War and Remembrance:
Hope Brockway Recalls the WW II Years at Hofstra College
By Ginny Ehrlich-Greenberg
It was the fall of 1941, and the semester at Hofstra College began filled with optimism. The entering freshman class was the largest ever for the young college, and the school's future looked bright. But events half a world away would soon conspire to change the atmosphere on campus to one of uncertainty and concern.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, and Hofstra, like the rest of the nation, was forever changed.
"There was a tremendous surge of patriotism on the campus. It just changed everybody's life overnight," recalled Hope (Morehouse) Brockway '45. "It was a very defining moment. Everyone was focused on what was happening to the country, and the feeling among the men was that college life and studies were now second to signing up and serving in the armed forces. The changes on campus happened very quickly. My husband signed and was called to serve in 1942."
"By that point Hofstra was practically all women," she continued. "All the men had joined the armed services. Except for a couple of guys who were 4F, Hofstra became primarily a women's college." Just seven months later, she said, the student body was "decimated" by World War II.
It was not quite what Hope had expected when she arrived at Hofstra College that fall, flush with anticipation of starting college with her husband-to-be, Robert Brockway '46.
"I have had two love affairs in my life," she said wistfully. The first was her husband, whom she met the summer of 1941 while vacationing in New Jersey. "The other began when I left my home in Brooklyn, took the Long Island Rail Road to Hempstead and got on the Blue Beetle for my first day of classes at Hofstra. I was so thrilled with the college campus, and in my mind it was perfect - just the way I thought college would be."
Throughout the years, Hofstra has remained an important place to the Brockways, and this year has been particularly memorable. On May 20, 2006, the couple was honored with the Marjorie and James M. Shuart Alumni Family Award for their many years of service and friendship to Hofstra. In June the Brockways also celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
Weeks after these spring festivities, Hope shared some thoughts on not only being a product of Hofstra, but being a woman who experienced college and romance during the difficult and formative years of World War II.
Ironically, the summer before her freshman year, neither Hofstra nor Bob was in the picture. "I was going to William & Mary," Hope said, "I was all signed up and had a roommate. In those days we picked out drapes and bedspreads that matched, and mother had to approve the roommate. It was a different world. Everybody liked everybody else. My mother and father put down a $500 deposit."
"And then that summer, at a lake in New Jersey, I met Bob. He said, 'Do you really want to go away to school?' I was sure I did. I was the product of a large city high school. We had 750 in our graduating class. I wanted something small, and William & Mary initially sounded ideal to me. But Bob said, 'Hofstra is right here on the Island. You ought to at least come out and see it.' So he drove me out one day. My family was very understanding. In that day and age, $500 was a lot of money to lose. I decided at the last minute that I would indeed go to Hofstra. I was a late registrant. Classes had already started when I signed up, but it turned out to be a wise decision by an 18-year-old."
Hope made that assessment despite the changes neither she nor anyone else at Hofstra could have foreseen in 1941 and in the years that followed.
"Hofstra College was only seven years old in 1942," Hofstra Archivist and Assistant Dean of Library Services Geri Solomon said of the first full college year during World War II. "Many of the enrolled students were eligible for service in the armed forces. Because the war required so many of the country's young men to enlist, educational institutions began to feel the impact.
"The student population at Hofstra College during the early 1940s became primarily women. Brower Hall, a brand-new building, had to be closed to conserve heat. The Blue Beetle bus lost its wheels due to the need to recycle rubber tires. Women students enlisted, becoming WACS and WAVES. In addition to students, many faculty members and administrators went to war. The college was in danger of closing its doors. The chair of the Board of Trustees questioned the State Regents as to how the college might go about doing this, since the chair's sanction was needed before such an action. The commissioner of education requested that the Board of Trustees consider waiting 'a bit' longer before making such a drastic decision."