Information Center for Civilian Morale

Today’s post picks up the storyline—begun on 7 December 2011 with the post, Date of Infamy—about the days on the University of North Carolina campus that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as seen through the lens of then student photographer Hugh Morton.

Information Center on Civilian Morale, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina, January 1942

Information Center on Civilian Morale in the lobby of the University of North Carolina library (now Wilson Library), January 1942. As captioned in the Daily Tar Heel,"Persons instrumental in the opening of the Information Center are: left to right, Mrs. Robert P. Weed, assistant reference librarian and supervisor of the Information Center; Russell Grumman, director of the University extension division and coordinator of the University Center; Charles E. Rush, librarian and director of the Center; Dean Francis F. Bradshaw, chairman of the faculty committee on defense; and Mrs. N. B. Adams, assistant in library extension and assistant supervisor of the Center."

On Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941 the major news story of the day—the outbreak of war on America—was still unfolding and unprinted.  War, however, was not absent from American students’ minds.  From the first day of classes in late September, currents of war wove through the pages of UNC’s student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel (DTH).  In its first issue for the school year, the editors, led by Orville Campbell, wrote in their editorial column, “Today the oceans that surround us are no longer barriers, but highways of invasion.  Today we have been aroused to a wartime pitch by propaganda that is as skillful as it is deadly and effective.”  A week prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the International Relations Club announced that it would be conducting five Gallop intercollegiate polls on campus during the remainder of 1941 and 1942.  In the announcement the DTH noted that initial findings from the first poll showed that “the nation’s undergraduates were still isolationists, but ‘no longer can they be considered as balking idealists trying to hold against the tide of events.'”  By day’s end on December 7th, the tidal wave of war struck at Oahu.

One of the top headlines in the December 7th DTH announced that Louis Harris was named student coordinator for the campus morale drive, which had been in development since mid November shortly after the United States government formed the School and College Civilian Morale Service within the Office of Education that same month.  By month’s end, news about its impact on UNC and the state had reached the pages of the DTH.  Often characterized in DTH articles as “Harris, campus leader,” Louis Harris was a logical choice to lead the campus morale program.  He was vice-chairman of the Carolina Political Union, and had represented UNC at the International Student Service’s first Summer Student Leadership Institute, held during five weeks at Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelts’ Canadian summer home in Campobello, New Brunswick.  On September 24th the DTH printed in its first issue of the school year an article on Harris’ participation at the institute.  Along with the article was a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt, who spent two weeks with the attendees, asking Harris to join her for in a swim in the pool, or so said Harris in the caption.

A coordinated statewide effort led to the information center’s establishment at UNC.  With the outbreak of war on American soil, the December 9th DTH quoted Harris, “This agency was founded to disperse impartial, non-partisan information to all interested students and persons.  This goal will be in no way changed or modified by the present crisis.”  Information centers would soon spring up across the county.  On January 25th, the DTH published Morton’s photograph of the information center, “still in its infancy,” and its creators assembled in the lobby of the university library (now Wilson Library).  The photograph accompanied an article, headlined “Local Morale Information Center Among First in Nation,” which stated that the information center was the first in the state and had “met intensified interest from the campus.”  North Carolinians wanting to learn more about a specific war-related topic need only send their request on a post card addressed to “Information Center Chapel Hill,” and in return they would receive a packet “free of charge, save mailing costs.”

Morton’s photograph (cropped above as published; click on the image to see the uncropped version) is only the second to appear in the DTH that depicted a campus scene reflecting activity related to World War II, the first having been published on January 11th—a similar version of which can bee seen in the Date of Infamy post.

NOTA BENE: In the 1950s Lou Harris would become a notable and innovative public opinion pollster, whose polling data is archived at UNC’s Louis Harris Data Center. Also, Harris’ papers are in the Southern Historical Collection.  For more on Lou Harris, you can watch a C-Span interview of Prof. David W. Moore, author of the book Superpollsters.

One thought on “Information Center for Civilian Morale

  1. A brief article in the 5 April 1942 issue of The Daily Tar Heel noted that Gallup and the Nassau Sovereign (its partner publication for the project) “abandoned” the intercollegiate poll “last month.”

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