Written By: Ben Cosgrove

What you see here in these snowy photos is a metaphorical tip of the iceberg. During World War II, with the role of women beginning to change in society at large and also in the military, this was  the very first class of women — at the University of New Hampshire, as it turns out — to undergo training similar to that of men in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

As LIFE magazine told its readers in an article from its Jan. 11 1943 issue titled, “New Hampshire Coeds Toughen Up for War”:

If, as the natives whisper, Daniel Webster sometimes revisits his childhood haunts when the wild winds whistle through the New Hampshire hills, he would find no more baffling sign of the U.S. at war than the sight of 650 rugged bare-legged girls drilling on a bleak, snow-covered field. These girls, students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, are the first organized college group in the U.S. to undergo pre-graduation training like men’s ROTC which will fit them specifically for service in the WAAC, WAVES, and other auxiliaries of the armed forces. [Their training] abandons purely recreational activities in favor of military drill and calisthenics, emphasizes body building and toughening achieved through hiking, conditioning exercises, and a going-over on the rigorous, man-sized obstacle course.

Thus far the only hitch in the rigid training regimen developed when the university’s imminent Military Art Ball made it necessary to let up on all exercises for a few days because the girls were too stiff to dance.

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills in the freezing weather, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

University of New Hampshire student Shirley Sylvester (standing) straightens shoulders of sophmore Estelle Dutton in an exercise which aids posture and strengthens pectoral muscles, 1942.

University of New Hampshire student Shirley Sylvester (standing) straightened the shoulders of sophomore Estelle Dutton in an exercise which was designed to aid posture and strengthened pectoral muscles, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Univ. of New Hampshire coeds training in 1942

Students at the University of New Hampshire during gymnasium workouts, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Coeds at the University of New Hampshire perform military drills in freezing weather, 1942.

Female students at the University of New Hampshire performed military drills in freezing weather, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Coeds at the University of New Hampshire ice skate as part of intensive, wartime physical education program, 1942.

Students at the University of New Hampshire ice skated as part of an intensive, wartime physical education program, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Coeds at the University of New Hampshire fencing in gymnasium, 1942.

Female students at the University of New Hampshire fencing in gymnasium, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Coeds at the University of New Hampshire executing front-fall exercise on gymnasium floor, 1942.

Students at the University of New Hampshire exercised on the gymnasium floor, 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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