Winter 2009: Features

Emory Campus in twenties


‘Really Hard Times’

Jake Ward remembers Depression-era Emory

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By Paige P. Parvin 96G

Judson C. “Jake” Ward 33C 36G was a carefree Emory freshman in late October 1929 when Wall Street was rocked by the most dramatic stock market plunge in history. The son of a grocer from what was then rural Marietta, Ward was embracing college life with zest, throwing himself into his classes, meeting classmates, and pledging a fraternity. To him, Wall Street seemed worlds away.

Judson C. “Jake” Ward

Judson C. "Jake" Ward

“The stock market crash didn’t mean much to us; we were poor people,” Ward says. “But then the Depression came on, and things changed from being easy my freshman year to turning sour after that.”

By Ward’s sophomore year, the crash had taken its toll, and the Depression was beginning to grip the nation. Rather than spending his free time having fun with his fraternity brothers, Ward was now obliged to go home every weekend to work in his dad’s grocery store. He would ride the trolley car up to Marietta on Friday evening with a suitcase full of dirty clothes for his mother to wash. Then he would work all day on Saturday to earn $2.50, money that helped him eat and buy needed supplies during the weeks at school.

Ward wasn’t the only one. “My recollection is that everybody was looking for any way to make a little money,” he says. “Students would work in a restaurant or in someone’s house stoking furnaces. There was a great rush to take any job to make fifty cents or a dollar.”

Some students were forced to leave school. Eventually, Ward’s father’s grocery store went bankrupt and had to close.

“I remember being at home, listening over the radio to Roosevelt’s inaugural address,” Ward says. “We didn’t know whether we would lose our home as well as the store. We didn’t, but the store closing was hard. Those were really hard times.”

The Depression shaped not only Ward’s college experience, but his career. He wanted to be a lawyer, but he knew he would never be able to afford law school and all the necessary books. Instead, he chose graduate school in history, and after graduating took a job teaching high school English in south Georgia. Later, he did additional graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he lived in a room in a professor’s house and graded papers to earn money. “You just struggled,” he says. “You didn’t have money to go to a movie, didn’t have money to do anything.”

Ward went on to serve in the Army and later became the youngest college president in Georgia, at the Georgia Teachers College in Statesboro. Fifteen years after graduating from Emory, he returned to serve for the next half-century as dean of Emory College, vice president and dean of the faculties, executive vice president, and then dean of alumni. At ninety-six, Ward is still in his office at Miller-Ward Alumni House two mornings a week.

Looking back to the Depression years, he says, “The difference between today and then is like night and day. Emory was not a very affluent college; it didn’t have scholarships and help available like it does now. But the University did whatever it could to help the students.”

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