World War I caused the University to adopt a wartime curriculum dictated by the War and Navy Departments, as the majority of the student body was composed of enlisted men on active service. As early as the summer of 1915 a few students went to the Citizens’ Training Center at Plattsburgh. The next year another and larger group, including two faculty members, attended. In 1916-17 the Brown Christian Association raised $4,300 to send two ambulances to France, and a number of Brown men volunteered to serve at their own expense with the American Ambulance Service. Later that year a Brown Ambulance Unit of 36 men left to serve in Italy. In the spring of 1917 the the Reserve Officers Training Corps, which had been informally organized under Colonel Archibald C. Matteson 1893, was recognized by the War Department and placed under Major Charles W. Abbot, USA retired, who was given the title of Professor of Military Science and Tactics. In the second semester of 1917-18, he was joined by Captain Alfred Douglas Borden of the Canadian Infantry, who had retired from active service after being wounded at Vimy Ridge. In addition to drills on campus, battle manoeuvres were held in Lincoln Woods in May of 1917 and 1918. During the summer of 1918 the University remained open to offer courses in chemistry, biology, and engineering and to accommodate 320 mechanics in two groups, who were sent by the government and lived in Lyman Gymnasium while they trained in the machine shops at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. When the Man-Power Law was passed, men eighteen years old and over registered for the draft in September 1918. These young men were encouraged to enter or return to college, and as a result, the entire student body at Brown was inducted into military service as members of the Student Army Training Corps or the Naval Unit on October 1, 1918. The Naval Training Unit with 149 inducted men and 53 Naval Reservists was under Rear Admiral John R. Edwards as Commandant. Uniforms for the unit were provided by the Class of 1878. Major Abbot was commandant of the S.A.T.C., which had inducted 393 men. The transformation of the University saw Hope College, and University, Maxcy, and Caswell Halls turned into barracks. The first floor of Rockefeller Hall was a mess hall. Rhode Island Hall was the headquarters of the Student Army Training Corps and the first floor of Manning Hall the headquarters of the Naval Unit. The Army had a brass band of twenty pieces, while the Navy had a field band of eight drums and sixteen bugles. There were cannons in front of Manning Hall. The Naval Unit had naval cutters at its disposal, and a boat for practice on the Middle Campus. From reveille to taps the students were marched to the sites of their 42 hours of class and supervised study and their additional eleven hours of military training each week. Professor James Q. Dealey was joint chairman of both the Army and the Navy programs. Professor Frederick Slocum was in charge of the Department of Naval Science. Professor Theodore H. Brown taught navigation. After the Armistice on November 11, the government ordered the disbandment of the Student Army Training Corps on December 21, 1918.
The University kept records of Brown men in military service with the help of a “War-work committee” of alumni, who also raised over $1,700 to contribute to the American University Union, headquarters for servicemen from about ninety American colleges, located at 8 Rue de Richelieu in Paris. The Women’s College did its part. The seniors gave up their Ivy Day in 1918 to devote their funds to war work, and the women made bandages, studied food conservation, and knit 85 sweaters for the Red Cross.
The statistics compiled by the War Records Committee and published in May 1919 listed 1,974 alumni, faculty, and students in military service during the war. There were 1,469 in the Army (including 391 inducted into the Students’ Army Training Corps), 44 in the Navy (including 202 in the Brown Naval Unit), 12 in the Marines, 13 in foreign armies, and 32 in “militarized service” (ambulance service, Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., etc.). Four men from Brown were in the Lafayette Escadrille, Henry A. Batchelor ’17, Hugo A. Kenyon ’16, Frank E. Starrett ’16, and Leslie E. Taber ’17. Starrett was killed in a training flight. The Soldiers Memorial Arch was dedicated on April 6, 1921 to the memory of the 41 alumni and students and the one faculty member who died in service during the war. Of these, thirteen were killed in action or died of wounds, 22 died of pneumonia or other illness, five were killed in accidents, and two died of unknown causes. On November 12, 1921, three years after the Armistice, Marshall Ferdinand Foch visited Brown, where he was greeted by a large crowd and awarded an honorary degree.