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GU History: 1913-1940

A guide to the history of Gonzaga University


When the United States officially entered World War I in 1917, Gonzaga students wanted to enlist and join the war effort. President James Brogan, S.J., looked for ways to keep them on campus. Initially, he persuaded officers at Fort Wright to provide drill instructors. Gonzaga then negotiated with the Department of War to establish a Students Army Training Corps (SATC) that began in the fall of 1918. For that program, selected students and faculty were sent to the Presidio in San Francisco for 60 days of training. Afterward, these students and teachers would help officers assigned to Gonzaga.

Gonzaga's Students Army Training Corp

Gonzaga’s Students Army
Training Corp, 1918

This program allowed students from ages 18-21 to continue their schooling and at the same time prepare themselves for the nation’s service. Rifles, uniforms, and other equipment were sent. The 350 students who joined received the rank and pay of a private.  In the program’s first month, Capt. Theophilus Steele replaced Col. W. R. Abercrombie as commandant and Abercrombie was reassigned. After the armistice was signed, the SATC disbanded in December 1918.

Later, a certificate was sent to Gonzaga in November 1921from the adjutant general. It stated: “This is to certify that Gonzaga University, in a spirit of patriotism and of devotion to country, rendered efficient and loyal service in connection with The World War through the establishment and operation at that institution of a unit of the Students Army Training Corps.”

President James Brogan
President James Brogan,
Gonzaga President 1913-1920;
Photo courtesy of the Jesuit
Oregon Province Archives, 1084.03

As the SATC was being formed, Gonzaga was hit with another deadly illness: Spanish influenza. By October 1918 there were over 100 cases of influenza on campus. Two students and a Jesuit priest died, as well as a young girl, Mary O’Brien, who was on campus taking care of the sick students. The infirmary, Goller Hall, was filled to capacity for the first and only time.

After the War’s end, Gonzaga began its first “Greater Gonzaga” campaign to help finances. President Brogan took the lead. By 1919, 563 students attended the university with 274 of them living on campus. The university needed a $150,000 dormitory building and to pay off its $120,000 debt, which it had carried for 15 years. Despite the efforts of many, only $100,000 was donated. This was applied to the debt.

Gonzaga High School
Gonzaga High School
Graduation Class, 1920.
Bing is in the second row,
second from right



During this time, Bing Crosby and his older brothers attended Gonzaga High School and Gonzaga University as day students. Bing graduated from high school in 1920 and began to study law at the university. He was involved with many extracurricular activities. He left in 1924 to pursue music instead of law. He kept close ties to his alma mater while becoming a nationally recognized entertainer. He credited his success from his Gonzaga education.



GU versus Washington
State College, 1923

Nationally, football was becoming a symbol of school status. Gonzaga administrators began to accept this idea. Football had been banned from 1901 to 1907. In the 1920s football became a major sport at Gonzaga with the arrival of Coach Gus Dorais. He started what would be the finest Gonzaga football program. Under his leadership, GU started a passing game which gave him a 20-13-3 record in 5 seasons. Gonzaga gained national attention in 1922 when it met the University of West Virginia on Christmas Day in San Diego, even though they lost 21-13. A rivalry was developed between Gonzaga and Washington State College, now Washington State University.

Football Stadium
Football Stadium,
about 1922

With civic involvement, a football stadium was built on campus in 1922. Dominating a large portion of campus property, the stadium cost $100,000 and was considered the finest in the west. The grandstands could hold 12,000. It included football field, a quarter-mile regulation track with eight lanes, baseball diamond, press boxes, clubhouses, and restrooms. Lights were added in 1931. In addition to hosting Gonzaga games and events, this stadium was also used by the city of Spokane.

Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth with
Gonzaga football coach
Clipper Smith, 1928

On November 16, 1926, home run king George Herman “Babe” Ruth came to campus to meet the Gonzaga football team. Ruth was in Spokane for a week at the Pantages Theater. At 200 pounds, Ruth wore the biggest football suit available at Gonzaga. After punting the ball a few times, he met with members of the team, and gave a short talk and said that he was unofficially picking them to win the Homecoming game on Thanksgiving Day against Washington State College. (WSC beat Gonzaga 7-0 with a crowd of over 10,000 at Gonzaga

Early bulldog mascot
Early bulldog mascot, 1920s

The football teams were called the “Blue and Whites” or “the Fighting Irish” like Notre Dame. However, after a football game in 1921 a reporter wrote that Gonzaga fought tenaciously like bulldogs. Thus, that description became the new mascot. Over the years, Gonzaga has had numerous live bulldogs as mascots, which have been replaced in the eighties by a human wearing a costume. Today’s live bulldog “Q” is enjoying retirement while “Spike”, the human mascot attends athletic events.

Knights of the Kennel
Knights of the Kennel, 1924-1925

The Knights of the Kennel, ancestors to today’s Knights, began in September 1924. Their purpose was to take over the obligations of the former G-Club. This included keeping order and ushering at all athletic events, greeting visiting teams, and providing them hospitality. The group was limited to freshmen and sophomores.

