The third of four posts written for “WWI and Champaign County” of the Town & Gown Speaker Series, a collaboration between the Student Life & Culture Archives and the Champaign County Historical Archives.
Research for this post contributed by Maggie Cornelius.
America’s entry into World War I required the mobilization of the country’s brightest minds and ablest bodies for military training and leadership. The War Department looked to American universities to recruit capable men for its military departments. These recruitment efforts prompted the establishment of two prominent military organizations at the University of Illinois, both of which served as the foundation for the current Illini Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program.
Prior to ROTC, the 1862 Morrill Act obligated land-grant universities to instruct its male students in “military tactics.” Anticipating the American entrance into the war, the National Defense Act of 1916 established the ROTC as part of its reorganization of the American military. Illinois created its ROTC chapter in 1917 and fundamentally changed how the University fulfilled its Morrill Act obligation. ROTC’s primary purpose was to train and enroll men into the Reserved Officers’ Corps who were qualified to be “captains or lieutenants of volunteer organizations in times of war.” In its early days, ROTC was divided into seven units: medical corps, signal corps, engineers, cavalry, field artillery, coast artillery, and infantry. Continue reading “Student Military Training and the Great War”