Book Description

We Are a College at War weaves together the World War II experiences of students and faculty at Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois, to provide readers with a better understanding of the role American women and college students played during this defining period in U.S. history. Drawing on the Rockford community’s letters, speeches, and campus newspaper archives, the authors demonstrate how women claimed the right to be everywhere—in factories and other traditionally male workplaces, and even on the front lines—and link their efforts to the rise of feminism and the fight for women’s rights in the 1960s and 1970s.

In analyzing how the war influenced women’s education, this fascinating study shows the then all-female student body of Rockford College concerned with the crises of the world and involved in volunteerism and political activities. The authors describe how college women supported the troops using the traditional feminine “culture of care” outside the home; highlight the women who themselves joined the armed services and explain their reasons for choosing to enlist; and investigate how the war affected courtship and marriage. A central theme is the legacy of humanitarian Jane Addams, an 1881 Rockford alumna who established Hull-House in Chicago and won the 1931 Nobel Prize for Peace. The authors show how Addams’s example inspired Rockford’s students during the dark days of a world war.

Faculty, staff, students, and alumnae of Rockford College participated in all aspects of the war and pushed this small midwestern college to become a commanding catalyst for change during this pivotal era. We Are a College at War reveals how the war years influenced women’s history in the twentieth century by offering a glimpse of the present-day roles of women through the legacy of the contributions of Rockford College women to the war effort.


“This book provides welcome insight into an overlooked aspect of World War II—its connection to higher education. Focusing on Rockford College, the alma mater of Jane Addams, and providing a national context, the authors provide a fascinating story of how the war changed this women’s college, and how college students, staff, and faculty contributed to the war effort in diverse ways. Abundant use of first-person narratives enlivens discussion of such topics as  the debate over neutrality before Pearl Harbor, students’ employment in defense plants and their service in the military and Red Cross, the presence of refugees as students and teachers, and students’ relationships with servicemen.”

 —Susan Hartmann, author of The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s

“Mary Weaks-Baxter, Christine Bruun, and Catherine Forslund bring to center stage the half of the Greatest Generation that usually gets short shrift in the history books, and show how these women—heroic and patriotic in their own right—stepped up in a time of war. They also clearly demonstrate how, whether consciously or not, these women carried on the legacy of early-twentieth-century suffragists, and sowed the seeds that flowered into the feminist movement in the 1970s.”

—Emily Yellin, author of Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II

Last Updated: 09/23/2010