Columbia University Archives

Columbia University in World War II collection, 1933-1975

Summary Information


Records documenting Columbia University's activities prior to, during and immediately following World War II represent the focus of the collection. The collection contains material generated by a variety of groups and offices on campus evidencing the varied activities undertaken by the Columbia community during this time of world crisis.

At a Glance

Call No.: UA#0015
Bib ID 4202606 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Columbia University; Boardman, Fon W., Jr., 1911-2000; Campbell, Joseph; Fackenthal, Frank Diehl, 1883-1968; Finch, James Kip, 1883-1967; Gentzler, W. Emerson (Waldo Emerson); Gildersleeve, Virginia Crocheron, 1877-1965; Götze, A. F. (A. Frederick); Hawkes, Anna Lorette Rose, 1890-1978; Lane, William H; Matzke, Edwin Bernard, 1902-1969; McKnight, N. M (Nicholas McDowell); Miner, Dwight Carroll, 1904-1978; Pegram, George Braxton, 1876-1958; Rappleye, Willard C (Willard Cole), 1892-1976
Title Columbia University in World War II collection, 1933-1975
Physical Description 32.02 linear feet (6 record cartons, 59 document boxes 3 index card boxes)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

The following boxes are located offsite: Boxes 1-57 and 61-68. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least three business in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.



Arranged in eight series.


Scope and Content

This collection contains records documenting Columbia University's activities prior to, during and immediately following World War II. Generated by a variety of groups and offices on campus, this artificial collection has been pulled together to represent the varied activities undertaken by the Columbia community during this time of world crisis. Although there are relevant documents dated prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 and after the cessation of war in 1945, most material in the collection falls within the wartime period of 1939-1945.

The collection consists of a wide variety of materials including: correspondence, meeting minutes, memoranda, telegrams, printed matter, publications, newsletters, newspaper and magazine clippings, press releases, lectures, speeches, applications, signed forms, programs, bulletins, course descriptions, survey forms, ephemera, financial ledgers, reports and lists. Original folder titles were retained when deemed appropriate and accurate. Much material was found loose and new folder titles were created as needed. Newspaper clippings were photocopied onto acid free paper and the originals were discarded, with the exception of articles about the 1935 peace strike and anti-war movement which might have exhibition potential. Correspondence, memos, newsletters and notes on extremely brittle copy paper from the time period were also photocopied and the originals discarded. Folders within each series are arranged in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted in the series description. The material within all folders is arranged in chronological order unless otherwise noted in the series description. Original photographs, with the exception of some small photos attached to personnel files, were removed and are housed in the Historical Photograph Collection under the series World War II. Photocopies of the images were placed in the original location of the photographs and marked with the new location of the original.

  • Series I: Division of Government Aided Research

    This series consists of correspondence, signed forms, applications, memos, financial statements, lists, and assorted printed matter regarding the government sponsored research programs undertaken by Columbia University and the personnel involved in these research efforts. The majority of the files date from the World War II era but the collection extends into the post-war period, to the mid 1950s. Although the war may have been over, the work begun during the wartime period quickly adapted itself to the post-war needs of the country, hence its inclusion in this collection. Originally called the Office of War Research, the name changed after World War II to Division of Government Aided Research. This later designation is the one used to describe this series.

    The bulk of the materials in this series deal with personnel issues (e.g., salary, clearance, termination) but also addresses financial matters, requisitions and the occasional report on the projects themselves.

    Folders not associated with a sub-series are found at the beginning of this series. These include material from subject files related to scientific research at Columbia as well as at some other institutions, relevant newspaper clippings, reports, and correspondence. Division of Government Aided Research – Correspondence consists of four files containing correspondence related to the activities of the Division of Government Aided Research. Includes correspondence from George B. Pegram (from 1949 and 1950s) regarding amendments to existing contracts and new contracts. Among the contracts discussed are some which deal with the issue of urban land use. Correspondence from 1951-1952 is from one assistant to another who was associated with the Committee on Government Aided Research and deals primarily with personnel issues such as appointments, terminations, and salary reviews. Atomic Energy Research – Letters of Appreciation contains copies of letters sent by Frank Diehl Fackenthal, acting president of the University, on Feb 18, 1946 to the other universities and colleges who provided personnel to work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University. The letters thank them for their cooperation and present them with a facsimile of a scroll presented to Columbia University by the government for its work on this project. Also includes replies to this letter from some of the institutions. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of institution within the file. Patent Agreements – Faculty (1951-1952) is composed of signed patent agreements by faculty members participating in government aided research in the post-war period, arranged alphabetically by last name of signee in one file folder.

