World War I


Rebecca Shelley (Lit. 1910) at the Hague. Shelley was the youngest delegate at the International Congress of Women, appointed by Myra Jordan as an "unofficial" University of Michigan delegate. 7 

World War I took the Ann Arbor campus by storm. In 1917, America joined the war alongside Britain, France, and Russia, sending thousands of troops overseas and disrupting the lives of American citizens at home. Students at the University of Michigan were no exception and bore witness to the transformation of their traditional university into a "military training faciility and a research and development resource bank."1 Ruth Bordin, author of Women at Michigan describes the effects of World War I on the campus to be that of "total disruption."2

Despite being a "total disruption," it is evident that the lives of male and female students were disrupted differently. Male students and faculty filtered out to join the war, while women remained in classes. Many women went into accelerated nursing programs or other much needed war-related studies, while others remained in the humanities and participated through the sale of bonds or volunteering.

One particular Michigan student who engaged in the war effort was Rebecca Shelley. In what Bordin calls "the largest Michigan contribution to the worldwide peace movement," Shelley met frequently with Jane Addams and participated in the sailing of Henry Ford's famous Peace Ship.3 Her efforts culminated in her being sent to the Hague in 1915 through the International Congress of Women and meeting President Woodrow Wilson in 1916--all with the intent to negotiate for peace.4

Female alumnae worked in many war positions outside of the campus. Many women became nurses and physicians while others went overseas to directly aid displaced persons.5 One alumna recalled the campus during wartime as "all torn up, into trenches--and rude constructions set up, etc., streets lined with young sailors and soldiers training to fight and protect America! Very spectacular!"6


To learn more about war efforts of Michigan women during World War I, please visit the Michigan in the World 2015’s website






1. Ruth Bordin, Women at Michigan: The "Dangerous Experiment," 1870s to the Present (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 41.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, 42. 

4. Ibid.

5. Doris E. Attaway and Marjorie Rabe Barritt, eds., Women's Voices: Early Years at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 70.

6. Ibid, 71.

7. “Rebecca Shelley (left), unidentified woman (center), Angela Morgan (right) at The Hague, 1915 (see duplicate fragment in Rebecca Shelley collection),", University of Michigan Library Digital Collections, Accessed: June 23, 2016.

8. Ruth Bordin, Women at Michigan, 43.