[Note: This post continues the series on the “Layers of UTEP History“]
Whereas local and state agendas had blended to create the mining school and stretch it into a city college, national impulses would prove more influential in shaping the institution’s destiny for the next two decades. The onset of World War II cut enrollment from 1,200 to 700, but the G.I. Bill sent veterans to school in record numbers and the student population swelled to over 2,500 by 1947. These new students tended to be older, married, and more studious. To respond to such rapid growth, college leaders brought in temporary housing and a “Vet Village” sprang up where the Health Sciences and Nursing Building now sits (shown above in the top left).
National stirrings over civil rights likewise reached the campus. In 1954, Thelma White graduated from El Paso’s Douglass High School and applied to colleges in El Paso and Las Cruces. Because African Americans were prohibited from attending undergraduate programs in Texas she went to New Mexico, but in the spring of 1955 she filed a lawsuit. While the case worked its way toward victory in the U.S. District Court in El Paso, the Board of Regents voted to admit African Americans to the El Paso branch of the university. In the fall of 1955, twelve African American students were admitted to the first college in the state of Texas to desegregate its undergraduate program (UT-Austin had previously desegregated its graduate program).
The college responded to external influences by reaching outward to forge partnerships with other institutions in the region and gain recognition throughout the nation. Student publications placed highly in intercollegiate competitions and the ROTC rifle team won the national championship in 1954. Faculty members wrote books about literature and the Southwest, earned recognition for metalwork and sculpture, and hosted an international organization of teachers. Carl Hertzog launched Texas Western Press in 1952 and the following year the Kidd Seismic Observatory joined a network of regional geographic analysis. The establishment of the Schellenger Research Labs in 1953 marked the college’s entrance into research contracting, with projects funded by a government and private industry client list that would grow to include White Sands Missile Range, Asarco, El Paso Natural Gas Company, the U.S. Army, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.
The school acquired a distinctly western feel during this era, though many elements do not remain: riding stables rose (1945) and fell (1958), new rodeo grounds were later replaced by the Brumbelow Building and a driving range by the Don Haskins Center, Vet Village was dismantled in 1963, the Schellenger Research Labs flourished before fading. However, several campus buildings were constructed: Cotton Memorial, the east end of the Union Building, Magoffin Auditorium, the Science Building (now Psychology), and the lower levels of the Administration Building. In 1949, this regional college received a new name that identified both its emerging regional reach and its physical relationship to the rest of the state–Texas Western College.
1946: Vet Village, Cotton Memorial, men’s dorm (Hudspeth)
1947: Enrollment reaches 2,000, Union Building, women’s dorm (Bell)
1948: University Women’s Club
1949: Renamed Texas Western College
1950: Magoffin Auditorium, Science Building (Psychology)
1952: Texas Western Press, Kidd Memorial Seismological Observatory
1953: Schellenger Research Labs
1955: Administration Building, first African American students admitted