Roosevelt's World War II Army of Community Service Workers: Children and Their Teachers

Sherry L. Field

When the United States was catapulted into World War II, President Roosevelt was quick to address the nation. He sought both to reassure citizens and to enlist them in battlefield and home front service. "Every single man, woman and child" was challenged by the President to become "a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history" (Southworth and Southworth 1942, 216). The partnership began immediately.
For schoolchildren and their teachers, President Roosevelt's call to action stimulated both their school lessons and valuable community service projects that were enthusiastically undertaken (Field 1994, 1995). Although these varied from school to school, many had similar themes-including stamp and bond campaigns, scrap and salvage collection drives, the care and nurturing of Victory gardens, health and nutrition information, and general plans for community improvement.

War Savings Stamp and Bond Sales
After Pearl Harbor, school children and their teachers mobilized their community service efforts for the nation at war. President Roosevelt's second wartime fireside chat outlined a seven-point economic program that included more taxes, war bond sales, rationing, and price controls. In a dramatic exhortation, the President asserted that "every man, woman and child is in action. ... [The] front is right here at home, in our daily tasks" (Goodwin 1994, 339). Other government officials also appealed to citizens to assist in raising money to fund the war.
Teachers and pupils in schools across the country participated in War Bond and War Stamp campaigns with resounding success. "In the three years that followed Pearl Harbor, Stamps and Bonds valued at more than one billion dollars were bought in school by American girls and boys" (Owen 1945, 13). In one rural area of the country, a second grade class converted its schoolroom into a post office with sales of "eight or ten dollars' worth of War Stamps in a day and seldom less than five dollars' worth" (Hallenback 1943, 29). The six hundred pupils of Hayes-Barton Elementary School, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, "purchased 365 bonds, the largest number of any of the schools in the district" (Sanderson 1943, 23). One unidentified Midwestern city's "seventy thousand school children were soon buying $6,000 worth of stamps a week" (Graves 1942, 18). In Cincinnati, Ohio, war stamp sales also took place weekly, and more than $200,000 worth of stamps were sold in the initial campaign, from January 13, 1942, until the close of summer school. School children in Philadelphia in 1942 alone sold more than $3,000,000 worth of bonds and stamps.

Vigorous sales of War Bonds and War Stamps came from student-initiated "Stamp Days, Stamp Weeks, Defense Savings plays, radio programs, assemblies, parades, rallies, and pageants" (Graves 1942, 18). By the end of the 1941-42 school year, $81,000,000 in sales of War Bonds and War Stamps in schools was reported by the Treasury Department. By January 1943, at least 90 percent of the country's two hundred thousand schools "were selling stamps and bonds with a total amount [now] well over $300 million in War Savings" (Larrick 1944, 41-42). Unmistakably, school children were persuasive sales people.

Scrap and Salvage Collection Drives
School students also engaged in various salvage programs. The schools of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, undertook a salvage program for the collection of paper, rubber, metals, and rags. In the first two weeks, the project received widespread community support from the adult population (Russell 1942, 27). The Pittsfield schools also became sites for the collection of fats and for tin-can processing.
A one-teacher school in Tennessee introduced a collection campaign that grew to include the entire community. Students surveyed and mapped their community, interviewed its leaders, planned and carried out bimonthly collections, secured scales, and wrote monthly reports for the community newspaper (Frost 1942).

In the school year 1942-43, Hampden School No. 55 in Baltimore collected six truck loads of scrap metal, a thousand wire coat hangers, and more than two thousand phonograph records. (Childhood Education 1943). Seven school committees oversaw school war work for the 1943-44 school year, while salvage activities were relegated to the Clean-Up Committee, which was also responsible for the appearance of the school building.

Newspapers reported numerous other successful scrap drive projects. In the early part of the war, schools in Winnetka, Illinois, gathered enough scrap metal for two medium tanks. School children in Chicago collected more than one hundred thousand tons of wastepaper in just five weeks. Bloomington, Illinois, youngsters collected enough automobile license plates (2,427 sets) to provide material for a small tank (Sones 1942). Margaret Noel (1944) reported the success of the scrap metal, paper, rubber, rags, cordage, used light bulb, and tin can collections at her school. According to Noel, the collection drives were successful not because of the amounts salvaged, but because every child had the opportunity to participate and feel useful.

An unusual type of collection drive was the gathering of milkweed fiber to be used as a substitute for kapok in life jackets and aviators' suits. Supply lines for kapok importation from Java were blocked by Japanese forces, and a suitable replacement had been found in milkweed. Collection reports from three schools in Utah and Michigan were presented in an issue of Grade Teacher. Pupils at an Indian training school in northwest Utah collected enough milkweed to make fifty life jackets. A school in Michigan achieved its goal of collecting enough floss to supply a life jacket for every Armed Forces member from its community. Another Michigan school had a milkweed picnic and harvested enough pods to buy school supplies, war bonds, and gifts for the Red Cross ("Milkweed in the War" 1944).