Golgotha Passion Play, 1924

In 1924 Gonzaga presented the biblical drama "Golgotha" to the Spokane community. (Golgotha play program) [no caption] Gonzaga was the first college in the Northwest to attempt this difficult to stage production. The play was considered to be the greatest of the American Passion Plays, which were very popular at the time. "Golgotha" consisted of a prologue and seven scenes which depicted the stages of the life of Christ, from the death of John the Baptist to the betrayal and crucifixion. Excluding the orchestra and choir, 187 students with 45 principals performed. Because of the magnitude of this production, the class schedule was changed and night classes were deferred. The elaborate costumes were either rented from San Francisco or were made by members of the Mothers' Club. The scenery was designed in Spokane by Twin Cities Scenic Company of St. Paul, Minnesota. The American Theater was leased for eight days for daily performances, where up to 1500 people attended. After expenses, $7,000 was applied to build a dormitory.

Mike Pecarovich as Judas
Mike Pecarovich
as Judas, 1924

Given that is was successful, the University staged "Golgotha" again in 1925. The cast number was increased to 240. Michael Pecarovich, who was sensational as Judas, repeated his performance, although by now he was a member of the faculty. Some stage settings were redesigned and costumes were found in Hollywood. This second year was not as successful and cost the University $11,000. Gonzaga did not offer this drama again.

Desmet Hall 1927
DeSmet Hall, 1927

The student body continued growth caused problems as to where to house the students. Work began in spring of 1925 to build the university’s first dormitory, a four-story building with 72 double rooms costing $98,000. On Saturday, October 25th, DeSmet Hall opened. A football game followed in the Gonzaga Stadium, where 5000 people saw Gonzaga defeat Idaho 12 to 3. The game was played to help pay for the hall. Contrary to campus folklore, Bing Crosby was not kicked out of school because he threw a piano off of DeSmet Hall. He had already left Gonzaga in the spring of 1924.

By 1922, the grade school department had been dissolved at Gonzaga, leaving the High School and University sections. By 1926, a separate high school administration was formally established, although it shared the same president as the university. By 1954 the high school, now called Gonzaga Prep, left campus for its own site.

In the 1920s, Gonzaga like other institutions shortened the school year to nine months instead of ten. This allowed Gonzaga to open a Summer School program in 1924. This program grew out of a response for requests from teachers and others for college work outside the regular weekday schedule. Immediately, the program grew. At first women students had to attend Gonzaga’s classes at Holy Names Academy, but by 1928 the Gonzaga summer classrooms were open to women undergraduates, which included numerous nuns.

With the addition of Extension School, which offered Saturday, evening classes, and correspondence courses for teachers, Gonzaga officially opened its School of Education in 1928. This new school offered courses to three groups of students: undergraduate students, graduate students, and the extension group of local working teachers. The first Dean was Maurice Flaherty, who left for theological studies to become a Jesuit. Upon his return five years later, he was Dean for 25 years. Through his efforts, the School of Education became a major department.

Lyle Moore
Lyle Moore, 1927

In 1928, new Gonzaga President Daniel Reidy, who appreciated the importance of music, created a School of Music. This new school offered a Bachelor of Music. One of the 13 music faculty members hired was Lyle Moore, who started the Women’s and Men’s Glee Clubs. For two years the Music School was housed in Goller Hall. Unfortunately, Spokane could not handle such an elaborate school and it was reduced back to a department in 1930 following the departure of President Reidy.

Glee Club 1939
Glee Club, 1939-1940

One positive outcome was Lyle Moore's direction of the Men’s Glee Club, which gave its first performance in April 1930. The club was well received in Spokane and in 1932 the club began to tour the Pacific Coast. It was normal for the Glee Club to travel 5000 miles in a year. Moore also started the Bulldog Pep band, which played for a few years. This band provided music at games and accompanied the Glee Club. (Pep Band 1936) [Pep Band, 1935-1936] The Glee Club’s highlight happened in 1949, when it performed with Bing Crosby on ABC radio. For 30 years, the Men’s Glee Club flourished under his baton. By 1958, GU administrators decided to curtail its activities so that club members could spend more time on their academic endeavors instead of extracurricular activities.

engineering students
Engineering students,

In the fall of 1934, Gonzaga’s School of Engineering opened. Thirty-one students registered that first semester. The three departments were Chemical, Civil, and Electrical. Classes were taught in the Administration Building. James McGivern was appointed the Dean of the Engineering School in 1939. Under his administration, the new school became a leading engineering program.

Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby with family after
receiving Honorary Degree
from Gonzaga, 1937

In October 1937, Bing returned to his hometown and his alma mater to receive an honorary degree. This was his first visit since he left Spokane 12 years earlier. All proceeds from public events went to Gonzaga into student scholarships. After arriving by train at 7:00 a.m. Bing attended mass on campus. Afterwards, the university awarded him an honorary doctoral degree.

Bulldogs sheet music
Bulldogs of Gonzaga, Sheet Music, 1937

On Sunday afternoon, Bing attended the football game at Gonzaga Stadium against San Francisco. Before the game started, Bing gave the football team a $1000 water cart. He watched from the sidelines with his entourage of movie stars he had brought with him. More than 12,000 people got a glimpse of Bing Crosby, Connie Boswell and other celebrities. During halftime, the Gonzaga G Club made Bing an honorary three-year letterman. They also made Connie Boswell an honorary member, the only woman ever to be so honored. And then, Bing led the Glee Club in singing the new Gonzaga fight song written by Bob Burns. After the game, Bing left by rail back to Hollywood.

Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby with Gonzaga Football Team, 1937


Updated March 2015



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