Surviving the Depression
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 struggle to maintain and grow during the Depression years of the 1930s.
The Early Years
Life at the National Home was going very well. The peaceful country atmosphere brought hope and healing to the children and mothers who lived here. The boys played baseball in the summer, and even some of the girls would sometimes join in these games. In the winter, there was sledding and snowball fights and Cootie Christmas.
The National Home was a working farm, and the food gleaned from the flock of chickens and herd of cows fed those who lived here. The older children helped with the farm chores, just like children did on family farms throughout the country.
Life was good, and support of the National Home was strong. The VFW Ladies Auxiliary was wrapping up its fundraising efforts for an on-site hospital building costing an estimated $25,000. By November 1929, 10 homes had been built and four more houses were under construction. Things looked bright and the National Home was on a steady path of growth.
Then the Great Depression hit.
The Great Depression
By 1931, the National Home’s Board of Trustees reported that the Home’s income had fallen by more than $25,000, and any further reduction might mean that its income would not equal current expenses. A resolution was passed that one week each year would be designated National Home Week. All VFW posts were to promote the Home and hold a benefit to raise money, with 75 percent of proceeds going towards building new homes.
The VFW members answered the call—three homes were built during 1931. The Ladies Auxiliary project, the on-site hospital, also was completed that year.
However, more was needed to sustain the fledgling National Home. One idea for raising funds was to sell memberships to VFW and Ladies Auxiliary members. This was approved at the 1932 annual board meeting.
However, there was still work to be done. The National Home had 114 children and eight mothers living there in 1933. There were more children and World War I widows waiting to come live at the National Home, and these needs still had to be met.
Growth During the Depression
In the fall of 1933, the VFW’s Foreign Service reported that two state homes were in the works and that a $6,000 payment for another state home was being negotiated.
During that year’s fall Board of Trustees meeting, Ladies Auxiliary President Julia Pitcock proposed a recreation center for the children. The project was approved by the trustees.
And in spite of the uncertain future, everyday life continued at the National Home. The young people went to school and came home to chores, mealtime, and then family time. They graduated from high school and several young people made plans for further education. One young lady planned to take nursing courses and one young man entered an Eastern preparatory school to prepare for West Point.
The Ladies Auxiliary’s Community Center Fund rapidly grew and plans included building a combined gymnasium and auditorium where athletic events, contests and games would provide recreational activities for the residents.
The National Home’s Future
The National Home survived the Great Depression when many other institutions did not. As the 1930s closed, the Home had new houses, a brand-new Community Center, and the Cootie Field was in the works.
The fact that the Home survived and even thrived showed the optimism that the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary held for the future in spite of the ongoing Depression. Now they would face new challenges, as World War II came closer.