Seattle University: A History of Excellencephoto caption: students pose during a mathematics lesson.You are viewing the Text-Only version, launch the Flash site
1933-1948: Depression, War and Peace

Seattle College grew into its own, adding a yearbook, academic departments, and a student magazine. During wartime, it played a vital role by outfitting a hospital for the front. But afterwards, so many students flooded back that the college had to rethink its mission. In 1948, it would become Seattle University.

Oddly enough, economic depression was good for Seattle College. Its enrollment swelled, reaching 500 by the middle of the decade. Separate departments for drama, medicine, business, education, and nursing were developed. The college launched its own magazine, the Spectator; a student organization, the ASSC; and a yearbook, The Aegis. By any measure, the school had become a real college at last.

Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and 150 students promptly enlisted. With its Japanese students and staff members herded into internment camps, Father Francis Corkery, SJ, placed the school on an accelerated war footing. The college sent many soldiers, sailors, and airmen to the front, and dispatched an army hospital, the “Fighting 50th” to Europe.

After the war, veterans returned with GI Bills in hand. Enrollment at Seattle College ballooned up to 2,400, leaving Fr. Howard Small, SJ, the monumental task of finding enough housing for all. Buildings surrounding the university were bought or rented, and prefab units sprang up on campus grounds. With six separate schools, the college was now becoming too big for its name.

A new direction arrived with a new president: Father Albert A. Lemieux, SJ, a handsome young priest from Montana. On May 28, 1948, 50 years after the chartering of Seattle College, he announced the incorporation of "Seattle University."

Skeletons on Broadway: Father Schmid and the medical program

Father Leo Schmid, SJ, laid the foundations for Seattle College’s fine biological sciences program in occasionally spectacular fashion. Chronically short on funds, he had to beg for supplies from local doctors, and getting them to the university sometimes led to gruesome mishaps. Schmid once caused a near panic when the wrappings fell from a human skeleton he was transporting on a street car. Another time, his students lost hold of a cadaver, and it fell down the stairs of the Garrand Building, offering an impromptu anatomy lesson to a group of horrified coeds. And when his stock of animal specimens ran low, the college’s student newspaper, perhaps in jest, put out the word: “Neighbors warned to keep pets on leash!”

For all that, Schmid’s efforts allowed the college to launch pre-med courses and eventually paved the way for its School of Nursing, which opened in 1935.

The “Fighting 50th”

In February, 1942, Seattle College stepped in to help the government reactivate Army Base Hospital 50, a reserve combat medical unit that had been inactive since the First World War. Col. Hubbard Bruckner, a long time supporter of the college's pre-med program, was named commander. Coralee Steele then took charge of the 120 women recruited from the college and nearby Providence Hospital.

The 50th trained in Colorado and shipped off to England. It landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day 1944 and established a 1,500-bed hospital just behind the front. The unit eventually earned the Citation of Merit for its care of tens of thousands of wounded soldiers.

The Liberal Arts Building

In 1940, Seattle College was in possession of a ragtag jumble of houses and buildings it had purchased or rented on an ad hoc basis. To bring some order, Father Francis Corkery, SJ, launched a $200,000 funds drive for a new Liberal Arts building.

Once ground was broken, excavators discovered a strange group of bones and archaeologists and homicide investigators rushed to the scene. The mystery was solved when biology professor Father Schmid sheepishly admitted that they had stumbled onto the burial ground for his dissection specimens.

The building, with its streamlined Gothic style and Garrand-inspired octagonal belfry, was dedicated on June 22, 1941 and opened in time for registration. Still serving the university today, it is known as the Administration Building.

Sam Smith and Millie Russell

The first significant numbers of African Americans began to enroll just after the war. Among them were two who would rise to prominence. The first, Sam Smith would become one of Seattle’s longest-serving city councilmen. And Millie Russell, who early aspired to be a nun, would be named a junior delegate to the NAACP national convention in 1946. It was the beginning of a lifetime of work in minority affairs that would establish her as one of Seattle’s civil rights leaders.

Seattle College students in WWII

In all, more than 1,000 Seattle College students and graduates served in the armed forces. 60 earned commendations for bravery and 27 gave their lives, including Anthony Burr, who had been student body president in 1942.

Maroons become Chieftains

For years, the Seattle College basketball team was known as the “Maroons,” which prompted catcalls of “morons” and tiresome newspaper headlines about being “marooned.” In 1938, students demanded a new name, and sports editor Ed Donohoe, the future editor of the Washington Teamster, came up with “Chieftains,” in honor of the college’s namesake, Chief Seattle.

The name was changed to Redhawks in 2000, out of sensitivity to the Native American community.

Life on campus

Ordinary college life was largely suspended during the war, giving way to a kind of grim humor. In 1943, for example, the ASSC presidential election wallowed in parody. John Ayres campaigned as "Dependable, Loyal, Honest." His opponent, Jim Layman countered with “Honest, Loyal, Dependable.” Layman triumphed, probably because of his slogan: “Elect a man who will be here next year.”

Layman, it turns out, was exempt from the draft.