local events. In 1918: Over Here, you will see how UK and the city of Lexington transformed themselves to contribute to the war effort and also save lives threatened by the influenza pandemic, the two major disruptions during that year.
The Great War was raging in Europe and America entered the fighting just the previous year, on April 6, 1917. The country needed young men for the large-scale war effort, and many of those were college students who enlisted at the first call of duty. Others required specific training, such as mechanical, electrical, and communications education. To fulfill the need for highly trained service members, the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) was established at major universities that could accomodate an influx of new buildings and men, as well as provide educational opportunities for the men to gain experience in the necessary fields. Large wooden dormitories sprung up on campus practically overnight and the vast green spaces were suddenly filled with cadets practicing physical training drills. The campus of 1918 was unlike any other year students had experienced.
That year also become well known for its other major event: the worldwide influenza pandemic known as "Spanish Flu". As we currently grapple with our own era's coronavirus pandemic, the images from the past surprise us with their familiarity--the gymnasium turned into a hospital ward, nurses wearing masks and gowns, and the exhaustion shown in their expressions of the front line medical staff. We recognize these scenes as black and white versions of our own modern story amid the pandemic. While it is often difficult to relate to unknown faces of a long-ago past, these faces bridge the chasm of time because we can clearly understand their fears, anxiety, and exhaustion because we feel them ourselves. We know what it feels like to confront an invisible virus that threatens our lives and those we love.
We view these images of the past with the comfort of knowing the Spanish Influenza pandemic and the war ended. Our visible and invisible opponents were vanquished. The University only needed to be closed for less than a month and just a few football games were cancelled that year. But we also know the Great Depression and World War II lurk right around the corner to further upend their lives.
Let us take a moment to experience what campus life looked like during the interrupted year in 1918: Over Here.
University of Kentucky military technical training during World War I. Cadets lined up in front of the Administration building, 17 July 1918.
University of Kentucky general photographic prints, University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.