Friday, July 10, 2015

The Spirit of Memorial Field

For almost a century, Dartmouth students have packed the stands of Memorial Field every Saturday in the fall to witness the Big Green play on the gridiron. Many students are unaware that they are cheering in the World War I memorial on campus.

The idea to construct a new football field to honor the fallen Dartmouth soldiers emerged immediately at the conclusion of the war. The field was part of a larger improvement of tennis courts, the hockey rink, the baseball field and secondary football fields, but Memorial Field was the focus of the campaign. Men advocated for an improvement to the athletic facilities for two reasons.

The first was practical—Dartmouth's Alumni Oval, the current football field, was outdated and inadequate for the size of the school. Second, men argued that football and war embodied the same spirit of Dartmouth men and the youthful vitality the fallen men had. War and football were both mediums for Dartmouth men to gain discipline, rigor and strong values. An article in The Dartmouthafter the announcement of the project claimed, "Not every Dartmouth man who died in France or Flanders was an athlete, to be sure, but the spirit in which they fought is exemplified nowhere in American life better than in contests on the gridiron" (The Dartmouth>, 12/15/1919). The Dartmouth spirit was highly valued in the eyes of alumni and students of the College at the time, and they looked to the football field to see tangible evidence of that spirit in action.

The football field was also where the fiber of American youth manifested through youthful actions. President Hopkins believed that, "[i]t is generally conceded that the outdoor life of the American people, and the interest of the American youth in sports, were large factors in developing the fiber of the armies which went abroad. There would seem to be a definite appropriateness in emphasizing this phase of American life in any project which should be advanced as a memorial for the Dartmouth men whose lives were lost in the Great War." (The Dartmouth, 01/17/1921). The way that Dartmouth men fought in the First World War and the way they played games on the gridiron were the same. They both required a combination of the Dartmouth spirit and the rigor and youthful strength gained on the football field and in the trenches. Only a football field would properly memorialize and perpetuate these values by both honoring the men that died and passing on the gift of youth to future generations.

Memorial Field’s forgotten origins were a key connection between football and war at Dartmouth during the early twentieth century, a link that Dartmouth men aimed to memorialize and preserve for generations to come.

To see photos of the field and memorial, ask at Rauner for the Athletic Field and War Memorials photo files. Some of the images are also available online and can be found via keyword search in the Dartmouth College Photographic Files database.

Posted for Leigh Steinberg, HIST 62 class