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The Creation of the G.I. Bill of Rights of 1944: Melding Social and Participatory Citizenship Ideals

  • Suzanne Mettler (a1)
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The G.I. Bill of Rights, formally known as the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944, remains in the public consciousness as one of the most significant social policies ever enacted in the United States. Established for returning veterans of World War II, its terms of coverage were strikingly broad and generous. Fifty-one percent of veterans used the educational provisions: 2.2 million pursued a college education or graduate degree, and 5.6 million attained vocational or on-the-job training. The law also offered extensive unemployment benefits, which were used to the full by 14 percent of veterans. It also offered low-interest loans for the purchase of homes, farms, and businesses, which were used by 29 percent of veterans.

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1. Bennett, Michael J., When Dreams Come True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America (Washington, D.C., 1996); Greenberg, Milton, The G.I. Bill: The Law That Changed America (New York, 1997); Wilson, Reginald, “GI Bill Expands Access for African Americans,” Educational Record 75 (Fall 1994): 3239.

2. U.S. President's Commission on Veterans' Pensions, Veterans' Benefits in the United States: Findings and Recommendations (Washington, D.C., 1956), 287, 301.

3. Cohen, Lizabeth, A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York, 2003), 156160; Canaday, Margot, “Building a Straight State: Sexuality and Social Citizenship Under the 1944 G.I. Bill,” Journal of American History 90 (12 2003). <http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/90.3/canaday.html> (26 July 2004), para. 4.

4. Amenta, Edwin and Skocpol, Theda, “Redefining the New Deal: World War II and the Development of Social Provision in the United States,” in The Politics of Social Policy in the United States, ed. Weir, Margaret, Orloff, Ann Shola, and Skocpol, Theda (Princeton, 1988), 81122; Katznelson, Ira and Pietrykowski, Bruce, “Rebuilding the American State: Evidence from the 1940s,” Studies in American Political Development 5 (Fall 1991): 301339; see also Brown, Michael K., “State Capacity and Political Choice: Interpreting the Failure of the Third New Deal,” Studies in American Political Development 9 (Spring 1995): 187212; Brinkley, Alan, The End of Reform (New York, 1995).

5. Brody, David, “The New Deal and World War II,” in The New Deal: The National Level, ed. Braeman, John, Bremner, Robert H., and Brody, David (Columbus, 1975), 1:267309; Polenberg, Richard, War and Society: The United States, 1941–1945 (Philadelphia, 1972), 7398.

6. Katznelson, Ira, Geiger, Kim, and Kryder, Daniel, “Limiting Liberalism: The Southern Veto in Congress, 1933–1950,” Political Science Quarterly 108 (Summer 1993): 283306; Patterson, James T., Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal (Lexington, Ky., 1967).

7. Bruner, Jerome S., Mandate from the People (New York, 1944), 210222.

8. This analysis builds on the foundational accounts, both Ross, Davis R. B., Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans During World War II (New York, 1969), and Olson, Keith W., The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges (Lexington, Ky., 1974).

9. Skocpol, Theda, “The G.I. Bill and U.S. Social Policy, Past and Future,” Social Philosophy and Policy 14 (Summer 1997).

10. Camelon, David, “I Saw the G.I. Bill Written,” American Legion Magazine 47 (10 1949): 52; Moley, Raymond Jr., The American Legion Story (New York, 1966), p. 270.

11. Marshall, T. H., “Citizenship and Social Class,” in Class, Citizenship, and Social Development (New York, 1965), 65122; see also Shklar, Judith N., American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge, Mass., 1991).

12. Skocpol, Theda, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 102151.

13. Karsten, Peter, “The U.S. Citizens Soldier's Past, Present, and Likely Future,” Parameters (Summer 2001): 6173; Snyder, R. Claire, Citizen-Soldiers and Manly Warriors: Military Service and Gender in the Civic Republican Tradition (Lanham, Md., 1999). For an original defense of this idea from the revolutionary era, see Washington, George, “Sentiments of a Peace Establishment,” The American Military: Readings in the History of the Military and American Society, ed. Weigley, Russell (Reading, Mass., 1969); Madison, James, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, ed. Kramnick, Isaac (first published 1788; London: Penguin Books, 1987), see nos. 2429, esp. 29.