    Three folders of materials were added to this series in August 2006. "National Defense Research Committee – Deferment Letters" contains copies of form letters to Dr. George B. Pegram from Frank D. Fackenthal regarding "Form 42A" and letters of recommendation for individuals employed on various research contracts who were attempting to defer military service between July 1943 and July 1944. The form and the letters are not included in this file, only the cover letter to Pegram. "Reserve List Questionnaires" are questionnaires that were provided by the Office of Scientific Research and Development to all the scientific and technical research workers in the 1940s. All the respondents appear to be employees of Columbia University and some of these individuals can also be found among those noted in sub-series I.2, Personnel Clearance. The questionnaire was comprised of 14 questions including full name, age, address, selective service information, present work, academic training, experience, professional expertise, employer's rating as to replacement, civil service status, marital status and dependents, and amount of time spent on OSRD work at that time. The questionnaires are arranged alphabetically by last name of respondent. "Transportation Committee" is a file containing materials related to a small part of the Administrative Board of the Columbia University Special Service Corps dedicated to investigating solutions to the problem of transporting oil and water supplies in a desert campaign. The committee was comprised of Joseph Warren Barker (Dean of the Engineering School), President Nicholas Murray Butler, Frederick Coykendall, Gano Dunn, Frank D. Fackenthal, Charles Spencer, and Professor James T. Shotwell. Oaths of Secrecy and Espionage Act Agreement forms for Barker, Butler, Coykendall and Dunn are in the file along with correspondence concerning the composition and objectives of the committee. There are also two copies of reports. One was a report on meetings with British, Australian and Canadian Legations in Washington, DC from 13 January 1942 and the other is a report entitled "Water and Gasoline Supplies in a Desert Campaign; Plan to economize in the use of Truck Transport."

  • Series II: Government Contracts

    These series contains the records of related to government contracts, previously held by the Government Contract Division and Division of War Research at Columbia University. The series is divided into three subseries: records related to personnel; those related to Contract W-7405-eng-50; and those related to all other government contracts.

  • Series III: Committee for War Relief

    This series is comprised of alphabetical subject files kept by the Committee and Committee materials found originally in other boxes of WWII materials. The two sets of files were combined into one alphabetically arranged series. The contents of the files have been arranged as chronologically as possible with undated items at the backs of folders. Files contain correspondence, minutes, financial information, bank statements (1943-1946, their account was closed on October, 1946), financial ledgers, publications from related organizations, newsletters, memos, receipts and invoices (sometimes attached to relevant correspondence), photographs, reports, lists, sign-in sheets, statistics, donation record books, and other printed matter (flyers, postcard announcements, etc.). These files document the varied activities of this group during the war years, though some materials are duplicated elsewhere in the collection (e.g. course flyers can also be found in the Civilian Defense files). The "Seeds for Britain Project" folder contains communication with Professor Hugh Findlay, who gave lectures on gardening in 1943 and 1944.

  • Series IV: Civilian Defense

    This series contains correspondence, memos, lists, minutes, newsletters, newspaper clippings, and ephemera (actual ID cards and armbands) concerning the activities of the civilian defense program at Columbia University. Issues include civilian defense courses, air raid drills, and building control activities. The original order of this series was lost prior to processing so a new order was imposed based on the subject matter of the materials.

    Correspondence in this series is primarily from Nicholas McKnight, Director of the Civilian Defense Program, but a significant amount of communication also comes from Fon W. Boardman, Jr. who was Assistant to the Director of the Civilian Defense Program. Boardman was in charge of ID card and armband distribution, a well documented aspect of the program in these files. In addition to correspondence and materials concerning the activities of the various committees and the Student Auxiliary Corps within the university community, McKnight's dealings with suburban defense organizations (particularly in New Jersey), the NYC Police Department, and the local New York civilian defense councils is also documented.

    Three incidents are of particular note. These include December, 1941 correspondence between McKnight and representatives of Harvard, McGill University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and Yale regarding the civilian defense activities at those institutions; December, 1941 and early January, 1942 correspondence from students and staff concerning how they could help the war effort on campus in the wake of Pearl Harbor; and correspondence within the Barnard file concerning civilian defense activities on that campus and how it would work within the larger program forming at Columbia.

  • Series V: Educational and Military Training Programs

    This series contains bulletins, graduation programs, publications, newspaper articles, speeches, conference proceedings and other printed matter relating to military training programs at Columbia. The programs included the United States Naval Reserve (U.S.N.R.) Midshipmen's School, the Navy V-12 program and the U.S. Navy School of Military Government and Administration. Educational programs are represented by course descriptions, announcements, newspaper clippings and information about various educational opportunities related to the war effort. Usually the material is about intensive courses and programs in language or engineering and related sciences. Newspaper clipping file includes articles about courses designed specifically for women dated from 1942 and one from June, 1943.

