By: U.S. Congress
Source: Serviceman's Readjustment Act. Public Law 346. 78th Congress, 2d sess., June 22, 1944. Reproduced in American Passages: A History of the United States. Available online at ; website home page: http://azimuth.harcourtcollege.com (accessed April 18, 2003).
After the end of World War II (1939–1945), the nation faced the challenge of demobilizing the military. The number of persons serving in the U.S. armed forces dropped dramatically in a relatively short period of time. The Army, for example, dropped to six hundred thousand individuals in 1947 from a wartime peak of eight million. National lawmakers recognized that they owed a debt of gratitude to the armed forces personnel returning from World War II; on a more pragmatic level, they also realized that the the nation faced an economic and political challenge in reabsorbing the GIs into society. To assist discharged veterans returning home to build a new life, the U.S. Congress with the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944.
This legislation, also known as the GI Bill of Rights, or simply "GI Bill," provided $13 million in assistance to returning military veterans. Some of the funds went to programs such as low-interest mortgages so veterans could afford to buy houses. Perhaps the most important provision of the act was the providing of a free college education to more that fifteen million veterans. The college experience changed as the swarm of veterans entered universities across the country. The "Vic the Vet" cartoon series—created by Gabe Josephson, an artist attending Syracuse University thanks to the GI Bill—and similar works of popular culture explained and parodied the experience of the older students who went from battlefields back to the books. Before the GI Bill, a college education was an expensive and often exclusive proposition. The GI Bill brought a new generation and demographic into higher education.
The GI Bill was important for three main reasons. First, it altered the landscape of U.S. higher education. Existing colleges and universities could not handle the influx of students, so new institutions, especially state universities, sprang into being to meet the demand. Many other schools expanded their physical campus, and number of classroom and dormitory buildings to accommodate more students. This rapid expansion in turn created a need for more professors, so graduate schools around the nation likewise grew. Second, the GI Bill produced the largest number of college graduates the United States had known to that point, many of them first-generation students. This meant the professional workforce grew much larger, and more middle-class individuals expected the nine-to-five, suburban, house-and-car lifestyle that came to be synonymous with the American dream. Moreover, this expanded number of college graduates included more women, both veterans and wives of veterans who returned to school with or after their husbands.
The GI Bill also garnered support for Roosevelt's administration, due in no small part to the fact that the GIs it benefited were active voters as well as veterans. More importantly, though, the GI Bill created a lasting effect because its impact did not stop with the World War II generation. Many of those who attended school through the GI Bill became college-educated parents who expected their children to study at a university. The ongoing demand for higher education caused permanent growth in old schools even as it created new ones. Later versions of the bill offered similar opportunities to veterans of military service as well. Although the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 expired in 1956, it changed the culture of the United States into the twenty-first century.
Primary Source: Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: This excerpt from the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 provided the opportunity for World War II veterans to obtain a college education. The so-called GI Bill of Rights also provided assistance such as unemployment benefits and low-interest loans for homes and other investments.
Title II Chapter IV—Education of Veterans
- Any person who served in the active military or naval service on or after September 16, 1940, and prior to the termination of the present war, and who shall have been discharged or released there-from under conditions other than dishonorable, and whose education or training was impeded, delayed, interrupted, or interfered with by reason of his entrance into the service, or who desires a refresher or retraining course,… shall be eligible for and entitled to receive education or training under this part.…
- Such person shall be eligible for and entitled to such course of education or training as he may elect, and at any approved educational or training institution at which he chooses to enroll, whether or not located in the State in which he resides, which will accept or retain him as a student or trainee in any field or branch of knowledge which such institution finds him qualified to undertake or pursue.…
- The Administrator shall pay to the educational or training institution, for each person enrolled in full time or part time course of education or training, the customary cost of tuition, and such laboratory, library, health, infirmary, and other similar fees as are customarily charged, and may pay for books, supplies, equipment, and other necessary expenses, exclusive of board, lodging, other living expenses, and travel, as are generally required for the successful pursuit and completion of the course by other students in the institution: Provided, That in no event shall such payments, with respect to any person, exceed $500 for an ordinary school year.…
- While enrolled in and pursuing a course under this part, such person, upon application to the Administrator, shall be paid a subsistence allowance of $50 per month, if without a dependent or dependents, or $75 per month, if he has a dependent or dependents.
Bennett, Michael J. When Dreams Came True: The G.I. Bill and the Making of Modern America. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1996.
Hyman, Harold Melvin. American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead–Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1987.
Kaledin, Eugenia. Daily Life in the United States, 1940–1959: Shifting Worlds. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.
Olson, Keith W. The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.
Department of Veteran Affairs. Available online at http://www.va.gov (accessed April 20, 2003).
"The GI Bill of Rights (1944)." Available online at ; website home page: http://www.ncsu.edu (accessed April 20, 2003).
"Servicemen's Readjustment Act (1944)." Our Documents. Available online at http://ourdocuments.gov/content.php?page=document&doc=76; website home page: http://ourdocuments.gov (accessed April 20, 2003).
"Vic the Vet." Syracuse University Archives and Records Management. Available online at ; website home page: http://archives.syr.edu (accessed April 14, 2003).