On June 13, 1944, in order to offer an easier transition back to civilian life for war veterans, Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act. The new law, which is better known as the G.I Bill, allowed veterans to pursue a college education after having served their country in the war that defined their generation.
The Texas College of Mines felt the impact of the newly arriving students, many of whom had families, in order to accommodate them the university constructed what came to be known as “Vet Village.” The village was built on the southern end of campus in 1946, on a plot of ground known as “Wiggins Acres” (the dusty, unpaved road that led to the “trailer-town” still maintains the name). The area originally housed twenty veterans and their families. The families were situated in a communal setting which originally had shared bathroom and laundry facilities in a center building known as the “shed.”
It was originally believed that Vet Village, also known as “maternity row”, so named due to the multitude of diapers on clothes lines and the children who resided there, would only be necessary until the veterans from World War II had completed their education. This was not the case, and soon veterans from the Korean War were moving into the accommodations which had previously housed others who had graduated. It was not long until the conditions in the village, which was now referred to by many of the residents as the “secret slum” due to the unpainted nature of the barracks, which had been built to replace the trailers, and the hidden area in which it was built.
Although the living conditions were somewhat difficult, there were advantages to the soldiers that would have been otherwise unavailable. The rent in the village was low, utilities were provided, and the proximity of the campus was convenient. As one former resident Bob Grimes, a College of Mines student and father of three stated, “many of us would have to forego and education if it weren’t for Veteran’s Circle.”
The residents were not passive in their attitude. The village held elections in which mayors and committees for improvement were formed, participated in intra-campus sporting events against fraternities, and the households often had two full-time working parents to maintain the pursuit of a university education. The conventional students also offered the veterans help in various ways. Invitations to both husband and wife to school events were forthcoming, and the students volunteered their time offering the children rides to the Sunday schools of their choice.
The village remained an important asset for the veteran students and families of the College of Mines for nearly two decades. Due to the welcoming nature of the college and the hospitality of the city of El Paso, degrees were earned that would have been impossible otherwise. In 1963 apartments were built in order to house married couples on Oregon Street. There was no longer a need for the dedicated village, and its successors had a more permanent place to call home.
[Post by Matthew J. Liden; Sources: The Prospector; wwwgibill.va.gov; Nancy Hamilton, UTEP: A Pictorial History of the University of Texas at El Paso]
Matthew Liden is a student in the history master's program at UTEP.