Three years ago, John Marcham ’50 — a late journalist, editor and publisher from Ithaca — approached fellow journalist Brad Edmondson ’81 with an idea to create a book for the Cornell Class of 1950, celebrating its 65th reunion last June.
The book, entitled Postwar Cornell, is the result of a collaboration between Marcham, co-editor Marion Steinmann and Edmondson, who is also the President of The Sun. It tells the story of Cornell during the transformative period from 1944 to 1952, focusing on the impact of the G.I. Bill, the influx of female students and the major differences between student life then and now.
“Much would change in student life at the University in the immediate postwar years, and the catalyst was in large part the G.I. invasion,” Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government, wrote in the foreword. “This would coincide with a profound transformation of the very soul of the place, as Presidents’ Day and Malott changed Cornell from a collegiate ‘halls of ivy’ training ground for educated gentlemen and ladies, schooled in ‘gracious living,’ to a world class ‘research university’ driven by Big Science.”
In the book, Edmondson illustrates this crucial point in Cornell’s history through 67 first-person recollections of Cornell alumni, letters, articles and diary entries.
“The whole book is about this very unique cohort of men, mostly all men, who sort of just passed through college in just a few years from 1945 to 1952,” Edmondson said. “College students suddenly got a lot older. A lot of them had seen combat. They mostly had had three to four years of experience before they enrolled in college so they were not typical freshmen. It was a very brief period when the veterans of World War II went to college, but it made permanent changes in these institutions.”
The first edition of the book was published last June for the class’s reunion, just a few months after Marcham’s December 2014 death. But afterward, Edmondson said he wanted more people to read the book and experience the fascinating stories within it.
“Over the summer,” Edmondson said, “I went back through the material and took out some stuff that wouldn’t be of interest to people who were not in the class of 1950 and added some stuff about broadening the focus for a more general audience and published a second edition which is this.”
The research process for the book took about a year and half. Edmonson, with the guidance of his two editors, said he found individuals and numerous leads that would create a captivating and enriching story of the history during this time period.
“I interviewed about 67 people and I was asking them about things that had happened 65 or 70 years ago, so dates, names, the who, what, where, when was pretty fuzzy in these interviews,” Edmondson said. “I got these interviews that were emotionally great material but not really nailed down in terms of accuracy.”
Edmondson said he realized just how “compelling” the voices of these individuals were and decided at that point to let the words speak for themselves. However, he had to find primary sources in order to validate these stories.
“Cornell Archives in Kroch Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection is a playpen … It’s extremely well curated. They saved everything,” he said. “So it was just a matter of going there and digging until I found the paper that corresponded to the event that the person described to me in the interview.”
Edmondson said he is excited for others to learn about how much change has taken place since the post-war era at Cornell, particularly for women. But more than that, he is excited to hear feedback from fellow Cornellians who read the book.
“This is a book for the Cornell community,” Edmondson said. “I think it will be a great book for undergraduates to ruin their sleeps with. That was kind of why I wrote it.”
The book is available for sale at The Cornell Store and can also be purchased online.