14. Kato, Kenneth T., “Veterans' Benefits: An Overview,” in The Encyclopedia of the United State Congress, ed. Bacon, Donald C., Davidson, Roger H., and Keller, Morton, vol. 4 (New York, 1994), 20372040.

15. Lowi, Theodore J., “American Business, Public Policy, Case Studies, and Political Theory,” World Politics 6 (1964): 677715.

16. Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, 143–48.

17. Kato, “Veterans' Benefits,” 2038–39.

18. Dillingham, William Pyrle, Federal Aid to Veterans, 1917–1941 (Gainesville, Fla., 1952), 131144.

19. U.S. Congress, Proceedings of the 15th National Convention of the American Legion, Chicago, Illinois, October 2–5, 1933, House Document No. 154, 73th Cong., 2d sess. (Washington, D.C., 1934), 16; emphasis mine.

20. Kato, “Veterans' Benefits,” 2039; Leuchtenburg, William E., Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York, 1963), 147, 171.

21. Best, Gary Dean, FDR and the Bonus Marchers, 1933–1935 (Westport, Conn., 1992).

22. Mettler, Suzanne, Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy (Ithaca, 1998).

23. Roosevelt, Franklin D., “The Annual Message to Congress, January 6, 1941,” in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Rosenman, Samuel I. (New York, 1941), 1940 vol., 672.

24. Ibid.

25. The agency was built on the foundation of the National Resources Board and the subsequent National Resources Committee. See Schlesinger, Arthur M., The Coming of the New Deal (Boston, 1959), 350352; Reagan, Patrick D., Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890–1943 (Amherst, 1999), on postwar planning, see esp. chap. 8; Warken, Philip W., A History of the National Resources Planning Board, 1933–1943 (New York, 1979).

26. Arnold, Peri E., Making the Managerial Presidency: Comprehensive Reorganization Planning, 1905–1980 (Princeton, 1986), 91.

27. U.S. National Resources Planning Board (hereafter NRPB), Memorandum for the President, 14 March 1941, Official File of the President (hereafter OF) 1092, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (hereafter FDR), Hyde Park, N.Y., NRPB, Box 4, pp. 1–2, emphasis mine.

28. NRPB, “Draft Message to Congress,” 23 July 1941, OF 1092, FDR, NRPB, Box 4, p. 5. This message was transmitted to Congress on 14 January 1942, when the president submitted the NRPB's report, “Development of National Resources—Report for 1942.” See The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Rosenman, 1942 vol. 54, emphasis mine.

29. Officials on the NRPB's who crafted the proposal included Chair William Haber, a liberal economist from the University of Michigan; Katharine Lenroot, Chief of the Childrens' Bureau, who had been one of the officials who designed Aid to Dependent Children in 1935; and Research Director Eveline Burns, an economics professor from Columbia University. Letter, Frederic Delano and others to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 4 December 1941, OF 1092, FDR, NRPB Reports, 1942–43, Box 15. Burns had studied with Sir William Beveridge when she was a student at the London School of Economics, and her thinking about social policy resembled his. Brinkley, End of Reform, 253. On Burns generally, see Jones, Linda R. Wolf, Eveline M. Burns and the American Social Security System, 1935–1960 (New York, 1991), 2733. While the report became known as the American Beveridge Report, Burns argued that the NRPB report was superior to the British counterpart because it paired objectives like “freedom from want” with “specific proposals for assurance of work.” Eveline M. Burns, “Comparison of the NRPB Report with the Beveridge Report,” 26 December 1942, NRPB, Records of the Office of the Director, Records of the Post-war Agenda Sections, Box 4, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereafter NA), Record Group (RG) 187, p. 1.

30. NRPB, Security, Work, and Relief Policies (Washington, D.C., 1942), 489.

31. NRPB, Security, Work and Relief Policies, 3.

32. See also Ross, Preparing for Ulysses, 68–69.

33. NRPB, “Draft Message to Congress,” 6.

34. NRPB, National Resources Development: Report for 1943; Part I. Post War Plan and Program (Washington, D.C., 1943), 2.

35. Ibid., 68.

36. NRPB, Security, Work and Relief Policies, 492–93.

37. Memorandum, Frederic A. Delano to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1 July 1942, OF 1092, FDR, Box 16, File 1092d.

38. Memorandum, Franklin D. Roosevelt to Frederic A. Delano, 6 July 1942, OF 1092, FDR, Box 16, File 1092d.

39. The American Council on Education maintained close ties with Reeves, offering advice in the course of PMC proceedings. Letter, George F. Zook to Marvin H. McIntyre, 16 November 1942, OF 5182, “Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel, 1942–44,” FDR.

