OSU and the PWA

OH 4960 (2)

Recently I have been working on a chapter on Austin, Texas, and the relationship between higher education institutions (eg UT) and the federal government at mid-century. Prompted by this, I have gone back through some of my PWA research from the National Archives (map, images). You might know that New Deal programs were amazingly robust in documenting their own work and operations, in part to be able to issue promotional reports and other documentary materials to justify their continuation in the face of conservative criticism. These are now wonderful sources for historians to draw upon.

In the course of reading one report I found a quite striking project. Ohio Stadium, the famed Horseshoe football stadium at Ohio State University, included dormitories for most of the 20th century. During the Great Depression, a group of students set up cooperative housing with the help of OSU’s dean of men. Later, OSU applied to the PWA for a grant to expand and update the stadium, including the cooperative dormitory. In institutions all around the country, cooperatives sprang up or expanded during the Depression (like the Coops at Michigan, started by a socialist organization), but inclusion within a major public building like a stadium (though football stadia are often underutilized) seems like a quite innovative response.

More Census Tidbits

George W. Littlefield HouseWorking my way through more data this afternoon, I came upon the Littlefield residence on West 24th Street in Austin. This is a large, imposing Victorian house with two-story porches — really a treasure to behold in person and today I was looking at its census record from 1930.

This house was occupied in 1930 by no fewer than eight residents, with the head of the household being Alice Littlefield, the widow of George Washington Littlefield, a rancher and businessman who became a major donor to the University of Texas. The Littlefields had no children who survived childhood, so only Alice and one of her nieces were of the Littlefield clan — all the rest were lodgers or servants in the $50,000 house — about four times the value of any of the other houses in the neighborhood. Several of the servants were black, but a lodger stood out in particular. 94-year-old Nathan Stokes was listed as a black veteran of the Civil War who had been born in Mississippi, as had his parents. Either this meant he had escaped to the North, fought for the Union, and improbably returned to the South after the hostilities, or he was pressed into service on behalf of the slave states, survived, and remained in Texas. Either case woud be a fascinating story.

It turns out Stokes was Littlefield’s slave and accompanied him in his military duty as an officer in the Civil War. Stokes was in fact credited with saving Littlefield’s life after a serious battlefield injury, and remained a servant after Southern surrender. Littlefield died in 1920 and Stokes continued to live at the Littlefield house as a lodger. Alice Littlefield died before Stokes, but it is not clear to me what he did after her death, prior to his own passing. The house was donated to the university. Stokes’ age was somewhere around 100 and his death was announced in the New York Times (though their dating is likely off). A piece on Littlefield and one on Stokes (misspelled “Stockes”) are reproduced after the jump. I’d love to find more on Stokes, but no oral histories pop up — just a bit of info in the vertical file of the Austin History Center. [As a side note, no one in this house owned a radio.]
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Modest Living

As part of my book research I’m looking at the 1930 U.S. census for Austin, Texas. Since a local public library has an institutional subscription, I can look at digitized pages through Footnote/Fold3, a genealogy research service.

I stumbled across a member of the UT administration, Ivan Moore, who was Dean of Men, living near campus. To my surprise, he was renting a unit for 50 dollars a month, a very typical rent in this area (which inflates to about 678 dollars according to the BLS inflation calculator). He supported a wife and three children here, about where the Student Services Building now is, kitty corner from the Littlefield Dormitory.

This was assuredly before the major expansion of the university and its grounds, paid for by the 1923 oil field strikes, but I’m quite struck by how modestly this dean was living. I could not possibly imagine a dean renting such an average apartment these days. [As a note, there is hardly any indication of any qualifications that would make him appropriate for the Classics Department, but I guess even in those days administrators wanted -- and got -- a safety net. I wonder if Battle had something to do with it.]

UPDATE: I’ve also found 2 other deans living in this neighborhood, renting their apartments for 45 to 50 dollars a month, including the dean of the law school.

Victor Moore’s UT memorial announcement after the jump:
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Research Note

Education 1970

In the course of some dissertation research I realized that Muncie, Indiana, was a higher-paid but less-educated city than Austin, Texas in 1970. This seems to be largely because of the robust manufacturing sector in Muncie and the midwest and strength of labor organization there. This was surprising to me because I had thought that by 1970 the earning power of a college degree would have surpassed that of union membership, which this census data contradicted.

Income 1969
Austin at this time was no backwater, though Texas and the South were still generally poorer than the nation as a whole. The University of Texas had created what might be the nation’s first university research park and the city, which had had roughly the same population as Muncie in the 1920s, had leapt to a population of a quarter of a million people while Muncie growth slowed after reaching about 50,000.

Intrigued, I looked at the same data for Palo Alto, California, the classic knowledge economy, which was better-still educated than Austin and skewed towards even higher incomes, consistent with my assumptions.

I don’t think this answers my questions but it’s complicating how I’m thinking about the development of the knowledge economy. In 1963 Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California system, wrote “basic to this transformation [that is engulfing our universities] is the growth of the ‘knowledge industry,’ which is coming to permeate government and business and to draw into it more and more people raised to higher and higher levels of skill. The production, distribution, and consumption of ‘knowledge’ in all its forms is said to account for 29 percent of the gross national product, according to Fritz Machlup’s calculations; and ‘knowledge production’ is growing at about twice the rate of the rest of the economy.” Though this might be true and space, defense, and computing research might have been in growth phases at this time, by no means did the knowledge economy dominate the manufacturing economy even for the next decade.

Data from the terrific National Historical Geographic Information System.


In returning this blog to matters academic, I offer a draft of the introduction to my dissertation. It is for information and entertainment, and not for citation without the permission of the author.

Universities are places of optimism. For much of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, Americans have grafted their individual and collective dreams onto campus communities and the project of higher education. Social mobility, public health advancements, regional economic development, Cold War technological triumph, and racial integration and equalization—all of these were goals given to or embraced by the nation’s colleges and universities in addition to educating each succeeding generation in intellectual and professional pursuits. In so many of these endeavors, universities achieved measures of success that higher education has come to stand in for the American promise of progress and opportunity.
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