Massachusetts State College-Fort Devens
The minutes of 1946 University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees’ meetings detail the events leading up to the creation of the branch college at Fort Devens. These have been digitized and placed on Internet Archive. Massachusetts newspapers covered the creation of the college and subsequent college activities; many of these newspapers are a part of Genealogy Bank. Fort Devens Museum has images on Facebook--such as the school pennant above.
Devens was one of the colleges that emerged at the end of World War II to handle the influx of returning soldiers. Board minutes for June 8, 1946 show that 2,800 Massachusetts veterans, eligible for the G.I. Bill, had been unable to enroll at a Massachusetts college; more returning veterans were expected. Fort Devens, forty miles west of Boston, was deactivated on June 30, 1946 and was designated as the site for the college; Massachusetts State College at Amherst was named as supervisor for the campus. Devens State College initially was to open for two years to handle the immediate rush but would remain open long enough to insure that all Massachusetts veterans could graduate in four years. Open only to WWII veterans who were Massachusetts residents, Devens State College enrolled 1,310 students in fall 1946 and 1,700 students for spring semester. Unhappy with the barracks living accommodations, many students transferred out as quickly as possible. Enrollment fell slightly in the 1947-48 school year and sharply by the fall of 1948. Time Magazine reported that the school died “a natural death” in spring 1949 because of a lack of students.
Possible courses of study included language arts, science, agriculture, engineering, and business administration. Course sequences and requirements were set up for each of these fields.
Students converted the old guardhouse into a first class radio station. The campus had a glee club and an orchestra. More than thirty clubs were organized by students. The major social event of the year was the annual Winter Carnival, when the college became co-educational for a day.
Bricks and Mortar
Fort Devens was begun in 1917 and the main buildings were WPA structures. The Administration, Post, Officers Quarters, and Hospital were described as “Georgian Revivial red brick.” Devens facilities available for the college included “115 brick buildings, a quadrangle of dormitory buildings, excellent cafeteries, an administration building, two theatres of 580 capacity each, a post exchange which could be used as a college store, a sports arena, a gymnasium with four basketball courts, quarters for faculty and married students. There are no physics or chemistry laboritories but certain of the buildings have exposed piping so that they could be converted into laboratories.”
After the College closed, the post was reactivated for the Korean War in 1951 and remained active in one form or another until it fell to the 1995 round of base closings. At present it is supervised by the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency which has attracted small businesses to the post.
Team name: Chiefs
Colors: White and Crimson
Devens State College determined to begin a sports program at the intramural level, preparing for intercollegiate sports at the second semester. However, hockey and basketball teams began preparation almost immediately. The school then sponsored a full range of spring sports—baseball, track and field, golf, and tennis.
Devens fielded football teams in both 1947 and 1948, with more success than the other veterans’ schools. The 1947 team won three of eight games with wins over Lowell Tech, St. Michaels (VT), and Mohawk (NY). With the Mohawk win and a loss to Champlain, the Chiefs split games against the other veterans’ schools. During the 1948 season, the team compiled a 4-2-2 record, defeating parent school Massachusetts-Amherst, Lowell, Champlain, and Quonset Naval Air Station. The Chiefs gained ties with American International and Worcester Tech.
A Facebook image of Vicksburg Square at Fort Devens. (<www.facebook.com/fortdevensmuseum/>)