Library Faculty Discuss the Impact of World War I on the South

Keith Gorman, associate professor and assistant dean for special collections and university archives, and Kathelene Smith, assistant professor and instruction and outreach archivist, presented their recent findings on the shift in women’s roles during World War I and after its conclusion, at a two-day symposium at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina. The event brought together accomplished scholars, historians, curators and archivists, as well as citizens and students, to explore the impact of World War I on the South. Topics from panelists included the effects of the war on the South’s culture, economy and politics.

The origin of the symposium is the result of a recent book, The American South and the Great War, 1914-1924, which investigates how American participation in World War I further strained the region’s relationship with the federal government, how wartime hardships altered the South’s traditional social structure and how the war effort stressed and reshaped the southern economy. Moreover, participation in World War I contributed greatly to the modernization of the South, initiating changes ultimately realized during World War II and the postwar era.

Although the war had a tremendous impact on the region, few scholars have analyzed the topic in a comprehensive fashion, making this collection a much-needed addition to the study of American and southern history. This book chapter discusses patriotism, service, and North Carolina women’s colleges during the Great War. Gorman and Smith argue that women joined in the war effort “as an opportunity to encourage positive change in the lives of women,” (p.116), while college administrators, faculty and students at North Carolina’s women’s colleges used the war as an opportunity for women to challenge the typical stereotypes of women during the 20th century.