As part of a nationwide protest on American college campuses, hundreds of students at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit, Michigan, walked out of their classrooms on April 22, 1936.1 This photograph, published in the Detroit Free Press, depicts a group of these students joining a demonstration at the "Old Main" recreation hall on campus to voice their opposition to the rise of fascism and advocate against US involvement in any war abroad.
Organized with help from the American Student Union (ASU), a nationwide association of socialists and communists founded in 1935, the strike was timed to mark the date of the United States' entrance into World War I in April 1917.2 Similar events around the country—which reportedly drew hundreds of thousands of student participants—featured speakers emphasizing "increasing nationalism and hatred" and warned "against the approaching menace of fascism."3
Many students participating in the Wayne strike expressed strong support for pacificism. A group called the Wayne University Peace Strike Committee, which had helped launch the April 22 events on campus, announced their intent to use the occasion to collect student signatures for the so-called Oxford Oath. The Oath—a resolution passed by students at Oxford University in 1933 declaring their vow to refuse participation in any new world war—was taken up by many American college students in 1935 and 1936. The Committee's effort to commit Wayne students to the Oath immediately met with resistance from the Detroit Board of Education. Superintendent Frank Cody ordered that reciting the Oath was forbidden on school property.4
As this photo documents, students defied Cody's orders while gathered in Wayne's "Old Main" building.5 The image captures on the platform at left a student named Loula Martin, a first-year student at Wayne who was involved in the University Student Union. Standing atop a desk, Martin appears to address the crowd with passionate determination. The Free Press reported of the gathering, "As Miss Martin read the [Oxford Oath], phrase by phrase, the students repeated the words after her."6
In their support for the Oxford Oath, the Wayne State protestors reflected young American students' wariness of another world war—a conflict that would likely require them to risk their lives. At the same time, in their rejection of fascism, the demonstrators signaled strong support for democracy and equality. Three years later, when the German invasion of Poland began World War II, the tension between these convictions would for many American students put a commitment to the Oath into question. With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the war in 1941, some would enlist to fight overseas and renounce the Oath entirely.