Posted: December 21, 2016

World War I (1914-1918) resulted in the deaths of 116,516 servicemen and wounding of 200,000 more. Women, too, suffered hardships. They served in the navy and the marines, as nurses, and in factories and government.


In March 1917, the board of trustees at Penn State volunteered the use of the University's grounds and buildings to the War Department and to the Pennsylvania National Guard for training purposes. After Congress issued a declaration of war against Germany on April 6, the first wave of students left Penn State to enlist in the military or to take civilian defense jobs. By the time June commencement arrived, about 200 undergraduates had joined the army or navy and another 570 were working on farms or in defense industries. Additional defense and home front support activities occurred in what was then the School of Agriculture. The school helped operate a Farm Training Camp on campus in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor's Boys Working Reserve. Hundreds of young men between the ages of 16 and 21 attended the camp for instruction in farm work before being assigned to nearby farms to relieve the labor shortage.

The School of Agriculture also added personnel to its county extension staffs to help increase Pennsylvania's food production. County extension agents became official representatives of the federal government in overseeing the planting of additional corn, wheat, and other staple crops and proved invaluable in cutting through bureaucratic red tape to help farmers obtain the extra fertilizer and seed they needed.

Agents kept meticulous records of food production and storage as part of a government plan to export as much food as possible to America's allies without undercutting domestic needs. Home economists fanned out across the Commonwealth with information on home canning of surplus foods and planning nutritious meals using substitute foods for those that might not be available because of war-induced shortages.

Today, the College of Agricultural Sciences continues to focus on the most pressing needs of the day. For example, its researchers and extension educators solve problems related to human health and infectious disease, global climate change, invasive species, water quality, and crop pests. Just as the men and women of the early 1900s made sacrifices for their country, today's college employees and students are dedicated to making a positive difference in their own country and beyond.

~Mike Bezilla