World War I -- Life Histories/Section 019/Hatcher Hughes

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Hatcher Hughes was a Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist from Polkville, North Carolina. He taught English and Drama at Columbia University during the early twentieth century and fought in World War I as an army captain.


Early Life[edit]

Hatcher Hughes was born in Polkville, North Carolina in 1881, the tenth of eleven children. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1902 to 1905, earning his Bachelor's degree in English. He remained at the University to pursue graduate studies in English In 1908, he was invited to teach at Columbia University in New York City, a position he held for the remainder of his career.

Military Service[edit]

Hughes briefly left his position at Columbia in 1916 and served as a captain during World War I and a member of the Armed Expeditionary Forces in France. Many students, faculty and alumni of college institutions were encouraged to enlist in the armed forces. Hughes completed most of his training in Camp Lee, Virginia before shipping off to the European front. He spent less than a year fighting in France, until the armistice was signed at 11am on November 11, 1918. He describes the cold and wet conditions that many soldiers endured during World War I, as well as the exhaustion and frustration that accompanied the fruitless war. Hughes remained in France with a host family until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919. Hughes reports of the grand celebration that occurred in Paris after the signing of the treaty. He also discusses plans to visit Germany while on leave a few days before the treaty is signed, presumably for tourist travel purposes. Hughes wrote to his mother throughout the war about his desire for peace, while also specifying the need to defeat and humiliate Germany.

After the War[edit]

After the war, Hughes returned to Columbia, where he continued to teach. He also began his career as a dramatist, writing A Marriage Made for Heaven (1918), Wake Up Jonathan (1918), Hell-Bent for Heaven (1924), and Ruint (1925), among others. His most famous play is Hell-Bent for Heaven, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1925. A movie by the same name was released in 1926. Many of his plays featured characters or settings similar to his own, depicting Carolina mountain communities and war-torn soldiers returning from France. He died in New York City on October 18, 1945 at the age of 64, still an active part of Columbia's theatre community.[1]

Social Issues[edit]

Universities in Wartime[edit]

When America became involved in the war in 1917, many public and private universities shifting from being institutions of learning to military hospitals or laboratories. Students, faculty and alumni were highly encouraged to join the armed forces.[2] There were no student exemptions from the draft; the only reasonable exemptions were “a man's health, his engagement in a “useful” war industry, or his obligations to dependent family members determined whether he would be called to serve.”[3] Those who could not enlist, for physical limitations or family obligations, were expected to support the war effort in any way possible, such as by buying war bonds. President Wilson, an alumni of Columbia University, encouraged Americans to work to accomplish something for the common good, rather than what was easy to enjoy. Men of military age were encouraged to leave their lives to devote themselves to their country. Hughes was among the faculty at Columbia which encouraged men of military age to work and serve in the United States’ armed forces. He was a prominent member of Columbia's academic community, specifically in the English and Drama departments, both before and after the war.

Treaty of Versailles[edit]

After the armistice was signed in 1918, the militant nations needed to come to an official agreement. Hughes is very specific in his letters that Germany is expected to pay for its war crimes, and that only a peace in which Germany suffers will be accepted by the Allies. The Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919 and officially ended the first world war. It also severely crippled the structure and economy of Germany. “The treaty handed to the Germans” made the nation take complete blame for the war as well as pay reparations to France for the harm done to the country. Germany had no voice in these peace talks as “the council of four was composed of Premiers Orlando, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and President Wilson."[4] Only Italy, France, Britain, and the United States were active in writing up the post-war treaty.

The popular sentiment among the Allied Powers was that Germany needed to suffer.[5] The nation was viewed as morally inferior to other Western powers and must pay reparations for all the damage done during the war, even the damage done to France by the Allies themselves.[6] Post-war Germany experienced severe inflation, rationing, and poverty throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Treaty of Versailles is often credited as being one of the major causes of World War II because it failed to resolve many of the international issues raised by World War I. Because of the exclusive nature of the "council of four," only the interests of those countries were served by the treaty. Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan and many other nations were ignored or punished by the treaty, leading to economic and political instability. Coupled with the international financial crisis towards the end of the 1920s, many countries were left vulnerable to the rise of fascist dictators, such as Mussolini and Hitler.

Published Works[edit]

  • A Marriage Made for Heaven (1918)
  • Wake Up Jonathan (1918)
  • Hell-Bent for Heaven (1924)
  • Ruint (1925)
  • It's a Grand Life (1930)
  • The Lord Blesses the Bishop (1934)[7]


  1. "Pulitzer Prize Winner, Hatcher Hughes, Dies." Columbia Spectator [New York] 26 Oct. 1945: 1. Print.
  2. "MOBILIZE COLUMBIA FOR WAR." New York Times 13 Feb. 1917: 8. Print.
  3. Capozzola, Christopher Joseph Nicodemus. Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
  4. Associated Press, comp. "History of the Peace Congress." Los Angeles Times 8 May 1919: 19. Print
  5. Cline, Catherine A. "British Historians and the Treaty of Versailles." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 20.1 (1988): 43-58. JSTOR. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.
  6. Shepley, Nick. Britain, France and Germany and the Treaty of Versailles the Failure of Long Term Peace. Place of Publication Not Identified: Auk Authors, 2011. Print.
  7. "Hatcher Hughes." IBDB: Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <>