World War I -- Life Histories/Section 018/Hatcher Hughes

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Overview[edit]

Hatcher Hughes (February 12, 1881 - October 18, 1945) was a professor of English at Columbia University and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, in addition to serving as captain in the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

Biography[edit]

Hatcher Hughes was born in Polkville, North Carolina on February 12, 1881. He was the second youngest of eleven children born to Andrew Jackson Hughes and Martha Polk Gold Hughes. Hughes enrolled at University of North Carolina in 1901, receiving a Masters degree in English in 1909. He went on to pursue a doctorate at Columbia University but was instead appointed an English lecturer. Hughes later became a full professor, instructing mainly courses in playwriting. Several of his plays written during this period - largely "folk plays" and satiric comedies - were critically acclaimed, and Hughes would go on to receive a Pulitzer Prize for his work Hell Bent Fer Heaven in 1924. However, due to the heavy involvement of college students in World War I accompanying U.S. entry into the war, Columbia University was forced to close, and so along with many of his students and colleagues, Hughes left his position at Columbia in 1917 to enlist in the Army.[2]

Hughes became a captain and served most of his two-year stint in the Army with the 80th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces. He spent much of 1917 and 1918 preparing as many as 30,000 drafted soldiers at a time for battle at Fort Lee in Virginia. He led the 80th Division to join British forces at the Western Front in the summer of 1918, confronting heavy German bombing and shooting down a large German plane around August 25th of that year. His division suffered relatively light losses until travelling to France, where Hughes spent three weeks fighting on the front. These casualties were compounded by outbreaks of influenza and pneumonia in his ranks.

Hughes remained stationed in France for more than a year, celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris on June 28th, 1919. He returned to the United States at the end of July, preparing for Columbia University’s reopening in September. Stateside, Hughes struggled with the rising cost of living and stagnating salaries caused by astronomical postwar inflation. However, he stayed on Columbia University’s faculty, teaching English and drama and writing plays, until his death on October 18th, 1945.[3]

Social Context[edit]

Role of Universities in World War I[edit]

The majority of men enlisting or being drafted into military service were college-aged; therefore, American colleges and universities served as fundamental recruitment platforms for the U.S. military. To offset plummeting college enrollment as high school graduates flocked into the service, about 500 universities began offering Students’ Army Training Corps programs, which “utilize[d] the plant, equipment and organization of the colleges for selecting and training candidates for office, and technical experts for service."[4] The curriculum of these programs was rigorous and strictly defined by the federal government, decreasing the amount of professorial liberty that had once characterized higher education.[5]

Though it became patriotic to enroll in such programs, general college enrollment fell sharply. As universities depended on a combination of tuition income and donations – which also decreased significantly during this period – for support, most confronted substantial financial problems. The additional hardship of maintaining dormitories and academic buildings at less than full capacity for the Students’ Army Training Corps participants forced many universities to close due to lack of funds. Universities faced similar difficulty upon reopening after the war, as returning soldiers questioned the value of a college education and postwar inflation plagued university coffers.[6]

Professors, deans, and presidents of every department, if not doing government work from their offices, similarly left their posts to join the war effort.[7] Medical service was most common among professors, but they often became military officers and instructors as well.[8] Assignments did not always relate to their chosen field, as military officials found that “the power and worth manifested in one department of teaching and research often seemed to prepare the worker for service in a department apparently quite unlike."[9] Professors and students alike therefore became valuable sources of manpower.

Postwar Inflation[edit]

The United States economy immediately following World War I was characterized by drastic inflation. The cost of food and other necessity items doubled from the beginning of the war to 1920; in other words, “a dollar spent on the ordinary things which we are accustomed to use [in 1920 would] buy only one-half of what it would have done [in 1914]."[10] Salaried workers suffered most of this burden, as cost of living doubled and wages stagnated.[11] This inflation has been attributed to poor economic policy choices on the part of the United States Treasury and the Federal Reserve in preparation, during, and after the war. Before America officially entered the war, the government supported the Allied Forces with wartime supplies, including weapons and rations. The resulting influx of gold from the Allies caused a dramatic increase in the country’s money supply, which, unaddressed through Treasury or Federal Reserve policy, led to exponential price increases.[12]

These institutions also mismanaged the rapidly accumulating government debt – in 1919, about 3 billion dollars – most of which was held by American citizens in the form of bonds. Rather than paying back these loans, the Treasury extended loaning periods, offering even more credit to individual banks and further weakening the economy.[13]

Widespread decrease in production after the war added to this economic distress. Due to America’s emphasis on economic contributions from the home front through both producing wartime supplies and reducing household consumption, the country experienced “an absolute scarcity” of consumer products; however, the return to peace spurred “exaggerated fears of overproduction” which only contributed to rising prices.[14]

References[edit]

  1. Harvey Hatcher Hughes. N.d. NCpedia. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.
  2. Walser, Richard. "Hughes, (Harvey) Hatcher." Hughes, (Harvey) Hatcher. NCpedia, 1988. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  3. Hughes, Hatcher. Letters to Martha Polk Gold Hughes. 1917-1920. Box 1, Folder 1. Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 10 February 2015.
  4. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; a History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  5. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; a History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  6. Kolbe, Parke Rexford. The Colleges in War Time and After: a Contemporary Account of the Effect of the War Upon Higher Education in America. D. Appleton, 1919. Print.
  7. "U. S. UNIVERSITIES AND WAR." The North - China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (1870-1941): 180. Jul 20 1918. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
  8. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; a History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  9. Thwing, Charles Franklin. The American Colleges and Universities in the Great War, 1914-1919; a History. The Macmillan Company, 1920. Print.
  10. Hollander, Jacob H. "HOW INFLATION TOUCHES EVERY MAN'S POCKETBOOK." New York Times (1857-1922): 2. May 02 1920. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
  11. Howenstine, E. J. "THE HIGH-COST-OF-LIVING PROBLEM AFTER WORLD WAR I." Southern Economic Journal (pre-1986) 10.3 (1944): 222. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
  12. Hollander, Jacob H. "HOW INFLATION TOUCHES EVERY MAN'S POCKETBOOK." New York Times (1857-1922): 2. May 02 1920. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
  13. Hollander, Jacob H. "HOW INFLATION TOUCHES EVERY MAN'S POCKETBOOK." New York Times (1857-1922): 2. May 02 1920. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
  14. Howenstine, E. J. "THE HIGH-COST-OF-LIVING PROBLEM AFTER WORLD WAR I." Southern Economic Journal (pre-1986) 10.3 (1944): 222. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.