40. Reeves persuaded the president that the committee should investigate needs in other areas of adult education as well. Pacacha, Carl Thomas, “Floyd Wesley Reeves: Pioneer in Shaping Federal Legislation in Support of Adult Education” (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 1970). The legislation that emerged from the report, the Federal Aid to Education Act of 1939, would have given the federal government a considerably larger role in education policy, and on those grounds it was defeated in the increasingly conservative Congress. Report on the Advisory Committee on Education, Message from the President of the United States, 75th Cong., 3d sess., House document no. 529 (Washington, D.C., 1938); U.S. Congress, Senate, Federal Aid to Education Act of 1939, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, 76th Cong., 1st sess., 2, 3, and 10 March 1939.

41. Diller, Mary Ann, “Individual and Social Benefits of Federally Supported Continuing Education: An Effort to Assess, Over a Quarter Century and Within a Mid-American Community, Impact of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (G.I. Bill) upon Individuals, Their Families, and Their Community” (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 1973).

42. At the time, Brown was serving as education adviser to the Joint Army-Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, and as secretary to the Committee on Military Affairs for the American Council on Education. Spaulding was chief, Education Branch, Special Service Division of the War Department and Report, “Demobilization and Readjustment Report of the Conference on Postwar Readjustment of Civilian and Military Personnel,” OF 1092, FDR, NRPB, “Conference on Postwar Readjustment of Civilian and Military Personnel (hereafter PMC),” Box 16, File 1092d, pp. 1–2; Brown, Francis J., Educational Opportunities for Veterans (Washington, D.C., 1946); Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 6.

43. “Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Committee on the Relationships of Higher Education to the Federal Government,” 11 April 1944; also Letter, Edmund E. Day to the Honorable John E. Rankin, no date, both in Records of the American Council on Education, Box no. 27, Folder marked “Committee on Relationship of Higher Education to Federal Government,” no. 4, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford University, Palo Alto; U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor on S. 1295 and S. 1509, 78th Cong., 1st sess., 13, 14, and 15 December, 115.

44. This would become most evident later in congressional hearings, when members of the PMC and later of the Osborn Committee defended their more restrictive approach to benefits. See testimony by Colonel Francis T. Spaulding, U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor on S. 1295 and S. 1509, 13, 14, and 15 December 1943, 32, 36.

45. “Suggested Agenda for July 17 Meeting of the Conference on Post-war Readjustments of Civilian and Military Personnel,” NRPB, Central Office Records, Central Office Classified Correspondence and Related Records, 1931–43, File 830.1, RG 187, NA.

46. Minutes, PMC Meeting, 17 July 1942, NRPB, Central Office Records, File 830.1, pp. 2, 8, RG 187, NA.

47. Mettler, Dividing Citizens, 57–58, 121–22, 124.

48. Report to Conference on PMC, “The Wisconsin Educational Bonus Law of 1919,” NRPB, Central Office Records, File 830.1, quote on 4; see also 1.

49. Ibid., 2–3.

50. Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 7–8.

51. Minutes, PMC Meeting, 27 August 1942, NRPB, Central Office Records, File 830.1, pp. 6–10, RG 187, NA.

52. NRPB, “The Role of Organized Education in Post-war Occupational Adjustment,” NRPB, Central Office Records, File 830.1, RG 187, NA.

53. Memorandum and attachments, Leonard Outhwaite to PMC, 13 February 1943, NRPB, Records of the Office of the Director, Records of the Post War Agenda Section, “Box 4,” file on “Reeves Committee,” 11.

54. Ibid., 8–9.

55. NRPB, Records of the Office of the Director, Post War Agenda Section, Box 4, untitled document in file entitled “Reeves Committee, cont.,” 11–12, RG 187, NA.

56. PMC, “Demobilization and Readjustment” (Washington, D.C., 06 1943); Roosevelt, Franklin D., “The Nine Hundred and Twelfth Press Conference,” 30 July 1943, in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt ed. Rosenman, , 1943 vol., 341344; quotations on 344.

57. Roosevelt, Franklin D., “Fireside Chat on the Progress of the War and Plans for Peace,” 28 July 1943, Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt ed. , Rosenman, 1943 vol., 334.

