June 22, 1944: FDR Signs the G.I. Bill
On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the G.I. Bill. This historic piece of legislation was designed to compensate American service members for their efforts in World War II. The socioeconomic impact of the G.I. Bill would transform the United States forever.
More than 16 million Americans served in World War II. Roosevelt’s administration believed that the G.I. Bill would help these veterans transition back to better civilian lives and help protect the country from falling into another economic depression. FDR also didn't want a repeat of the Bonus March on Washington D.C. that happened back in 1932. The Bonus March or Bonus Army as it is sometimes referred, was a protest of 20,000 unemployed World War I veterans and their families in the nations capital. These veterans demanded cash payments for their veterans’ bonus certificates. The protest ended in an ugly scene as these veterans were forcibly driven away by the U.S. Army. Learning from this incident, the G.I. Bill ensured that veterans from the Second World War would be given what they earned.
1932: U.S. Veterans protest in Washington D.C. to demand cash payments for their veterans' bonus certificates. (Photo: salem-news.com)
Since being chartered by Congress in 1919, The American Legion has worked to provide services to American veterans. The Legion advocated for many of the provisions in the G.I. Bill. These provisions gave returning service members access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home loans, business loans, and funding to pursue higher education.
The pillars of The American Legion. (Photo: curtis-ne.com)
Before World War II, only 10-15 percent of young Americans were able to attend college. Higher education was seen as something that only the most privileged families could afford. All of this would change under the G.I. Bill. With this legislation, veterans had money for tuition, living expenses, books, and supplies. Research from history.com shows that by 1947, “Vets made up half of the nation’s college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.” Now that so many more Americans had access to higher education, universities across the country flourished and expanded.
World War II veterans and other students at the University of Iowa in 1947. (Photo: nor.org)
The G.I. Bill fostered economic growth and expansion in America for over 50 years. During that span, 20 million veterans and dependents used the bill’s education benefits and 14 million home loans were guaranteed. As referenced on history.com, “Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs.” Because most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education, only 20 percent of the money assigned to unemployment compensation was used by the government. The federal investment in the G.I. Bill totaled around $67 billion. As history shows, this investment paid off as it helped to build a better America.