The passage of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (Public Law 346), popularly known as the GI Bill, created a boom for college campuses and urban housing developments that changed the American landscape. More than sixteen million men and women served in World War II. The legislation provided those veterans with unemployment benefits, money for education, and low-interest loans for homes, farms, and small businesses. Between 1945 and 1946 the number of former service men and women enrolled in America's colleges rose from eighty-eight thousand to more than one million.
An estimated forty thousand Oklahoma veterans took advantage of the educational portion of the GI Bill. On Oklahoma's college campuses temporary housing for the veterans was hastily constructed, and "veterans villages" developed. In the fall 1945 five hundred prefabricated houses were erected south of the University of Oklahoma campus, and the area became known as "Sooner City." Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University), where veterans represented 43 percent of the enrollment, used quonset huts for classrooms and laboratories. In 1946 the Veterans Village at Oklahoma A&M had a mayor, a grocery store, and a fire station. During its existence it had a peak population of approximately five thousand. At Oklahoma City University (OCU) the enrollment of sixteen hundred veterans during the 1945-46 academic year created a need to hire additional faculty, purchase library books, and expand the science laboratories. The former veterans were housed in barracks at Will Rogers Field and on the OCU campus. Author Tony Hillerman, who obtained a journalism degree at the University of Oklahoma, represents one of the thousands of Oklahomans who used the GI Bill.
The large number of former service members desiring higher education also caused the establishment as well as the expansion of vocational schools. Hundreds of them enrolled at Oklahoma A&M College's School of Technical Training at Okmulgee, opened in September 1946, and at Southwestern Institute of Technology at Weatherford. The GI Bill also covered tuition for flight training. Consequently, in February 1947 Oklahoma had 2,650 veterans enrolled at one of the many flight training schools around the state. Apparently, there were sixty-nine authorized schools just in the Oklahoma City area.
The enactment of the first GI Bill in 1944 set a precedent for future veteran benefits. Congress has passed the Post-Korean Conflict Veterans' Readjustment Act of 1952, the Veterans' Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966, the 1976 Post-Vietnam Era Veterans' Education Assistance Program, and the 1984 Montgomery G. I. Bill Program.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Michael J. Bennett, When Dreams Came True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc., 1996). David Carleton, Landmark Congressional Laws on Education (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002). George Lynn Cross, The University of Oklahoma and World War II: A Personal Account, 1941-1946 (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1980). "G. I. Bill," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Robert B. Kamm, Carolyn G. Hanneman, and Carol L. Hiner, Oklahoma State University: People, Programs, Places–The First Hundred Years (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1990).
Linda D. Wilson
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