Victory Gardens: Vitamins for Victory
Many students across the nation cultivated Victory gardens at school and at home. The emphasis on the cultivation of a Victory garden as a commendable way to help the war effort was predominant. Children worked hard and learned how to engage in long-term projects as they contributed to the nation's food supply. Through their Victory garden efforts, school children in Cleveland built "character through basic work experience" (Young 1942, 74). Their gardening project was considered such an essential one that its costs were paid for from the enrollment fees of pupils. Sixth grade teacher Elizabeth Hallock (1943), of Philmont (New York) High School, reported that two-thirds of her pupils planted home Victory gardens, and the class sold seeds to buy books for the library and make contributions to the Red Cross.
Victory gardens cropped up everywhere, even in crowded urban areas. For example, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, "Back yards the size of pocket handkerchiefs, patios, window boxes, and even dump heaps were utilized. Seeds were furnished by the parents' clubs, and as the gardens flourished a committee composed of the principal and teachers ... visited them to praise and advise" (Schmalzrid 1942, 131). Students of teacher Adda Fraley (1943) formed groups to plan each aspect of their Victory garden. They planned field trips, background study to be done, distribution of work, and record-keeping strategies.

In addition to caring for school Victory gardens, some schools organized "Victory Squadrons," groups of students released from school work for portions of the day to assist in community agricultural endeavors. A Louisiana school released some students each day "at the beginning of the physical education period, and [the children] spent about four hours each afternoon picking cotton" (Schmalzrid 1942, 131). Pittsfield schools called their project to help reduce the shortage of agricultural labor a "farm battalion," and the pupils involved in farm work contributed valuable services to their community (Russell 1942, 38). It is likely that these projects enabled older children to replace adults who formerly had collected the crops.

A report in Childhood Education of the success of school Victory gardens during the first year of war claimed that "at least 168,000 acres of Victory gardens were attributed directly to school activities" ("Public School Contributions" 1942, 82).

Community Improvement
President Roosevelt devoted his July 27, 1943, fireside chat to the importance of maintaining strong morale on the home front (Goodwin 1994). He wanted everyone working on the home front to know that their contributions were just as important as were those of the soldiers abroad. Toward this end, teachers encouraged their students to assume "their share of the responsibility in the home for the care of younger children, for household duties, and the running of errands" (Roby 1943, 268). Home safety and preparedness became part of pupils' civic responsibility (Bond 1942). Hamilton Junior High School students in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, helped with work at home to free their parents for wartime duties (Taylor 1943). Children in Baltimore engaged in home and family duties, learned about the increased work responsibilities of their parents, and helped at home with arrangements for blackouts and safety (Adams 1942).
In New York City, students were encouraged to oversee preparation of first aid kits for air raid shelters, to learn blackout procedures for their homes, to establish checklists for home safety inspections, and to gather foods for emergencies (Cottrell 1942). In a project promoted by Daisy Parton, an education professor at the University of Alabama, children in rural Alabama helped boost morale on the home front by "raising and caring for animals, cultivating flowers and vegetables, arranging and caring for materials in the classroom, making and keeping the surroundings clean and attractive, collecting needed salvage, preparing and serving food, selling wanted articles, conserving materials and property, and caring for and helping younger children" (Parton 1943, 162).

Teachers also prepared their students for subsequent goods and materials shortages. They and their students planned conservation and recycling activities. A California school operated a clothing exchange through which children could trade outgrown galoshes, boots, shoes, and clothing for those of another size (Eurich 1942). The Radnor Township schools in Wayne, Pennsylvania, initiated a Rubber Garment

Exchange (Sones 1942). There, a clearinghouse for outgrown galoshes, rubbers, and raincoats was organized for redistribution to smaller children. In Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, teachers initiated similar rubber exchanges (Kitler 1942).

Likewise, in Garden City, New York, first grade students learned about the effects of rationing milk, butter and meat, sugar, and shoes (O'Brien 1943). One class studied rubber production and uses for synthetic rubber. Students learned about caring for rubber articles, mending torn rubber items, and repairing bicycle tires (Schwartz 1943, 1945). Conservation efforts were especially fruitful after synthetic rubber was developed. By 1943, "eighty-three percent of the 308,000 tons of new rubber supplies ... [came] from synthetic rubber" (Goodwin 1994, 450).

In every state, schools taught the importance of rationing, and students in turn made a difference with their conservation efforts. A sixth grade class in Wisconsin read books and reported on farm duties, discussed scarcity of labor and raised prices, studied two area plants converted to defense work, and visited a farm (Bahr 1943). Fifteen hundred students in Port Arthur, Texas, learned about conservation and care of personal belongings; kinds of thrift measures to be taken at home and at school; and ways of saving school supplies, money, and scrap for the war effort. Pupils also experienced thrift measures by conserving paper, keeping a scrap box, using old newspapers, and harvesting a Victory garden (Hensarling 1944).

Throughout the war, teachers were asked to enforce strict school rules concerning the care of school equipment and supplies. Because "much of school play apparatus and equipment [was] made from priority materials" (Peavy 1943, 58), teachers and students were mindful about the proper care of play equipment, as well as personal clothing made from priority materials. School students and teachers became valuable allies on the home front as they faced the uncertainties and pressures of wartime. They felt they were no longer just teachers and students but workers for a common cause. Their contributions as valuable community service workers paved the way toward keeping home front morale buoyed, and their community service efforts provide a successful model for educators to consider today.

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Sherry L. Field is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Georgia, Athens.