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.