SFA Story: The History of Stephen F. Austin State University

The Boynton Administration During World War II

GIs Return - Vet Villages

When the GIs returned to SFA, which they did in large numbers in the Spring of 1946, they found complex problems facing them. They battled barriers in housing, rehabilitation, overcrowding, and other indignities, but the high rent and the unavailability of housing for married GIs were particularly acute. In February, the Regents did authorized Boynton to negotiate bonds to finance a new boy’s dormitory (later named Ferguson Hall) and to borrow $20,000 from local sources for emergency construction, but Boynton knew the difficult problem in housing was about to become worse in the coming months. Federal help was necessary.

The Veterans Association of SFA

In his fight for more housing, Boynton got a new ally in February of 1946: the Veterans Association. The local veterans formed the group as their counterparts did across the nation to promote the collective addressing of their problems. Earl Elliott was elected as the Association’s first president. Their purpose was to promote rehabilitation, socially interaction, and the welfare of the group. Ed Gaston, the reporter of the group, listed the problems: “inadequate housing facilities, high costs of living, and rehabilitation difficulties.” Gaston also wrote eloquently in the Pine Log about the plight of the returning veteran, especially the married ones.

In a long series of trips to Fort Worth to the Federal Public Housing Authority’s regional office, President Boynton, Veterans Association President Earl Elliot, and S. A. Kerr, member of the State Board of Regents, appealed to the government to grant them additional housing units and army surplus buildings. Boynton also appealed through the congressional offices of Tom Pickett in Washington. Over the next year and a half, Boynton scored a series of successes in his requests. He got surplus buildings from Orange, Texas, from Camp Fannin, near Tyler, and Camp Clabourne in Louisana.

The government housing from Orange was the first to be moved on campus in March of 1946. Out of the lumber, two barracks-type structures to accommodate twelve families were erected east of Birdwell Field in what was being termed “the Vet Village.” The news of the arrival of the units, to quote the Pine Log, “brought smiles to the faces of many desperate SFA students, especially veterans with families who have been plagued with inadequate housing facilities the past few months.” These units opened in the summer term. In May, Boynton received word from Congressman Pickett that SFA’s request for 55 additional emergency housing units (for up to 155 persons) had been approved by the Federal Housing Authority in Fort Worth. (The city also made application for more housing.) In August, Boynton got more emergency housing relief when he got twelve houses and two dormitories, formerly used as barracks and officers quarters at Camp Fannin, near Tyler, moved to the SFA campus and located on the east side of North Raguet, just north of Birdwell Field. These units accommodated 104 additional students.

A series of what they called “hutments” were also built to the east of the Ag Farm House. One serious problem for all of the units, but especially for the “hutments,” was mud. With no hard surface roads or sidewalks, the access to the vet villages were impossible in rainy weather. Boynton had to put at the top of his list after construction, the building of graveled roads to the huts. The re-conversion of a shop building on the college farm also made room for an additional eighty students, and alterations on parts of Aikman gym and the band hall provided living space for an additional thirty-five students.

The next problem for Boynton was the procurement of furnishings. The government furnished only the showers, heaters, stoves, sinks, and hot water heaters with the college having to supply the rest of the furnishings. The college was able to get enough money together to furnish some of the apartments, but the prefabricated units from Orange were left only partially furnished. The rules for determining occupancy of the apartments, with such long waiting lists, were complicated and strict. Also, the larger families were given preference for the larger apartments. All families with children were placed on ground floors if possible.

When the vet village east of Birdwell Field opened in June of 1946, The Pine Log reported: “While not the last word in modern apartments these units contain all the necessary items for comfortable living, including an ice box, table, chairs, bed, table, chairs, and a couch. Made of tile [cinder block], they are in a rectangular shape, divided by a partition in the shape of an ‘L’.”

Comments from the huts

In a series of articles, the Pine Log explored the opinions of vets in the villages. The first couples to move into these apartments came from Mt. Enterprise. The GI, according to the Pine Log, was “quick to voice their appreciation for having such a place to live these days when a vacancy sign is worth a letter to Ripley.” The veteran in the south part of the duplex was also from Mt. Enterprise, also; he was a recipient of twelve battle stars and a Presidential Citation with an Oak Leaf Cluster.

All of the couples seemed to complain about the sweltering heat, the cement floors with no rugs, the muddy yards, and the lack of hot water and linoleum. But, as many admitted, they were glad to have the shelter, and they overlooked what could not be helped like the unfinished nature of the buildings. One wife said, “Our plumbing has not yet been taken care of, but their trying.” The carpenters and painters were still working on some of the units as the vet moved it. Some students were very creative in redoing their huts on their own. Boynton worked hard to address all of these complaints, especially the need for sidewalks and more furniture.

The governments “Fair Rent Rates” based on the family’s total income caused more comment than anything SFA did. The GIs felt it was unfair and undemocratic. The Veterans Association protested. “The veterans that voiced their opinions about the variation of rent pay were not so much concerned over the degree of the variation as they were displeased with the principal of penalizing a person for his industry.”

Temporary classrooms

In 28 September 1946, the government allotted SFA five more buildings from Army surplus. This time the temporary structures were for vocational arts, forestry, music, agriculture and business administration. The buildings would be furnished by the regional office of the U. S. Office of Education. The Business Administration Building, located between Aikman Gymnasium and Wisely Hall, was the first to be moved and completed.

Even in 1947, the housing problem for veterans remained critical, the married student being the most in need. While seventy families had been accommodated in the new units, fifty-three couples remained on the waiting list. Prices were high outside the college housing. Boynton, always on the look out for more space, went on even an additional search for surplus buildings in late 1947. In a poll taken in June of 1947, the students responded to the question: “What do you think of the temporary buildings on campus?” The majority indicated that structures were fine for the present, but should be replaced as soon as possible. One said: “The buildings are helpful and useful as temporary remedy for the overcrowded conditions which now exist, but in the future they should be replaced by better buildings.” Another echoed: “These buildings were erected in a time of emergency. As far as permanent structures go they are inadequate to conform to the progress which Stephen F. Austin should make.”