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University of Memphis Centennial Moment
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Students at fledgling West Tennessee Normal School played their part in World War I.
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Students and faculty gathered on the front steps of the Administration Building to celebrate the new name. Other notable events in the 1940s: After former President John Willard Brister died in his sleep at the end of the “Depression Decade,” Richard C. Jones became and served as president until 1943. Movie star Dick Powell visited the campus in the early ’40s and chose six “Vanity Fair Queens.” But after the invasion of Pearl Harbor, campus life quickly changed. Students exchanged textbooks for rifles and left the college for Bataan and Corregidor.

Students who stayed on campus built an industrial arts building as members of the National Youth Administration. They also volunteered at Kennedy Hospital. In 1943, Dr. Jennings B. Sanders became president of the college. At age 43, he was the youngest person to occupy the president’s chair, and the first to hold a PhD. Prior to Sanders’ presidency, the college had lost its academic standing with the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. His top goal was to have the school reinstated and it took him just three months to do so.

During the war, Memphis State became a pilot training center; pilots were housed on the third floor of Mynders Hall. In 1944, of 17 seniors, only two were males, with less than 20 male students attending on all levels. Jack Millard Smith became president in 1946 and would lead the school until 1960. In 1947, student Barbara Walker was selected Miss America, the last to be crowned in a swimsuit.

1941 brought a new name for the school: Memphis State College. Students and faculty gathered on the front steps of the Administration Building to celebrate the new name.
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Last Updated: 1/8/13