In 1918, Northeastern University began its relationship with the US Army with the creation of the Student Army Training Corps. This program was created in response to America’s entry into World War I and ended shortly after the war ended. The relationship was rekindled with the creation of the Army Specialized Training program in 1943 and was created in response to America’s involvement in World War II. This program also ended with the conclusion of the conflict it was meant to support.
In January 1951, Northeastern University officially formed an ROTC department in support of the Army Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps. The first commissioning class graduated in 1955. Northeastern University Army ROTC has since commissioned over 3,800 cadets in the U.S Army, U.S Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
Northeastern University Army ROTC enrolled 886 men in its inaugural year, making it one of the largest non-military campus programs in the nation. By the end of the decade, the program reached upwards of 2,800 cadets. After Congress passed the 1964 Vitalization Act, the program was changed to support a general military science education, allowing cadets to choose from any Army branch upon commissioning. Northeastern University Army ROTC was opened to women at the start of the school year in 1973.
During the 1960s, as the nation’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict escalated, calls to expel Army ROTC from Northeastern increased drastically. By 1975, enrollment was down to only 200 cadets. The continued anti-war sentiment held by a large segment of the student body and faculty was partially to blame for these decreased enrollment. Protesting ROTC on campus during this time became part of an overall anti-Vietnam War campaign. Although student and faculty groups tried repeatedly to dissolve the ROTC program, a majority of the campus population continued to support the organization and the president of Northeastern at the time, Asa Knowles, refused to terminate the program. Due to President Knowles’ support, the battalion’s mission to train and commission officers continued without interruption while many other programs in the nation were dissolved.
Northeastern’s partnership program, at Boston College has a history that dates to 1870, when military drill was established as a form of exercise. A sergeant in the Regular Army initially provided the instruction, but there was no contractual agreement between Boston College and the War Department. Following WWI, Boston College established a voluntary ROTC unit, which began in February 1919 with 137 cadets. Army ROTC was formally instituted at Boston College in July 1947 under Colonel James M. Lewis, and was branch affiliated with Field Artillery. By 1950, there were 438 cadets and by the end of the decade, there were more than 600 in the program. In all, more than 1,700 officers have received their commissions from Boston College Army ROTC since its inception. On December 10, 1969, the Academic Senate voted to reduce ROTC to the status of an extracurricular activity in response to pressure brought out by America’s involvement in Vietnam. On October 2, 1970, the Board of Directors voted to sever Boston College’s ties with the Army.
In 1983, with the establishment of the US Army Cadet Command, the Northeastern University Army ROTC Detachment was designated the Liberty Battalion, a subordinate of the New England Brigade, in the 1st Region. On September 11, 1984, a cross-enrollment agreement between Boston College and Northeastern University reestablished the program at Boston College after a 14 year absence. In the 1990’s, Suffolk University Army ROTC, also once a separate battalion, became affiliated with Liberty Battalion.
Today, Liberty Battalion trains approximately 120 cadets at multiple campuses in the Boston metro area. These schools include the host institution, Northeastern University and the extension school, Boston College, along with Wentworth Institute of Technology, Simmons College, Suffolk University, Emmanuel College, Regis College, Framingham State University, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Berklee College of Music.