The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2023 is 1943 Washington D.C., the setting of the novel that I’m writing. Visit daily in April for a new post on my topic.
G is for G.I. Bill
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was introduced in January of 1944 and passed later that year, but the first draft was written in late 1943 by Harry Colmery, a leader in the American Legion, one of the primary backers of the G.I. Bill.
Congress wanted to prevent the missed steps and unmet expectations that were experienced by veterans after World War I. During the Great Depression, World War I veterans organized the Bonus Army March in 1932, demanding bonuses for their service. They set up a tightly run, self-governed, military-style camp on the site of a Washington D.C. Hooverville. The camp was cleared out by the U.S. Army in late July, a move so unpopular that it’s considered to be one of the reasons that President Hoover lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt that November.
Besides doing the right thing by veterans, the G.I. Bill was designed to prevent the nation from slipping right back into Depression after the end of the wartime boost to the economy. One of the ways that it helped was that it sent many men off to college instead of directly into the workforce which couldn’t accommodate them. The other most-used provision of the G.I. Bill was for home ownership, which helped fund a post-war construction boom.
Unfortunately, the G.I. Bill’s benefits were distributed in disparate ways that contribute to our inequities to the present day. Just because there were benefits available to returning black soldiers, it didn’t mean that universities would admit them or that banks would loan to them. Federal agencies did nothing to help the situation and glossed over it in the way that they kept data about the programs.
White men, many raised in the poverty of the Great Depression, got college educations and purchased homes in huge numbers. Some black men benefitted as well, but not at nearly the rate of white men, particularly if they lived in the South. Those college-educated, home-owning white men became the core of the mid-20th century middle class, and their descendants continue to benefit because of the boost from lower-class to middle-class status of their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents.
To get back to 1943, Harry Colmery was staying in room 570 at The Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. He wrote the initial draft of what would one day become the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 on hotel stationery.
Did your ancestors benefit from the G.I. Bill that Harry Colmery drafted in that hotel room?