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.”
With war raging overseas, the young women of Hofstra pitched in to keep the campus they loved running as smoothly as possible. “We’re talking about women in the ’40s,” said Hope. “Our roles were clearly defined as being at home and not working unless there was a monetary need in the family. So we were getting this education, but not all of us had a real career goal in mind. We wanted the education, and we had the interest. Speaking from my own experience, I wanted to try the workforce, but didn’t imagine I would stay in it very long.
“But because of the men having left the campus, we as the women of Hofstra were put in the position of having to do everything or it wouldn’t get done. So that meant working on The Chronicle, serving as the head of the Honor Court, student government, president of the class … everyone – all the women – took on roles that otherwise would not have been an option for them.”
Hope wrote a column for The Chronicle, served on the Student Council, was president of Seawana sorority and secretary of the Kate Mason Society, and was a member of the Honor Court. “We all multitasked before it became a popular word. I really think we were a generation ahead of women’s lib. It worked out that way because the skills we learned – such as knowing how to hold a meeting, how to run a club and how to delegate – we suddenly became very adept at…Those things, at least in my case, carried over later in life with running and working on organizations. In a strange way, that time was a huge boost getting me to try and do things that up until that point weren’t always acceptable.”
The students also leaned heavily on each other. “The word sisterhood is grossly overused,” Hope said, “but there was a real tie we all shared because we were separated from the people we were dating, the people we felt were the biggest part of our lives up to that point. We were writing letters and waiting for them to have a leave. School was a wonderful focus for us to get through those tough times.”
Meanwhile, Hofstra’s financial picture was near desperate due to the drop in enrollment. “The classes of 1943 and 1944 had one yearbook between them! The 1943 photos were in the front and the 1944 photos were in the back. In 1943 there were a total of 99 photos with 52 being women. In 1944 there were a total of 46 photos with 39 being women. However, the trustees were asked to persevere. The knowledge that life would return to ‘normal’ and that veterans would seek educational institutions upon their return from overseas helped in this decision,” she said.
World War II ended in 1945, and the fall of 1946, all previous enrollment figures were broken, said Geri. A student body of 1,824 (including an overwhelming number of veterans) swamped the campus. “Several years later, a double shift of classroom and facilities use was the only way that the demand for space could be met,” she said. “The time was at hand for building and expanding the college. Athletics were reinstated, spring queens were crowned, pep rallies and parades again graced the campus.”
Bob Brockway had returned home in 1944 and resumed his studies at Hofstra. Neither he nor Hope was the same person who set foot on the campus in September 1941. “It was a growing up time,” Hope said. “More so than if we hadn’t been through the war. Wars are very sobering. They take a big piece of your life.”
The Brockways married in 1946, and their years following college were marked by great success.
Among the positions Bob has held are vice president of marketing for commercial electronics at Sylvania Electric, vice president and general manager of Manhattan Cable Television, president of CBS’s video recording division, and president and CEO of Polygram Corporation. When Olympus Optical Company, Ltd., of Tokyo formed a U.S. subsidiary, Bob became chairman and CEO. He is a trustee emeritus of Hofstra University and a past recipient of the Hofstra Alumnus of the Year Award.
Hope did put the meeting and coordination skills she learned at Hofstra to steady use as co-founder of Huntington (NY) Meals on Wheels, officer of the Huntington Township Women’s Club and director of the Huntington Hospital Visitation Program. Over the years she has been an elder, deacon and trustee of the Old First Church in Huntington, a trustee of the Long Island Presbytery, director of the Counseling Program at the Syosset Presbyterian Residence, officer of the Nathan Hale Garden Club and a trustee of the Lloyd Harbor Historical Society. After receiving a master’s degree in counseling and community health, Hope was an instructor at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.
The Brockways have three sons and four granddaughters.
Hope to this day is impressed by the fortitude and camaraderie she shared with her Hofstra classmates in the years during World War II. “We kept the spirit going until the guys came home.”