For the Record: ROTC at Penn

ROTC at Penn

University Archives and Records Center

The Students Army Training Corps was established at Penn in 1917 to educate and train students for World War I. About a year later, it evolved into the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Students in the Army ROTC program took courses in military science and tactics, with requirements set by the U.S. War Department. Completing the four-year program qualified students for commissions in the army.

At that time, the Corps at the University had 2,440 men in the Army unit and a supplemental naval unit with 450 men. As students under the authority of the U.S. government, the students received free tuition, clothing, board, and lodging, as well as pay as soldiers or sailors.

During World War II, the ROTC’s role was reduced and the Army Specialized Training Program (A.S.T.P.) role was enhanced in order to train specialists more quickly. In 1943, Penn became one of the locations for A.S.T.P. trainees to receive instructions on topics such as advanced engineering, personnel psychology, and foreign languages, such as Moroccan Arabic, Russian, Chinese, and French. Later, the curriculum also included medical, dental, and veterinary courses. 

Penn turned over its fraternity houses and dorms to the Army and Navy during the War for its more than 3,000 trainees; the Palestra became an Army-Navy mess hall.

By the spring of 1946, A.S.T.P. was demobilized and ROTC was reactivated. 

In the late 1940s, the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps grew out of its Army counterpart and existed for nearly a decade before being deactivated because of a post-Korean War drop in enrollment. Penn had an active Army ROTC program through the 1990s, when it merged with Drexel's Army ROTC program.

Today, Penn’s NROTC program prepares students for service as unrestricted line officers in the Naval Reserve or Marine Corps Reserve. It’s a joint program with Temple and Drexel, with ROTC units participating in physical training at Penn twice a week.

For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives website.

Originally published on February 21, 2013