Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Thesis in Pictures

One of my best experiences at Carolina was researching for and writing my senior history thesis. Since a few folks have asked about it, I've decided to give the highlights of my work (with a few pictures). My research was on the GI Bill and the effects of its educational provisions at UNC.

The educational provisions of the GI Bill were to prevent the flooding of the job market by returning GIs at a time when wartime industry was transitioning back to peacetime production. The WWI solution to this problem was basically to provide "bonuses" to soldiers to accomdate unemployment. The Great Depression came and threw a wrench in this plan, causing soldiers to march in Washington, DC demanding their money - one of the most unstable, chaotic events in our nation's capital. So the GI Bill promised to pay for at least one year of education for GIs - or match what they served if it was more.

Ok. Boring stuff out of the way.

Long story short - what happened was the GIs were older than the typical student. Many were married and had children. Despite that, they proved to be some of the most active, studious students the university has ever seen.

I found these pictures in a scrapbook that a local woman, Lizzie Freeman, made in the 1940s and 1950s.  (Freeman and her husband built an apartment onto their farm house to rent out to veterans and their wives/kids.)

This picture was taken on this couple's wedding day after the veteran returned from service.
I don't know the story behind this one, but its funny, don't you think?

One quote I especially liked was from William Friday.  He said, "The GIs wanted their afternoon beers and you had better get out of their way."  So as you can imagine, privacy regulations at the university were a big issue.  Many GIs were well-travelled, matured, wise beyond their years and they were fed up with regular undergrad activities.

Another surprise was the sheer number of veterans that took advantage of the opportunity.  To put it into perspective - pre-war enrollment was about 4,000.  During the war, despite a navy pre-flight school, enrollment had dwindled to 1,500 (mostly women).  After the war, in 1946, the university turned away 9,000 students because it could hardly accomodate the 5,500 students it had already enrolled.  CRAZY.

A huge problem was how to accomodate all these students.  Three major things happened:

1. The university allowed prefabricated housing on a mud slab where UNC hospitals is now. Trucks literally dropped off the housing and the veterans built them for their families. It was like a little "mini" town called "Victory Village"

2. They put 3-4 people in a dorm room.  NUTS!  Can you imagine?

3. They created barracks anywhere they could fit them. (ie. the gym, the rec center, the tennis courts - yes, the tennis courts, in fact there were 26 quonset huts that held 600 men total - on the tennis courts y'all!)
So, cartoons like this were quite common as you can imagine.

There wasn't enough housing, library space, classroom space, laundry service capabilities, and the dining hall had to limit its service to veterans only.

The curriculum changed to a more liberal foundation - there was more of an emphasis on modern languages and science as a result of WWII and the upstart of the Cold War.  The university's bureaucracy expanded a great deal to accomodate the veterans' programs.

Another long-term and major result was the permanent tie between the federal government and higher education, especially in regards to funding.

So, what does it matter? 

Pretty much anything that involves the modern day university goes back to decisions that were made in the mid 1940s - early 1950s when the GI Bill changed the landscape of campuses forever.

So that is 5 months of research and writing summed up in one blog post.  With a few pictures.  Hope I didn't bore you to death.
laura ann

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