UCLA in the 1940s

In celebration of UCLA’s first 100 years, we’re traveling back to our early days to visit some of the people, places and moments in time that have had a lasting impression on who we are as a university. UCLA - 1940s
Entering its third decade, UCLA had transformed from a two-year teachers’ college into a full-fledged university set on a hilltop in the midst of a growing city. The decade would be defined by forces far beyond the school’s campus, as the United States entered World War II, an event that would touch every aspect of life at UCLA. As always, UCLA would rise to the occasion, emerging from the decade stronger and more determined than ever to create a better world for all.
Tom Bradley
Mayor Tom Bradley
In 1940, UCLA student Tom Bradley left his studies before graduating, driven by a desire to serve his community. The grandson of a slave, Bradley earned a scholarship to UCLA, where he distinguished himself as a scholar and captain of the track team. Joining the Los Angeles Police Department, he rose to the rank of lieutenant, the highest attainable position for an African American at the time, while attending law school in the evenings. Bradley became the first African American member of the Los Angeles City Council and made history in 1973 as the first African American mayor of Los Angeles. The beloved public servant served an unprecedented five terms, transforming the city into an international leader, bringing the 1984 Summer Olympic games, modernizing LAX and leaving a legacy as the unifier of a diverse metropolis.
UCLA Coast Artilllery Unit
UCLA Coast Artillery Unit
In December 1941, the United States entered World War II. Students, alumni and faculty enlisted or were drafted to serve in the military or went to work for the war effort. Southern California was a defense industry hub — building aircraft, ships and supplies. Army, Navy and Air Corps programs moved in across campus, fraternity houses became dormitories and Kerckhoff was turned into a mess hall. During the war, enrollment declined, especially among men, reaching a low of 5,560 students in 1944, down from 10,000 students at the end of the 1930s.
Robert Conrad
Robert Conrad killed at Pearl Harbor
More than 6,000 members of the UCLA community served in World War II, and 260 students, faculty and alumni were killed. Among them was Seaman 2nd Class Robert F. Conrad, a member of UCLA’s Coast Artillery Unit. Conrad was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and was killed in the bombing of the battleship USS Arizona.
Dorothy Nichols
Dorothy Nichols died transporting a fighter plane.
Dorothy Nichols ʼ38 joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in 1942 and trained to become a licensed pilot. A history major and member of the Cercle Français at UCLA, her job was to transport warplanes between destinations. Nichols died when her P-39 fighter plane’s engine stalled on take-off. She was one of five UCLA women, three of them pilots, to be killed in the war.
Moe Yonemura
Hitoshi “Moe” Yonemura, a popular Yell leader killed in the war.
Hitoshi “Moe” Yonemura, was a popular UCLA student and head yell leader. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066, authorizing the mass removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, Yonemura was sent with his family to Manzanar War Relocation Center. From Manzanar, Yonemura enlisted in the U.S. Army, becoming an officer with the Cannon Company of the 442nd Regimental Army combat unit. 2nd Lt. Yonemura was killed in action in April 1945.
Daily Bruin - Japanese Evacuation Day
Executive Order No. 9066 radically changed the lives of Japanese Americans, including 175 UCLA students. Akio Hirashiki Yamazaki, president of Chi Alpha Delta, the country’s oldest Asian American sorority, was only a few credits short of graduation when she was forced to leave and interred at Santa Anita Park. Yamazaki and other Japanese American campus leaders wrote to the Daily Bruin that they had never “known loyalty to any country other than the country of our birth… Individually and collectively, we plead that our friends will accord us the same impartiality and tolerance which they have shown us in the past.”
On the 50th anniversary of the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans, Yamazaki was awarded her bachelor’s degree in dietetics. In May 2010, UCLA honored all affected students with special honorary degrees inscribed, “to restore justice among the groves of the academy.”
Selling War Bonds
Selling War Bonds and Stamps to the crowds at the football game, 1944
UCLA students who remained on campus felt the impact of these events, and the ongoing war, as well. A Student War Board was formed to coordinate volunteer efforts. Sugar and gasoline were rationed, students sold war bonds at the Bruin Victory Cave in Royce Quad, planted victory gardens, organized blood drives and collected gifts to be sent to troops overseas.
Victory Bell
The Victory Bell
However changed, college life continued as UCLA settled in at the Westwood campus. These years saw the start of many cherished Bruin traditions celebrated to this day. In 1942, the annual USC-UCLA football game fell a few days after the one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor. To honor the date, students made the game a war bond drive, raising over $2 million. For the first time UCLA beat USC 14–7, a victory sweetened by reclaiming the Victory Bell. A year earlier, USC students had infiltrated the Bruin rooting section and stolen the bell, a gift from the Alumni Association. After a year of retaliatory pranks between the schools, student leaders agreed that the winner of the annual football game would keep the bell for the following year. While at UCLA, the bell is painted “True Blue” and safeguarded by the UCLA Rally Committee.
In 1944, a competition between fraternities began a tradition as they competed to be named the “Champion Serenaders of Sorority Row.” In 1945, ASUCLA director William Ackerman ’24 arranged a co-ed singing contest held in Royce Hall called Spring Sing. The winners’ albums were distributed with yearbooks and sold in the student store. Today the popular annual event, hosted by the UCLA Alumni Association and Student Alumni Association, draws a crowd of over 8,000 to Pauley Pavilion to hear UCLA’s most talented students perform.
