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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Time Capsule

The Project Houses

By Greg Bailey

University Archivist & Clements Curator,
Cushing Memorial Library and Archives
During the Great Depression, families struggled to send their sons to Texas A&M. The idea of cooperative housing emerged as a way for students to reduce costs by pooling their living expenses. In 1937, the college’s Board of Directors approved the construction of 14 two-story, wood-framed houses to provide for additional student housing after enrollment numbers began to rebound. 

On the morning of Oct. 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange opened its day with an 11 percent loss of value, sending panic around the country. After a slight rebound, the market took another severe hit on Oct. 28, which saw a 13 percent loss followed by an additional 12 percent drop the next day. While slight upticks and dips occurred during the next several months, by April 1931 the market began a steady decline that lasted until July 1932. The Great Depression and its accompanying economic devastation on jobs and savings had hit the United States.

As tough economic times spread across Texas and families struggled to send their sons to Texas A&M, enrollment declined. Texas A&M had seen steady enrollment growth following World War I, but the fall 1930 enrollment declined from 2,620 students to 2,433. By the start of the 1932 session, there were only 2,001 enrolled students.

This issue was accompanied by other hardships: By 1932, the state of Texas was also in a dire financial situation, with the legislature reducing total appropriations for higher education by nearly 33.3 percent and ordering a 25 percent pay cut to all state employees. Consequently, the college’s Board of Directors started a retrenchment plan to reduce expenditures by eliminating classes with an enrollment of five or less students, merging duplicative departments, initiating an early retirement program, and reducing the faculty and staff. The Board also attempted to lower the cost of tuition to retain students and went as far as to reverse a 1930 decision to increase room rent from $30 to $40 per semester and instead lowered rent to $15 per semester.

  • Russell Hall

    In 1932 , several cadets approached Dr. Dan Russell, professor of rural sociology, about the many expenses associated with continuing their education. He formed the idea of a cooperative house and obtained special permission for 12 students to live together off-campus during the 1932-33 school year. The house was later deemed "Russell Hall" and was a success.
  • American Legion Dedication

    In November 1939, the Texas branch of the American Legion approached the college’s Board about constructing a project house funded by the American Legion that could accommodate up to 89 young men, all of whom were to be sons of World War I veterans.
  • American Legion House

    The American Legion house was constructed just north of the campus project houses, making it the largest one in existence.
  • On Campus Housing

    The 1934-35 school year saw an increase to 22 project houses, and by 1936, there were 42 project houses operating in the Bryan-College Station area.
Organized by county of residence, each of the Project Houses housed 12 to 20 students and a house mom, who assisted with cooking and other domestic duties.

It was in this setting that the idea of Texas A&M’s project houses emerged. After the spring 1932 semester, several cadets from Moody, Texas, approached Dr. Dan Russell, professor of rural sociology, about the many expenses associated with continuing their education. He formed the idea of a cooperative house and obtained special permission for 12 students from Moody to live together off-campus during the 1932-33 school year. The premise was that the students would pool their financial resources, and Dr. Russell would provide guidance and negotiate deals with local businesses for additional food supplies.

When “Russell Hall” was deemed a success, nine more cooperative houses began operations off-campus the following year. The 1934-35 school year saw an increase to 22 project houses, and by 1936, there were 42 project houses operating in the Bryan-College Station area. Organized by county of residence, each of these dwellings housed 12 to 20 students and a house mom, who assisted with cooking and other domestic duties.

In April 1937, Dr. Russell approached the college’s Board of Directors about constructing project houses on campus, stemming from the need for additional student housing after enrollment numbers began to rebound in 1933. Because the project houses were cheaper to build than campus dorms, the Board approved the construction of 14 two-story, wood-framed houses and dictated that these dwellings would follow the same rules that governed campus dormitories. They were located roughly in the area between today’s Bright Football Complex and the Texas A&M Foundation’s Jon L. Hagler Center. Not unique to Texas A&M, the idea of cooperative living was widespread during the Depression, but the success of the college’s cooperative housing system attracted national attention. A story ran in Reader’s Digest, while officials from Purdue University visited Texas A&M to gain insight into the program’s operation.

In November 1939, the Texas branch of the American Legion approached the college’s Board about constructing a project house funded by the American Legion that could accommodate up to 89 young men, all of whom were to be sons of World War I veterans. The Board accepted the gift and the house was constructed just north of the campus project houses, making it the largest one in existence.

It is estimated that approximately 5,000 students resided in project houses during the Depression, and the campus project houses operated until World War II. Post-war, these units became Married Student Housing and were razed in 1988. The American Legion Project House, after later being bought by the university, became the University Police Department in 1972 before being razed in 1997 to make room for the Jon L. Hagler Center.

Cushing Memorial Library and Archives is hosting an exhibit titled “A Time of Resolve: Texas A&M During the Great Depression” until Feb. 22, 2019. The exhibit covers the campus construction boom of the early 1930s, student life, college hardships, athletics and the 1939 championship football season.

Contact:

Dunae Crenwelge '15

Marketing Communications Manager/Spirit Editor