Alexander W. Williams arrived on Notre Dame’s campus in 1943 unsure of what the next several years had in store for him. He moved into a dorm filled with new faces from all around the country. And he received very specific instructions about the type and color of underwear he could wear.
“The thought of it all ending up in the garbage just kind of horrified me,” Oberholtzer explains.
She located an eager recipient in South Bend. The Archives is charged with documenting and preserving the University’s history. A key ingredient to their collections has always been original documents, photographs, and memorabilia given to them by Notre Dame alumni, students, parents, and friends. These contributions help the Archives preserve the Notre Dame experience across generations. The collection donated by Oberholtzer lent greater detail and imagery to one of Notre Dame’s most unusual eras.
Williams grew up far from South Bend on a small dairy farm outside of Washington, D.C. Intent on going into the family business, he earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science from Virginia Tech in 1939. He then obtained a master’s degree in the same discipline from Penn State. During his stay in Happy Valley, Williams met and fell in love with Oberholtzer’s mother. The couple wed in the summer of 1941 and moved to Birmingham, where he worked as a health inspector.
This document also spelled out exactly the types and amounts of clothing Williams should bring: 1 pair of gymnasium shoes; 2 pairs of Navy regulation black shoes, plain toe, lace (no buckles); 2 pairs of athletic shorts; 1 athletic supporter; 2 pairs of white woolen athletic socks; 6 pairs of black socks; and 2 pairs of pajamas. Williams was informed that he would be given four sets of “regulation underwear,” and that any additional underwear he wished to purchase had to be “of a regulation pattern (‘T’ shirts and white shorts).” The document also made clear exactly what Williams should not bring to South Bend, including a car and his wife.
The photographs Oberholtzer gave to the Archives underline a fact of life at Notre Dame in the mid-1940s: Campus was overrun with military men and women. Due to the war, Notre Dame’s civilian undergraduate enrollment dwindled to less 300 students, according to Thomas J. Schlereth’s book, The University of Notre Dame: A Portrait of Its History and Campus. The presence of the Navy kept campus humming during this crucial period, and Notre Dame continues to value its relationship with the Navy and the armed forces more broadly.
Obertholtzer is thrilled that these materials will serve a purpose at Notre Dame. “I just wanted the material to go somewhere...and just to perpetuate the record of something unique that had happened there,” she says. “This whole thing has been such a gratifying, interesting experience for someone to really be that interested in what I had sent. I just wanted it to live on.”
The staff at the Archives is just as grateful. They value contributions from alumni, students, parents, and friends, from photographic evidence of past campus life to general documentation of previous eras at Notre Dame -- even the fact that all Midshipmen in 1943 had to wear standard white underwear.