  • Series VI: Selective Service

    This series is comprised of an alphabetical file of correspondence, affidavits, forms and applications and memos regarding individuals (ca.1943-1945) who were considered vital to the university and were requesting deferment from military service ("occupational deferment"). Most correspondence is with Frank D. Fackenthal, Provost of the University, and local draft boards, though there are often letters from deans of schools (e.g., James Kip Finch of the School of Engineering, N.M. McKnight of Columbia College) advocating on behalf of a specific staff or faculty member. Correspondence pleads the cases of these individuals, arguing the importance of their work to the university and that their skills would be irreplaceable if drafted. Within the correspondence, there are often references to standard forms which are not necessarily attached to the cover letters (most of which are carbon copies of the original correspondence). Materials are arranged alphabetically within each folder.

    Amongst the people applying for deferments were notable Columbia personalities such as Jacques Barzun, Karl Menges and Mario Salvadori. But not only professors and researchers were asking for deferments. Mr. Peter Mouzakis, First Cook who worked in John Jay Hall Dining Room was recommended for deferment by Thomas A. McGoey, director of University Residence Halls due to his "experience in handling the food preparation problem of 2,000 Midshipmen and trainees who are stationed at Columbia University." (letter, March 24, 1945). He was still classified as 1A (available immediately for military service) by his local Selective Service board.

    A second set of alphabetical files contains correspondence, applications, forms, and memos for specific individuals seeking educational deferments in the immediate post-war period (1946-1947). Most of this correspondence is with Albert Jacobs, Assistant to Acting President Frank D. Fackenthal. Also included in this series are files with information and forms distributed to Columbia College students regarding selective service as well as files containing general policies and regulations of the Faculty Deferment Section of the U.S. Office of Education regarding such deferments from Selective Service (see article from New York Sun 6 August 1946). For instance, people involved in physics and engineering were considered important enough to avoid the draft; there were apparent successful attempts to broaden the definition of "important and indispensable" to educators in other fields, since there were so many GI's going back to school.

    Selective Service Classifications encountered in this series: 1A: Available immediately for military service 2A: Deferred in support of national health, safety or interest 2B: Deferred in support of war production 4F: Registrants not acceptable for military service. Rejected for physical, mental or moral reasons

  • Series VII: Service Records

    This series consists of surveys, questionnaires, forms and lists from a successful attempt by the university to document the war activities (both military and civilian) of its faculty, staff and alumni. Includes original forms filled out by individuals as well as compilation lists from these surveys. There were three main attempts at gathering this information: the Alumni War Record, the Armed Services Status Surveys, and the War Activities Questionnaire.

    The Alumni War Record includes correspondence from 1942-1943 regarding how colleges and universities were to keep up with their alumni who were entering the armed forces and how to create a war record. This part of the series includes lists of CU alumni in the armed forces (ca. 1942-1943) as well as examples of the printed matter sent out to collect alumni war record info. The Armed Services Status Surveys were sent to all departments of the University in 1950 to find out who had served in WWII as well as current military involvement (e.g., reserve unit, drafted, etc.). The files are arranged alphabetically, university offices first and then academic departments. Individual surveys are arranged alphabetically within a folder.

    The War Activities Questionnaire comprises the bulk of this series. This was an attempt by the Office of the Secretary to survey all the faculty and staff at the University as to their participation in the war effort. Organized by Philip M. Hayden, Secretary of the University in 1946-1947, the Secretary was insistent that he obtain responses from everyone. Materials include departmental rosters/lists, completed survey forms, correspondence and memos regarding gathering of information, questionnaires filled out by faculty, instructors, research assistants, associates, assistant professors, and the occasional other (e.g., Trustees, chaplains, registrars, deans). Folders are arranged alphabetically by name of department, school or office and surveys are arranged alphabetically within each folder.

  • Series VIII: Subject Files

    This series consists of newspaper clippings, speeches, publications, printed matter and press releases from the time period. The clippings files found in this series are arranged alphabetically by subject and are either of very general nature or not associated directly with topics addressed in other series which will contain their own appropriate clippings files. Topics include: anti-war protests (mainly the April, 1935 peace strike), Columbia's war service, Barnard College's contributions to the war effort, students and alumni in the armed services, war activities of professors and administrators, the activities of Russian students studying at Columbia during these years. Other subjects of note addressed by this series include 1940 Academic Freedom issues and the controversy surrounding the dismissal of six medical students from The College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1935 (found in the Newspaper Clippings – Anti-War Protest file). Information about a few wartime related conferences and transcripts of a number of speeches by university and non-university personalities can be found here, as well as some publications by the university (e.g., "Memorandum from Morningside") and from outside the university (e.g, "War Records Collector" newsletter). Also of interest are wartime newsletters published by St. Paul's Chapel Choir and a collection of letters that contain updates about members of the St. Paul's Chapel Choir who were involved in the war.

