Go back

The Occupation of Harned Hall

Late in the winter of 1943, while German U-Boats attacked American ships in the Gulf of Mexico, Austin Peay State College officials scrambled to fortify Harned Hall. A double wall, insulated with rock wool, was erected to separate the building into two sides, and according to a Feb. 12, 1943 issue of The All State student newspaper, plans were being made for a 24-hour watch.

“All room doors will be kept open day and night, and a patrol will be constantly on the move in the corridors of all floors,” the paper reported.

At that time, World War II was causing a ruckus in Europe and Asia, and radio news reports about German spies on the snowy beaches of Maine and Japanese subs patrolling the California coast brought the danger home to many Americans. But at Austin Peay, the precautions at Harned Hall were meant to defend against a threat of a more amorous nature. That winter, the country’s War Department sent hundreds of naval cadets to the Clarksville college for training, and with space tight, the athletic young men were forced to bunk inside the all female dormitory.

In 1943, Harned Hall housed around 184 women, and the college’s old-school faculty was determined to keep these unfamiliar sailors from getting into their students’ dorm rooms. They had reason to worry because the young men the professors knew and trusted were becoming scarce in those days. An article in that spring’s The All State reported that “the most handsome group of boys ever to attend Austin Peay State College will be compelled by Uncle Sam to pack up their good looks and leave for service, come the month of March.”

That spring, as the school’s male students left to fight, waves of strapping young Navy cadets arrived on campus to train for war. A few administrators were nervous about the cadets living in the same building with the school’s female students, and it didn’t help matters when an All State reporter was allowed to inspect the cadets’ rooms. The young journalist noted both the cadets’ tidiness and the prevalence of pictures of women.

“It looks as though some of those guys will make good wives in the days to come,” the paper reported. “And surmising from the display of beauty on the tables and dressers, some of them may turn out to be bigamists.”

In spite of the school’s trepidations, the Navy insisted the dorm be used to house about 80 cadets. So a wall was put up, separating the building into two sides, and vigilant faculty members patrolled the halls, slept inside dorm rooms and marched with the young men to the dining hall for breakfast and lunch.

Some of the female students didn’t appreciate all the restrictions. In an All State article titled “Meandering Meditations of a Mad Maid or Cool Contemplations of a College Co-Ed,” an anonymous writer lamented, “That miserable old Dr. Gilmore and the Navy rules. Why that war has to mess things up by enforcing strict ‘lights out’ rulings on those charming Cadets. Oh, but if it wasn’t for the war I wouldn’t have all this practice exerting my charms.”

Those charms, apparently, were on display most mornings, according to The All State. “It seems that the cadets find it impossible to concentrate on P.T.,” the paper reported, “with Mrs. Lowe’s girls out on the obstacle course getting strong.”

Two years later, the war ended and the naval cadets were replaced by returning Army and Navy veterans. Things returned to normal on the college campus, and everyone soon forgot about the brief military occupation of Harned Hall.