Following the war, UCLA embarked on a $38 million construction program, the largest campus project in America at the time. Several of UCLA’s premier graduate schools were established during this period — including funding and building the engineering, nursing, law and medical schools. In 1945, Clarence A. Dykstra, a professor of political science and an advocate for on-campus housing, became UCLA’s first post-World War II provost. Dykstra reversed a regental policy to establish UCLA’s first dormitories. UCLA’s Dykstra Hall opened in 1959 and was the first co-ed residence hall in the country.
UCLA students using a cyclotron, 1949
UCLA students using a cyclotron, 1949
The aerospace work at UCLA during the war showcased the need for a college of engineering. The UCLA Alumni Association spearheaded a successful drive for the school, petitioning former Alumni Association president and Lieutenant Governor Frederick Houser ’26 to sponsor a funding bill. The School of Engineering, now the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, was established in 1944 and classes began in 1945 with 379 students under the leadership of Dean L.M.K. Boelter. The school grew quickly, acquiring a modern electron microscope and moving into a new building. Barbara Wynn Pritzkat ’48 was among the first graduates and the first female graduate. Pritzkat went on to work for Northrop in the aircraft industry, later earning a certificate in archaeology from UCLA Extension.
Medical School future site
In 1949, Gov. Warren (left) and UCLA’s first medical school dean, Stafford Warren, inspect the future site.
The 1940s also saw the start of what is today recognized as one of the most comprehensive and advanced health care systems in the world, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Health. For some time Los Angeles’ doctors had rallied for the University of California to establish a local medical school, and in 1945, UC President Sproul presented the Regents with the need for medical facilities in Southern California. Alumni spearheaded a fundraising drive, led by local assemblyman M. Philip Davis ’28, who wrote a bill calling for $7 million in funding. In the fall of 1951, the first 28 students, 26 men and two women, began attending classes under Dean Stafford Warren, who’d served on the Manhattan Project. For his advocacy, Davis received the first Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year Award in 1946. Since then, the Alumni Association has honored individuals who exemplified the True Bruin spirit, from Jackie Robinson to Carol Burnett ’54, through the annual UCLA Awards.
Bruin Nurses, 1950
Bruin Nurses, 1950
The School of Nursing got its start this decade as well. UCLA had offered classes in nursing education since the 1920s. When the war ended, nurses leaving military service came to UCLA through the G.I. Bill, creating the need for an expanded program. Dean Lulu Wolf, an innovator in teaching and research, modernized nursing education. Although UCLA didn’t yet have a hospital, UC Regents authorized the school in 1949 and classes began in 1950 with students nicknamed “Flossie Bruin.”
In the 1940s, local Los Angeles politician William Rosenthal wanted to create an affordable, local alternative to the city’s private law schools. The UCLA Alumni Association and the State Bar of California got behind the idea. In 1947, Governor Warren authorized $1 million for the school’s construction. The UCLA School of Law opened in 1949 in former military barracks behind Royce Hall, becoming the first public law school in Southern California. UCLA Law soon became the youngest top-ranked law school in the United States.
As UCLA grew, the alumni finance committee proposed the UCLA Progress Fund to generate philanthropy for UCLA. Approved by the regents in 1943, the Progress Fund was the predecessor of the UCLA Foundation, which manages the resources generously donated towards advancing the university.
Officers of the Alumni Association, 1944
Officers of the Alumni Association, 1944
UCLA alumni continued to advocate for equal status in the University of California where the only alumni voice on the Board of Regents was the president of the Berkeley Alumni Association. UCLA leaders advocated for equal representation and in 1948, the schools reached a compromise, forming the Alumni Association of the University of California. In even years the president of the UCLA Alumni Association would serve and in odd years the positions would be reversed. In 1948, UCLA alumni president Paul Hutchinson ’26, a lawyer who urged regents to establish a law school at UCLA, became the first UCLA Alumni Association regent.
In the late 1940s, with the rise of fears of Communism on college campuses, members of the UC system were suspected of so-called un-American activities. In 1949, UC Regents required faculty and staff to disavow membership in the Communist Party and swear a loyalty oath. By 1950, nearly 100 faculty and staff had been dismissed for refusing to sign.
John Wooden
Coach Wooden in his first year as head coach of UCLA Men’s Basketball.
As the decade drew to a close, another individual who would have a lasting impact on UCLA joined the campus. In 1948, John Wooden became the head coach of UCLA Men’s Basketball and began building the foundation for one of the most successful careers in sports history, winning a record 10 NCAA championships. However, Wooden’s impact would go well beyond basketball as a teacher and leader. He became one of sports’ most heralded coaches, an inspiration and beloved part of UCLA’s spirit.
The 1940s were a time of great tragedy on the world stage, yet they were also a testament to a fighting spirit, honoring the sacrifices of many while forging ahead into the future. Many of our treasured UCLA traditions began during these years — Spring Sing, Mardi Gras, the battle for the Victory Bell and the annual Alumni Awards. UCLA also founded several world-renowned professional schools, including the UCLA School of Law, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, UCLA Nursing School and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. UCLA continued to gain an independent voice in the UC system, as alumni earned representation in the UC Board of Regents and established the Progress Fund to help ensure the financial longevity of the university. Each step forward has touched thousands of lives transforming them for the better.
UCLA would begin the 1950s with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. With an influx of students and a growing campus, UCLA was poised to enter the challenges and successes of a new decade.