58. Bruner, Mandate from the People, 159–64.

59. Ibid., 210–17.

60. Letter, L. B. Parker to Congressman Harry Shepard, 11 March 1943, OF 4351, “Postwar Problems,” Box 3, FDR.

61. Letter, Harry Morse to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 10 March 1943, OF 4351, “Postwar Problems,” Box 2, FDR.

62. Letter, Eddy N. Ekdahl to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 24 December 1943, OF 4351, “Postwar Problems,” Box 3, FDR.

63. Letter, Ray E. Nix to President Roosevelt, 16 March 1943; also Letter (illegible signature) to Mr. President, 7 June 1943; both in OF 4351, “Postwar Problems,” Box 2, FDR.

64. “Editorial Reaction to NRPB Reports,” 089, Entry 8, Box 136, RG 187, NA.

65. “Press and Radio Reactions to NRPB's postwar reports form OWI's Weekly Media Report,” 25 March 1943, NRPB, Office of the Director, Postwar Planning Section, Box 1, “Climate of Opinion,” RG 187, NA.

66. Letter and attachments, George B. Chandler to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 2 July 1943, OF 4351, “Postwar Problems,” Box 2, FDR.

67. Letter, William D. Taylor to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 18 March 1943, OF 4351, “Postwar Problems,” Box 2, FDR.

68. Ross, Preparing for Ulysses, 63.

69. Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 9–10.

70. Roosevelt, Franklin D., “Statement of Signing the Bill Reducing the Draft Age,” 13 November 1942, in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Rosenman, , 1942 vol., 470.

71. Flynn, George A., The Draft, 1940–1973 (Lawrence, Kan., 1993), 7172.

72. Members included Rufus C. Harris, president of Tulane University; Young B. Smith, dean of Columbia University Law School; and John W. Studebaker, United States Commissioner of Education. Former PMC members included Spaulding, Sentman, and Reeves. Letter, Franklin D. Roosevelt to General Osborn, 19 November 1942, and Letter, F. H. Osborn to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 20 September 1944, both in OF 5182, “Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel, 1942–1944,” FDR; Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 11.

73. Letter, F. H. Osborn to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 30 July 1945, OF 5182, “Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel, 1942–1944,” FDR.

74. “Preliminary Report to the President of the United States from the Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel,” 30 July 1945, OF 5182, “Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel, 1942–1944,” FDR, 17–18.

75. Ibid., 11, 14, 15.

76. Memorandum, Frank T. Hines to the President, 6 August 1943, OF 4675m, “World War II Veterans' Bonus,” Box 28, FDR.

77. Pencak, William, “Veterans' Movements,” Encyclopedia of American Political History: Studies of the Principal Movements and Ideas, ed. Greene, Jack P. (New York, 1984), 3:1341.

78. Memorandum, Frank T. Hines to the President, 6 August 1943.

79. Oscar Cox, as quoted in Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 12.

80. Ross, Preparing for Ulysses, 73. In mid-October, the American Council on Education sent Roosevelt's speechwriter a plan for Veterans' Benefits that had been drafted by its Committee on Relationships of Higher Education to the Federal Government, a group of prominent educators who had met throughout the summer. Not surprisingly, since ACE leaders had been involved in both of the Roosevelt administration groups that examined the issue, the organization's plan closely resembled that of the PMC and Osborn Committee. Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 14.

81. Roosevelt, Franklin D., “Message to the Congress on Education of War Veterans,” The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Rosenman, , 1943 vol., 450.

82. Ibid., 451.

83. Ibid.

84. Ross, Preparing for Ulysses, 93.

85. Official Legion accounts include those by Camelon, David, “I Saw the G.I. Bill Written,” American Legion Magazine 47 (0911 1949), parts 1–3; and Moley, Raymond Jr., The American Legion Story (New York, 1966).

86. Skocpol, “The G.I. Bill and U.S. Social Policy, Past and Future.”

87. Camelon, , “I Saw the G.I. Bill Written,” American Legion Magazine 47, part 1 (09 1949): 47.

88. U.S. Congress, Proceedings of the 25th National Convention of the American Legion, Omaha, Nebraska, September 21–23, 1943, House Document No. 364, 78th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C., 1944), 102–3.

89. “Some G.I. Bill Authors Today,” American Legion Magazine (May 1969): 33.

