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Although the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) wasn't officially established in the US until 1916, the roots of ROTC history extend as far back as the early 1800s. The seeds for what would grow into the ROTC were planted at Vermont's Norwich University in 1819, then known as the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy. Founder Captain Alden Partridge established the institution as the first private college with a military curriculum. Decades later in 1862, with the passage of the Morill Act, otherwise known as the Land Grand College Act, military curriculum was mandated in every newly established land-grant university, ushering in a nationwide set of college military programs that would eventually culminate in the ROTC.
It's widely recognized by universities and U.S. military branches that Norwich University provided the genesis of the ROTC. Captain Partridge was a man dedicated to establishing a university that could prepare students for jobs in civilian or military sectors. Partridge's ideology was a natural outgrowth of his own background as an alumnus and former superintendent of West Point Military Academy. Partridge juxtaposed academic subjects that, at the time, were rarely if ever seen under the same educational roof. Students could simultaneously pursue a liberal arts and a military education. His academic innovation paved the way for the kind of accessible ROTC education prevalent today.
In 1862, Congress passed the Morill Act, which included legislation that land-grant universities must include curriculum on military tactics. The result was a wealth of new, mostly public, universities that now offered the kind of military education that Norwich had pioneered. There wasn't yet any federal program under which all the military education was grouped, but with all the right elements in place, that would prove a natural progression in ROTC history.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act into law, which formally established the ROTC as a national tool for preparing students for service in the military. The Army was the first branch of the military to establish an ROTC, and soon after the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps developed their own programs. The U.S. Coast Guard was the only branch of the military that did not establish an ROTC.
After the National Defense Act was passed, ROTC history was marked by steady growth — with occasional periods of controversy. One such period happened in the 1960s, when many student protesters of the Vietnam War began to push against the long-held practice of compulsory enrollment in ROTC programs. The legendary anti-war fervor of that period caused the government to review compulsory ROTC policy, and in 1962 the policy was changed to voluntary enrollment. The womens' rights movement also impacted ROTC history, leading to policy changes in the 1960s and 1970s that gave women the ability to participate in ROTC for the first time.
In the 1990s, some universities dropped ROTC programs in opposition to the "Don't ask, Don't tell" military policy. The policy encouraged homosexual members of the military to hide their sexual orientation or face possible discharge. In spite of controversy, however, ROTC continued to thrive in American universities.
The marines do not have an ROTC. After completion of Navy ROTC you can choose whether you want to be a navy or marine officer. The marines do, however, have a junior rotc.
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