As with many national events, Norwich remained both removed from and deeply affected by the depression. In large part, life on campus carried on as usual, with academics, athletic contests, cadet training, and social events at the forefront.
But national events have a way of seeping in. Enrollment began to decline. Seniors worried gravely about their employment prospects after graduation, with reports indicating that many recent graduates were out of work. The Norwich Record struggled to cover publication costs. Attendance at formal dances declined as students struggled to afford tickets (though reports indicate that attendance at fraternity parties remained robust).
In 1932, the freshman class was excused from purchasing dress uniforms, a cost savings of approximately $100 per student. In a letter to the affected students, the university’s treasurer explained that the measure was taken “in an effort to eliminate all possible expense during the present financial condition.” That same year, an editorial in the Guidon complained that the university’s attempts to save on fuel costs were making the barracks unacceptably cold on winter mornings.
In a move that tied the university more closely to national events, President Porter Adams orchestrated the appropriation of New Deal funds to renovate Jackman and Alumni barracks in 1934. A $60,000 loan from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which would later be replaced by the Works Progress Administration, facilitated needed repairs to the two barracks, as well as upgrades to the heating system in Dodge Hall. Such programs were intended to improve the labor market by putting local men to work on construction projects. President Adams and the trustees also sought a loan for the construction of an entirely new building. While the plan didn’t come to fruition at the time, it may have been the seed for the original Cabot Hall, which was completed in 1938.
Norwich students and faculty alike observed with interested as the depression changed the landscape of higher education across the country. In Virginia, a “Depression College” was proposed but never launched. The concept was that unemployed professors could teach in exchange for room and board, while impoverished students could pay tuition through work and other barter arrangements.
Throughout the decade, across the country and right here on the Hill, creative minds worked to find ways to stabilize the economy while lifting up struggling citizens. Norwich University remains resilient nearly 80 years after the Great Depression came to a close with the renewal of wartime industry. At a time of uncertainty in higher education, Norwich has received an A rating for financial solvency two years in a row from Forbes Magazine.