‘The University of San Francisco School of Law Century: 100 Years of Educating for Justice’

Edited by Angie Davis, Director of Communications, USF School of Law

Written by Alan Ziajka, University Historian and Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
School of Law Book Cover

(From chapter 3, pages 29-31)

War and Financial Crisis

His airplane went into a tailspin 400 feet from the ground when all of its controls failed. The pilot could see the ploughed ground coming up fast below as he struggled to pull his aircraft out of its dive. If only he had been a little higher when his plane went out of control, he thought as he crashed into the farm field with a deafening roar. Weeks later, Lieutenant Frank Flynn, the plane’s pilot, wrote to his former classmates at the University of St. Ignatius College of Law: “I was fortunate enough to escape with a broken nose and a face that was literally broken from cheek to cheek, but thanks to God, I suffered no internal injuries. Before coming home, I went up alone once just to see how it felt. The old fascination still remained, and I am waiting anxiously for the time when I shall be allowed to rejoin the Black Cat Squadron.”

Frank Flynn was one of ninety-one law students from the University of St. Ignatius College of Law who served in World War I. Overall, 380 former students and faculty members from the undergraduate programs and the colleges of law and engineering volunteered or were drafted into various military branches in the years after the war erupted in 1914. Many of the school’s former students, such as Lieutenant Flynn, were injured or wounded, and ten former students from the University of St. Ignatius died during the war.

Already undergoing declining enrollment due to the economic conditions in the Bay Area, the University of St. Ignatius saw even greater declines due to students joining the war effort. The new College of Law was the only bright spot on the enrollment landscape, having increased from forty-nine students in 1912 to ninety-seven students the next year. After the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917 and the Selective Service Act was passed by Congress in May of that year, the number of students at the university who were eighteen or older declined to less than 100. Enrollment at the College of Law, which had increased to 149 by 1916, started to decline as the draft was instituted and more men volunteered. The number of law students decreased to sixty-two by 1918.

On the evening of May 12, 1918, a special ceremony was held in St. Ignatius Church to bless a service flag for those students and alumni of the University of St. Ignatius who were then fighting and dying in World War I. The nearly four-year-old church, on the corner of Fulton Street and Parker Avenue, had celebrated its first Mass on August 2, 1914, two days before the major powers of Europe began hostilities. By April 1917, much of the rest of the world, including the United States, had been drawn into the war. Ultimately, two million Americans served in the military during World War I.

On November 11, 1918, Germany and the Allies signed an armistice ending the war. With the armistice, the Students Army Training Corps at the University of St. Ignatius began to disband, and by the end of 1918, it was completely demobilized. As the veterans began to return to their university, Dionysius Mahoney, SJ, minister of the Jesuit community, was prompted to note in his diary that the “old order of things is steadily returning.” The June 1919 issue of the Ignatian made several references to the reestablishment of normal college life. Edward Molkenbuhr, a third-year law student and future San Francisco County Superior Court judge, wrote in the Law School Notes section of the Ignatian: “The signing of the World War armistice has had a salutary effect upon the ranks of the Junior Law Class. No longer is the class decimated; it certainly fills one with pride to witness a filled class room and to welcome home and into the fold true American soldiers and sailors, who readily responded to Freedom’s call.”

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