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"A date which will live in infamy.."

The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 sent shockwaves through campus. A few days later, on December 12, 1941, President Clarence Dykstra called an all-University convocation at the UW Field House to quell rumors about the immediate future and UW’s response to this event. 

The photos below and short audio clip commemorate the convocation. The following excerpt from The University of Wisconsin : a history, Volume 3 (1994) by campus historians David Cronon and John Jenkins describes the convocation atmosphere and president’s speech.

UW War Convocation, 12/12/1941.

A capacity crowd of students, faculty, and community members attended the gathering, broadcast throughout the state over WHA radio. After the singing of Christmas carols, “Varsity,” and “America,” followed by numerous “skyrocket” cheers, Dykstra took the podium. “This is a momentous week in American history,” he declared, stating the obvious in solemn tones. 

Dykstra shared that although he had consulted with selective service officials in Washington, he unfortunately could report no concrete plans nor predict exactly what might happen next to UW men. For the present, he advised that male students should follow their consciences in deciding what to do but stressed the virtue of “staying on the job until our country sees fit to call us.” 

UW War Convocation. 12/12/1941.

Dykstra announced that a group of special faculty counselors would soon be ready to provide advice and information about draft deferment policy and service options as they became clear. He included that University women had an important role to play in “the great field of civilian defense and community activity,” involving such campus programs as the recently organized Women’s Elective Service. 

As for campus life generally, “sobriety, courage and industry” were the new watchwords, although sensible recreation, too, was important, “if we are to remain calm and sane in times of crises.” “This is a time for consecration in the high purposes to which America was dedicated,” Dykstra concluded somberly. “This is a time for faith, for belief in our leadership, for the cherishing and the brightening up of our ideals and our hopes. We have closed ranks. From this day on we march together, calmly, deliberately and with united purpose.”

Event description taken from Cronon, Edmund David; Jenkins, John W. (John William), 1946- / The University of Wisconsin : a history, Volume 3 (1994). The University at war, pp. 407-463, available online in the University of Wisconsin Collection.

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Filed under WWII convocation Clarence Dykstra Pearl Harbor Field House war World War II history US history university Wisconsin presidents war convocation 1940s

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