The VFW National Home for Children is celebrating its 90th Anniversary throughout 2015. As part of that celebration, we will be focusing on one decade of the National Home’s history each month. This month, we present the Home’s beginnings in the 1920s.
It was 1922 and the Great War had ended four years earlier. Groups of veterans roamed the streets of the nation’s cities looking for any kind of work to feed their families. The children and families of veterans were often left destitute upon death of the veteran.
A young woman named Amy Ross went to the offices of Dr. Clarence L. Candler, the VFW
Department of Michigan’s commander, with an idea to find jobs for the thousands of veterans walking the streets of Detroit looking for work. Dr. Candler agreed to let Amy try her idea, turning over to her the Department of Michigan’s limited resources.
Meanwhile, in 1923, the Military Order of the Cootie presented its idea for a home to care for the children and families of veterans at the VFW’s National Convention. This was something that Amy Ross also supported, and the VFW members embraced the idea.
Now all that was needed was the land and money to make their dream come true.
A Lasting Legacy
Corey Spencer was a Jackson, Michigan cattleman and VFW member who owned extensive property near Eaton Rapids, Michigan. He had heard about Amy’s work – more than 9,000 veterans found employment as a direct result of her efforts – and was very moved by it. Spencer met with Dr. Candler and offered 472 acres of land near Eaton Rapids as a gift to the VFW, expressively for the purpose of building a home for the children and families of veterans.
The VFW decided to move forward with the idea of a National Home. Then tragedy struck. On November 21, 1924, Amy Ross died at the age of 25. The VFW gave her a military funeral.
“Amy Ross dead! No, she has just commenced to live,” said Dr. Candler, referring to her part in bringing about the VFW National Home.
Soon, the National Home had its first family. Mrs. Annie Pollett, a World War I veteran, and her six children – Lillian, Howard, Mary, Thomas, Woodrow, and Margaret – arrived at the National Home on March 9, 1925.
Creating a Home
Soon, another family joined the National Home community—a disabled veteran and his two children from Norwich, Connecticut moved in on November 28, 1925.
The farm continued to flourish, with acres of oats, corn, buckwheat, and more growing in the fields. A flag pole was erected, and the woodlot was made into a picnic grounds with tables and chairs.
The children attended school in Eaton Rapids and took a horse and buggy to church and Sunday School each week, except during the winter months. Then the National Home’s matron, Nora Abbott, held Sunday School in the living room. The first group of Cooties raised money to purchase Christmas gifts for the children, starting a decades-long tradition of Cootie Christmas that continues to this day.
And soon, more children and families joined the National Home community.
The National Home continued its growth throughout the 1920s. The community’s population reached about 100 by the fall of 1928, and several homes were built to address the growing need from the children and families of World War I veterans. Pennsylvania 1, Illinois, and Michigan homes were constructed during this time period.
The dream of many people was becoming a full-fledge community serving the loved ones of our nation’s heroes.