AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The New Deal touched many aspects of the American zeitgeist to prop up the economy and get people back on their feet. One facet that the New Deal helped was education.
Here on the High Plains, the New Deal helped build schools and expand existing ones, helping those achieve knowledge in the process.
The Public Works Administration was created by the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration with an executive order on May 6th, 1935.
In many respects, PWA projects resembled those of the WPA; both conducted large-scale endeavors such as schools, courthouses, city halls, hospitals, roads, streets, and engineering structures such as waterworks, bridges, and dams, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
According to The Living New Deal, unlike the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, the PWA was not devoted to the direct hiring of the unemployed. Instead, the PWA administered loans and grants to state and local governments, which then hired private contractors to do the work. These contractors were to hire skilled and unskilled labor, as necessary, and purchase materials from the standard suppliers in each appropriate industry. The state or local government was required to provide 70% in matching, later reduced to 55%, that’s according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The PWA, like the WPA, let state and local governments take the lead in choosing which projects they want built, what designs to use, and who to contract with.
Many institutes of education saw the benefits of the New Deal.
“It modernized education in Texas. It provided schools for rural areas who might have had a one-room school before,” said Susan Allen Kline, a historian and preservationist.
One of those institutes was West Texas A&M University, then called West Texas State Teachers College.
“At least one newspaper called WT, ‘The college that the Great Depression built’ and they said that really because of the New Deal, WT and WT’s administration took advantage of what the New Deal was doing. The New Deal gave money to help with employment as we all know, so they would pay people to work on some of the buildings around here, for example, Buffalo Courts was the first athletic dormitory in the state of Texas and it was built in 1934… The New Deal would pay students, I think the Works Progress Administration paid students to help build the faculty… They built Stafford Hall, Stafford Hall was the first male dormitory on campus, it was built in 1936…They built Terrill Hall. They were very important and I think we have to look at what the New Deal did,” said Dr. Marty Kuhlman, the Jenny Lind Porter Professor of History.
According to the WTAMU Alumni Association and the university, Buffalo Courts began with WT Coach Al Baggett’s dream of building a dormitory and recreation facility for college athletes. The Canyon Athletic Club started a fundraising project, and various activities were held to raise money, and the state legislature appropriated funds as well. Along with these funds, the college contributed enough money to begin construction. A grant from the Works Progress Administration was also given and in total, $150,801.00 was raised for the construction of Buffalo Courts. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration hired students from the college to
help build Buffalo Courts, construction began on August 22, 1934, and the courts were completed in 1936. Since the 1980s, WTAMU’s Alumni Association has called the building home.
According to West Texas A&M University, since the opening of the university, it had no housing for men. That would change when the university received a loan of $50,000 from the Public Works Administration and in 1936, the first men’s dorm on a Texas teacher’s college campus was opened. The dorm was named for Professor B.A. Stafford, head of the Latin Department in the first faculty. According to the university, the dormitory grew in size with additions in 1955 and 1957, and from 1943 to 1944, the dorm was converted into barracks for the ROTC unit.
The National Youth Administration sought to give industrial training to men. From 1939 to 1942, they built, in addition to a shop, a dormitory using abandoned barracks from the CCC camp in Palo Duro Canyon State Park which formed the base of the dormitory, this dorm would become Terrill Hall. The dorm was named for R.A. Terrill, professor of Manual Arts in the first faculty, who supervised construction. According to WTAMU, in 1957 the dormitory was converted into housing for athletes, and a new Terrill Hall was built at a cost of $503,807. Later, this building housed Residential Living. In 2005, Terrill Hall was torn down to make room for what would become Buff Hall.
According to WTAMU, Cousins Hall, originally in 1920 and named for the founder and first president of WT, became the first dormitory on campus. Cousins Hall is the first state-funded dormitory and is still open, making it the oldest working women’s hall in Texas. Cousins Hall was expanded as a New Deal project during the 1930s and the construction was undertaken with the aid of PWA funds.
Also in Canyon, on 2nd Avenue reside a set of “Spanish-style cottages,” known as El Pueblo. According to the Living New Deal, these cottages were created for married students at West Texas State Teachers College. They were a PWA project built in 1936, with funds from a $27,400 loan and $11,105 grant. The cottages have been relocated from their original spot. Each building provides a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and three bedrooms, and accommodates six students. The Living New Deal went on to say that the rent was $30 per month, or $5 per student if the house was fully occupied.
Kuhlman said the New Deal helped WT survive the Great Depression.
“At least part of the state was saying ‘Do we even need WT?’ or do we need it to be a four-year college even during that time, and I think if it wasn’t for the New Deal the state might have got more of what they wanted and might have limited the rights of WT or the ability to be a four-year college,” said Kuhlman.
Kuhlman said there are still some legacies at WT you can see from the New Deal.
