125 Stanford Stories

NO. 102
Looking Back

When the world rushed in: Stanford after World War II

1948 film captures a moment in Stanford’s postwar transformation into a top research university

World War II and its aftermath changed America in countless ways, and Stanford was no exception.

short silent film made in 1948 and digitized for the Stanford University Archives captures the university at a moment of postwar transformation.

It’s titled Stanford in Autumn, reflecting the start of the 1948-49 school year, but its mood is spring-like as it portrays a university’s new growth.

The film is part of the Stanford Libraries exhibition “Tales from the Archives: 1891-2016,” an online and Green Library look at Stanford life and achievements over 125 years.

Made for the Stanford Alumni Association and Stanford Associates, Stanford in Autumn aims to reassure alumni that despite new ventures into research and technology, despite an influx of new students, what they valued about the university had not changed.

Its inclusion in the exhibit reflects University Archives’ commitment to preserving all kinds of content about Stanford life, from the paper records of the 19th century to the emails and texts of today.

Partly because the Stanford it depicts is still rural and homogeneous, Stanford in Autumn seems insular today. Yet close viewing hints at big change even beyond the buildings being thrown up to accommodate more than 1,000 additional students, many of them veterans on the GI Bill, and their families.

In 1948, Stanford was reeling from the unexpected death of its sociable wartime president, Donald Tresidder. His successor, Wallace Sterling, who would lead Stanford to world prominence as a research university, had not yet been chosen when the film was made. It’s acting president Alvin Eurich who dedicates the new law-school dorm, Crothers Hall, in the film.

Law School Dean Carl Spaeth, also featured, had begun the curriculum innovations that would transform legal education at Stanford and equip graduates for the highest levels of jurisprudence.

A “Microwave Building” shown under construction near today’s Science and Engineering Quad represents the enormous research and technology investment that Stanford would make in coming years.

In many ways, however, the university’s rise would stem from the great numbers of serious, mature students flocking to campus. Among them were the only two future Supreme Court justices to come from one law school class, Sandra Day [O’Connor] and William Rehnquist.

Down on Middlefield Road, off the main campus, Stanford in Autumn drives by Stanford Village, the former Army Dibble Hospital retooled as university housing for married students and military veterans and retained as men’s housing into the 1960s. It shows stay-at-home moms crammed into small quarters with full clotheslines and wriggly children.

Back at Stanford Stadium, the film shows female students watching football in the skirts and dresses then required by the university dress code.

Much of this would change in coming decades.

Horizons for women would rise. Stanford would reap the benefits of a far more diverse student body. Advances made in Stanford’s new labs and classrooms would help transform daily life.

Stanford in Autumn previews many of those changes as they begin.


Learn more about the exhibition “Tales from the Archives: 1891-2016.”

Browse the exhibition online.

Experience other multimedia from the exhibition:

Listen to founding university president David Starr Jordan proclaim “The Spirit of Stanford” in a 1916 audio recording.

Watch Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in Memorial Auditorium in 1964, inspiring Stanford students to work for civil rights.