Research Log #4

Needless to say, life at Mary Washington College during the 1940s was turned upside down by a mix of war and administrative merger with the University of Virginia. Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong during the 1940s, even mother nature took a shot at the College and Fredericksburg.

In 1942 the Fredericksburg area was rocked by a massive flood. “In mid-October, three days of rain in the city and the counties to the north and west had caused the Rappahannock River to rise significantly; then, on October 15, a cloudburst dropped an additional six inches within two hours. That deluge caused the usually placid river to rise an astounding forty-five feet above its normal level.”[1]

The flood waters had a massively debilitating effect on the city and College. Fire started all over the city and, not surprisingly, the city’s electricity went out. “The disaster directly endangered Mary Washington students living in Cornell Hall, then a freshman dorm, located on Kenmore Avenue. Floodwaters rose completely above the basement rooms and lapped at the doors of the first-floor rooms, wreaking untold damage on furniture and personal belongings. The residents were removed by the Fredericksburg rescue squad in boats and transported by ambulance to the Hill, where dormitory dwellers made room for the refugees.”[2] Life may have been drier in the other dormitories but without running water and electricity throughout the University being dry was only a slight improvement. Food preparation proved to be difficult and due to the contamination of the water supply, all drinking water had to be boiled and all students had to be inoculated for typhoid.

Sadly, I could not track down any photographs of the flood waters on Campus or pictures of the campus functioning without electricity and running water. You would think that the lack of electricity and proper running water would have a debilitating toll on the students but surprisingly it didn’t. The students were quick to respond to the disaster and volunteered to help the community in any way they could. Amazingly, “some two hundred students, organized and directed by Mrs. Bushnell served in canteens set up throughout the city to feed and care for the homeless; still others assisted with administering typhoid shots.”[3] The Mary Washington College (MWC) Cavalry went the extra mile to assist the people of Fredericksburg by doing everything from keeping the city safe from looters to directing traffic like in the picture below this paragraph.

I can only imagine how the classroom must have functioned during these hard times. For your typical lecture I doubt much would have changed as long as they had enough natural light but its very hard to know, perhaps some of my fellow researchers will find more in the other primary sources.

1. William B. Crawley, University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History1908-2008. Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington, 2008, 49-50.
2. Crawley, University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History1908-2008, 50.
3. Crawley, University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History1908-2008, 50-51.

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