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The Wartime Dean

James B. Edmonson's tenure as dean began in 1929, just as the nation plunged into the depths of the Great Depression, and encompassed the entirety of World War II.

James B. Edmonson
James B. Edmonson

James B. Edmonson was appointed the school’s second dean in 1929. His appointment corresponded with several changes in the School. In 1929, publication of the School of Education Bulletin began, providing alumni and educators with school news and articles written by the faculty. George E. Carrothers took over as director of high school inspection, and in 1932 the unit was renamed the Division of Cooperation with Educational Institutions. The Bureau of Appointments, established earlier for teacher placement, was merged with the University’s Committee on Vocational Counsel and Placement to form the University Bureau of Appointments and Occupational Information.

Edmonson’s tenure as dean began just as the nation plunged into the depths of the Great Depression. Responding to rapidly changing social needs would now become part of the school’s mission. The elementary school, begun before the Depression, would be completed in a revised format, but the third contemplated building, intended to be built to the north of University High School, would go unrealized. The offices and classrooms on the fourth floor of University High School, intended as a temporary expedient, would become a permanent feature.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the United States’ entry into World War II, a grim tone overtook the university. The School of Education continued to function, but with fewer students. Edmonson served as a member of the University War Board, which had charge of adapting the university to emergency war needs. Vocational education turned its focus to training mechanics and skilled war workers, as part of the National Defense Training Program. A number of faculty members enlisted in the armed forces, and the basement of the elementary school was used as supply department headquarters for the military units on campus.

When the war was over, the perception of the teaching profession gradually began to change. As former teachers who served in the war left the classroom for postwar opportunities in other fields, the shortage of teachers became cause for concern. A university committee on teacher education worked to promote teaching and increase student interest in education. A teaching conference was sponsored, and radio programs and articles in the Michigan Daily stressed teaching as a career. In many ways, the days when teaching was a “calling” were ending. By 1949, enrollment from the newly established programs in higher education and guidance and counseling shifted the student population at the School of Education. When Edmonson announced his retirement in 1952, enrollment and the number of candidates recommended for certification were showing a steady trend upward.