Local recalls UNH's military training for women

Doris Grady
photo credit: John Huff/Foster's Daily Democrat
Rugged. Dedicated. Patriotic.  These are just some of the words used to describe a series of photographs of one of the nation's first female collegiate-level military training programs. Published by LIFE Magazine in the early 1940s, these photos shed light on the University of New Hampshire's military training initiative for women during the midst of World War II.

With recent reports of the U.S. Marine Corps postponing certain strength requirements after a high percentage of female recruits failed to meet standards, LIFE's website republished these photographs, showing just how dedicated a small New England university was when it came to preparing for war.

Grady, now 90 years old, recalled many men at the university putting their studies on hold to fight overseas, leaving much of the school's training equipment untouched. Discussion soon shifted to the training of women to prepare them to serve their country as well. This led to then-director of the women's physical education program, Margaret Hoban, to develop a fitness program for females that would prepare them to serve in various military auxiliaries.

“We were all so concerned because of what Japan had done,” said Grady. “Everybody was willing to do anything they had to do at that particular time.”  As a physical education major, Grady said she was soon introduced to the all-female military-style training program. Having been an athlete all her life, Grady shared with Foster's that the university's training program was right up her alley.  “I wanted to test myself to see if I could do it,” said Grady.  Scaling walls, crawling under fences, and jumping wide ditches didn't deter Grady whatsoever. In fact, she admitted she didn't find the training to be all that difficult. “It was kind of fun,” she said as a smile spread across her face.

The program at UNH was one of the first of its kind, providing military-style training to women similar in fashion to the men's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. More than 650 female students at UNH would go on to become involved with the program in its first years, utilizing training equipment set up for men in the university's ROTC division that had been virtually abandoned after the school lost a large portion of its male population to various war efforts.  

By 1942, the women's program had gathered enough attention to spark interest among those affiliated with a notable publication known as LIFE Magazine. 

According to a New Hampshire Alumnus article published in February of 1943, LIFE's news bureau contacted university officials in December of 1942 to find out more about the program itself as well as UNH's initiative to help the country's war effort. It was soon decided that one of the publication's most respected photographers, Alfred Eisenstaedt, would travel to Durham and pay a visit to the many women participating in the university's military-style physical training program.

“I remember we all thought it was a big deal that LIFE was coming to the area, and that they were going to have one of their best photographers come,” said Grady.  Although it had been a relatively warm winter, an unexpected shift in the weather turned temperatures frigid and covered the university's grounds with heavy snow.  “We thought they were going to cancel the photo shoot, but they didn't,” said Grady.

After trudging through the snow to get to training equipment set up throughout Memorial Field, Eisenstaedt photographed hundreds of women adorned in not-so-weather-appropriate shorts and short-sleeved shirts as they navigated through the obstacle course. The Alumnus article stated that the women initially wore coats and pants during the trek through the field, shedding them when Eisenstaedt was ready to begin taking pictures.

On January 11, 1943, a seven-page spread of Eisenstaedt's photographs and an accompanying article titled “New Hampshire Coeds Toughen Up for War” was published in LIFE Magazine.

Read the article by Laurenne Ramsdell in the Foster's Daily Democrat at http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140116/GJNEWS04/140119638/-1/ROCtimes

Learn More

Call to Action A World War II fitness program put UNH in the limelight in UNH Magazine

The Saga of Life in the UNH Alumnus  http://unhmagazine.unh.edu/w10/images/about_life_magazine_story.pdf


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