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GI Bill

Servicemen's Readjustment Act Of 1944

The first GI Bill was proposed and drafted by the AMERICAN LEGION, led by former Illinois governor John Stelle, during WORLD WAR II. The public remembered a post-World War I recession, when millions of veterans returned to face unemployment and homelessness. Twice as many veterans would return from World War II, and widespread economic hardship was a real concern. A healthy postwar economy, it seemed, would depend on providing soldiers with a means to support themselves once they were back home.

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst became the bill's most ardent and vocal supporter. Hearst and his nationwide string of newspapers lobbied the public and members of Congress to support those who served their country, and his effort was a success. The bill unanimously passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944. President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT signed the bill into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy (Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, ch. 268, 58 Stat. 284).

The original GI Bill offered veterans up to $500 a year for college tuition and other educational costs—ample funding at the time. An unmarried veteran also received a $50-a-month allowance for each month spent in uniform; a married veteran received slightly more. Other benefits included mortgage subsidies, enabling veterans to purchase homes with relative ease.

Despite initial misgivings over its success, the GI Bill proved to be enormously effective. Prior to its passage, detractors feared that paying the education expenses of veterans would lead to overcrowding at colleges, which before World War II were accessible predominantly to members of society's upper class. Critics were concerned that veterans would wreak havoc on

A group of military veterans line up to purchase books under the GI Bill, which originally provided up to 500 dollars a year for tuition, books, and supplies to veterans attending college after service in WWII.
BETTMANN/CORBIS

educational standards and overburden campuses with their lack of preparation for the rigors of higher learning.

College campuses did become grossly over-crowded in the postwar years: approximately 7.8 million World War II veterans received benefits under the original GI Bill, and 2.2 million of those used the program for higher education. By 1947 half of all college students were veterans. Prefabricated buildings and Quonset huts were used as classrooms, and military barracks were often converted into dormitories. However, having spent a large part of their youth engaged in battle, World War II veterans were highly motivated. GIs in their late twenties and early thirties returned to the United States in droves, anxious to catch up with their nonmilitary peers, marry, settle down, and support a family. The benefits provided by the GI Bill facilitated these goals.

Veterans were not the only beneficiaries of the GI Bill. Colleges, with increased enrollments, received years of financial security following its enactment. Veterans demanded more practical college course work, and this need led to a changed concept of higher education, with more emphasis on degree programs like business and engineering. The lines of race, class, and religion blurred as higher education became attainable for all veterans. No longer was a college degree—and the higher paying jobs that normally follow it—limited to members of the upper class. Federal income increased as the average income of taxpayers in the United States increased, and as the veterans graduated from colleges, women and members of minorities enrolled to fill the gaps they left. The GI Bill's mortgage subsidies led to an escalated demand for housing and the development of suburbs. One-fifth of all single-family homes built in the 20 years following World War II were financed with help from the GI Bill's loan guarantee program, symbolizing the emergence of a new middle class.

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