    The post-war period is also significantly represented in this series, mostly in relation to the influx of veterans enrolling as students, but also addressing such matters as the formation of the United Nations (Virginia Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard College, was a representative to the San Francisco conference) and book republication projects for Germany. The files addressing the topic of veterans include newspaper clippings and other printed matter about these students, their needs and concerns (e.g. tuition increase controversy in 1946) as well as two bound volumes documenting Shanks Village, a housing project near Nyack, NY for students and veterans after the war.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

The following boxes are located offsite: Boxes 1-57 and 61-68. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least three business in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Columbia University in World War II Collection; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Selected Related Material-- at Columbia

Central Files, 1890-2006

See, in particular, the Franz Boas, George B. Pegram, James Finch Kip, Herbert Hawkes, William F. Russell, Joseph W. Barker, Horatio Smith, Harry Morgan Ayres, Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Edward B. Fox, Albert C. Jacobs, Philip C. Jessup, Henry McAlpin Schley, Schuyler C. Wallace, Oscar James Campbell, James W. Angell, Ferderick A. Goetze, Frank Diehl Fackenthal, Thomas A. McGoey. John K. Richards, Nicholas Murray Butler, U.S. Army, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, U.S. Navy, U.S. War Department, and U.S. War Man Power Commission files.

Additionally, the publications Side Boy and Pass In Review (call# CT9 P2), and the University's Annual Reports, 1940-1946 will prove useful in understanding the University during the war.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--University Archives and Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Method of acquisition--Transfer; Date of acquisition--1997, 2002.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Jocelyn Wilk 2002-2003, 2006. Finding aid written Jocelyn Wilk 2003. Finding aid reformatted Elizabeth Nolte (GSAS 2009) 2008. Materials in Sub-Series II.2-II.3 were processed by Joanna Rios 2022.

Revision Description

2012-3-28 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2022-01-21 Added Sub-series II.2-II.3 (JR)

2022-02-11 Access note changed. Part of collection now stored offsite. (JR)

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Applications Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Clippings (Information Artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ephemera (general object genre) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Forms (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ledgers (account books) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lists (document genres) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Press releases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Questionnaires Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reports Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Speeches (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
minutes (administrative records) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Committee for United War Relief Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Division of War Research Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- Education and the war Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- Recruiting, enlistment, etc Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- Veterans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- War work -- Schools Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- Women Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Histoical Note

As an institution and a community, Columbia University completely mobilized its people and resources in order to help the United States and its allies, as well as protect itself from possible enemy attack, during World War II. The war affected the University most directly once the U.S. was involved, but the topic had entered the campus consciousness as early as 1933, when the merits of entering into war were debated on campus by faculty and students alike. By the fall of 1941, with war raging in Europe, it was becoming more and more likely the U.S. would eventually be drawn into the conflict. In response, the University began preparing itself for the contingencies of war, well before the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of that year.

The University participated in the war effort in several major ways: government-aided research, civilian defense, war relief, and military and educational training programs. Scientific research was conducted both on campus and in laboratories on Long Island and in Connecticut. Columbia engaged in research in the fields of engineering, physics, and medicine, ranging from high profile programs like the Manhattan Project to lesser known projects such as one developing underwater sonar systems. Research conducted during WWII sometimes continued into the post-war period, and new research projects were given to the university as the connections between government agencies and the University begun during the war period continued and grew.

Two major programs instituted on campus, in addition to the ongoing research in the many labs in and around campus, were Civilian Defense and the Committee for War Relief. Civilian Defense, a domain mainly controlled by men on campus, was comprised of six different committees: Committee on Campus Protection (including the Building Control Division), Committee on Community Education, Committee on Courses of Training, Committee on Protection of Valuable Possessions, Committee on Technical Advice, and Committee on Volunteer Participation. Another important sub-division of the Civilian Defense program was the Student Auxiliary Corps (SAC) comprising five different squads – fire, first aid, campus patrol, information desk and communications. All of these committees used the talents and manpower of those in the campus community to institute defensive measures such as blackout regulations, air raid drills, evacuation procedures, and training in first-aid. The committee also acted as a liaison between Columbia and the larger New York City and metropolitan area communities and their civilian defense programs.

Committee for War Relief was mainly the domain of women within the Columbia community and acted primarily as a fundraising organization. It raised money through the organization of fairs, concerts and lectures in order to aid people suffering in war torn countries, such as Britain and France. In addition to fundraising, this group also organized volunteers to make surgical dressings, knit socks, organize blood drives and hold lectures on home front activities, such as growing victory gardens.

Columbia also made its facilities available to the military as a place where thousands of new recruits could be housed and instructed in the United States Naval Reserve (U.S.N.R.) Midshipmen's School, the Navy V-12 program and the U.S. Navy School of Military Government and Administration. Additionally, the university adjusted its coursework within the college and other areas of the school to meet the new needs of wartime. Thus, map-making classes, more engineering courses, speeded up degree programs, and intensive language courses in Japanese and German were instituted.