90. U.S. Congress, Proceedings of the 25th National Convention of the American Legion, 106.

91. Pencak, “Veterans' Movements,” 3:1338–40.

92. Original notes by Harry W. Colmery, “U.S.—Manpower Benefits,” G.I. Bill Correspondence, National Headquarters of the American Legion, Indianapolis (hereafter “AL”).

93. U.S. Congress, Proceedings of the 25th National Convention of the American Legion, 133.

94. U.S. Congress, Senate, 78th Cong., 2d sess., Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Finance on S. 1617, 14 January–10 March 1944 (Washington, D.C., 1944), 253.

95. Moley, The American Legion Story, 273.

96. U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor on S. 1295 and S. 1509, 78th Cong., 1st sess., 13, 14, and 15 December; Memo, James F. Burton to Bob Pitkin, 5 May 1949, AL folder no. 10, AL.

97. Camelon, “I Saw the G.I. Bill Written,” October 1949, 52.

98. Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 16–17.

99. U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor on S. 1295 and S. 1509, 78th Cong., 1st sess., 13, 14, and 15 December, 15.

100. Memo in Harry Colmery's handwriting, from Mayflower Hotel room, “G.I. Bill” cabinet, AL; U.S. Congress, Senate, 78th Cong., 2d sess., Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Finance on S. 1617, 14 January–10 March 1944, 252–53;

101. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, 78th Cong., 2d sess., Hearings Before the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation on H.R. 3917 and S. 1767, 11 January–31 March 1944, 421.

102. U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor on S. 1295 and S. 1509, 78th Cong., 1st sess., 13, 14, and 15 December, 23.

103. “Publicity Outline Supporting Legion Bill,” folder marked “U.S.-Manpower Benefits—G.I. Bill,” G.I. Bill correspondence, AL; all contents of folders no. 2–no. 5, “U.S.—Manpower—Legion Bill,” G.I. Bill correspondence, AL; Memo, Jack Cejnar to Commander Wagner, 22 November 1955, AL no. 11, AL. See also Skocpol, Theda, “The G.I. Bill and U.S. Social Policy, Past and Future,” Social Philosophy and Policy 14 (Summer 1997): 106.

104. “The Editor Speaks,” Washington, D.C., May 1944, “U.S.—Manpower Benefits”, folder no. 6, G.I. Bill correspondence, AL.

105. Letter, Omar B. Ketchum et al. to Senator Bennett C. Clark, 16 February 1944, AL.

106. “G.I. Bill of Rights Does More Harm than Good, DAV Official Asserts,” Rocky Mountain News, 12 September 1944, 5; Letter, Millard W. Rice to Honorable Walter F. George, Chairman, Committee on Finance, U.S. Senate, 22 February 1944, G.I. Bill correspondence, “U.S.—Manpower—Legion Bill,” folder no. 2, AL.

107. For a careful treatment of these events, see Ross, Preparing for Ulysses, 105–17.

108. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, 78th Cong., 2d sess., Hearings Before the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation on H.R. 3917 and S. 1767, 11 January–31 March 1944, 350–52; “G.I. Enemy No. 1,” Nation (6 May 1944): 527–28.

109. Quoted in Ross, Preparing for Ulysses, 108.

110. Camelon, , “I Saw the G.I. Bill Written,” American Legion Magazine (11 1949), part 3, 4748.

111. Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 16–17.

112. Discharges were of three types: “honorable,” “dishonorable,” and “blue discharges.” The latter were issued because of “undesirable habits or traits of character,” such as “psychopathic personality, … criminalism, chronic alcoholism, drug addiction, pathological lying, or homosexuality,” U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, 79th Cong., 2d sess., “Investigations of the National War Effort,” Report issued by the Committee on Military Affairs, 30 January 1946, 2. Such individuals were meant to be included in the provisions of the G.I. Bill. For more thorough treatment, see Canaday, “Building a Straight State.”

113. Olson, The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 17.

114. These policy categories appear in Theodore Lowi, J., “American Business, Public Policy, Case Studies, and Political Theory,” World Politics 6 (1964): 677715. For a discussion of their relationship to citizenship, see Mettler, Suzanne, “Social Citizens of Separate Sovereignties: Governance in the New Deal Welfare State,” in The New Deal and the Triumph of Liberalism, ed. Milkis, Sidney M. and Mileur, Jerome M. (Amherst, 2002), 231271.

115. Kato, “Veterans' Benefits,” 2037–38.

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