“Buffalo Courts, as you mentioned, but also students really working in the library, in the museum, getting jobs. A lot of that started from the New Deal. Works Progress Administration, the National Youth Administration which came about, there are a lot of things that we see today that still continue to be something, for example when you have students working on campus, you can say ‘Well that’s a legacy really of the New Deal,’ said Kuhlman.
By the end of 1933, the national government had organized the Federal Emergency Relief Administration or FERA. Kuhlman said that the FERA paid students to work in the library or to work in the museum. FERA would pay worthy students who couldn’t meet college expenses from $10 to $20 a month to do “socially useful” work around campus.
In February of 1934, Amarillo College also signed a contract with FERA. Amarillo College, then called Amarillo Junior College was allowed aid for up to 10% of the enrollment, at the time there were 228 enrolled at the time of application, so 22.8 positions would be allowed. This program, according to ‘The AC Story: Journal of a College by Joe F. Taylor, let a number of students, who would have otherwise dropped out for financial reasons, finish the year.
Help from the New Deal also came to AC and WT in the form of the National Youth Administration (NYA). It helped many students go to school or stay in school. At AC about 20% of the students participated. The approximately $5 to $15 a month they received was often enough to make the difference between staying in college or dropping out.
In June 1935, AC board president Joe Dooley told the board that B.I. Barfield, who represents the Oliver Eakle estate had offered to sell the college a site located between 22nd and 24th and Washington and Monroe Streets. The college had been operating out of the Amarillo Municipal Auditorium since its opening in 1929. Board members Fancer Upshaw and C. T. Crowe were appointed to talk to Barfield and get the best price on Block 146 of the Oliver Eakle addition and to see about an option to buy blocks 129, 130, 141, and 142. The board also authorized its secretary George M. Waddill, to sell bank warrants issued against uncollected taxes. Upshaw and Crowe reported back in late June. The board had been seeking a PWA authorization for $100,000 ($45,000 in federal funds and $55,000 in local financing) to be used on a new campus and building. Subject to the approval of this request, board member A.L. Morgan made a motion, seconded by board member E.R. Cox, to purchase Lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 21, 22, 23, and 24 of block 146 for $6,300, to be paid partly in cash and partly in credit on taxes. A substitute motion by Upshaw, seconded by Crowe, was to purchase blocks 129, 130, 141, and 142 instead of block 146. This motion was lost with only Upshaw and Crowe voting for it, and with Morgan’s motion approved, this all according to Taylor.
In July, Dooley reported that a discussion with a PWA representative for Texas had indicated arrangements were declared satisfactory, but the board needed to hire an architect. After a discussion, Guy Carlander was hired.
On August 12, 1935, the Amarillo College board passed a resolution authorizing Dooley to execute and file an application with the United States for a grant to aid in financing the construction of a two-story junior college building, with a gymnasium, to be built.
According to Taylor, the board saw no need for a bond issue, but trustees did increase the budget for the coming year to $70,569, with the previous year’s budget being $37,615, and set the tax rate at .20 on the $100 valuation. On November 9, 1935, the AC board and the federal government reached an agreement on financing and the bids were to be submitted by December 10th.
Wage scales were set for workmen, generally a $1 an hour, although stonemasons were allowed $1.25 an hour. Semi-skilled workers were to receive from .40 to .75 per hour and clerical workers would be paid $12 a week.
Work did not begin immediately, however as there were many details to clear up. Adjustments had to be made because there was not enough money, for instance, the board decided to drop plans for the auditorium, but the PWA came through in August of 1936 with enough money to restore the auditorium. Finally, in, October, a $73,170 grant was received from the federal government. The grant was for 45% of the cost, with the government paying for the additional cost of the auditorium. Work finally started on building on October 12th, 1936.
The new building rapidly took shape and would open in 1937. Carlander actually had bigger plans for the new building, it was to be the first section of a building to extend from 22nd to 24th along Washington.
In late September 1938, the board heard from the PWA on its application for assistance in building a gymnasium. The US offered to finance 45% of the cost and Upshaw, now the president of the board, was authorized to sign a contract with the federal government. In October, George Ordway presented a petition to the board calling for a bond election to finance the remaining 55% of the cost of the gym. The bond was presented to the voters and passed and it wasn’t until the end of 1939 that the gymnasium, according to the book ‘The AC Story: Journal of a College by Joe F. Taylor.
Both buildings are still standing at Amarillo College as Ordway Hall and Russell Gymnasium.
One of the oldest schools in Amarillo also saw some improvements from the New Deal.
According to documents obtained from Kline, a PWA application was applied for 1938 for a gymnasium. Horace Mann Middle School or Horace Mann Junior High had a new gymnasium constructed in 1939.
A PWA application was also applied for in 1938 to build a new school in Amarillo.
That school wasn’t completed until 1941 and was the Horace Mann Primary Unit, later renamed in the 1950s to Ralph Waldo Emerson, according to Amarillo ISD, and is now currently Johnny N. Allen Sixth Grade Campus.