Life Changing Vocational Education for Disabled WWI Veterans
written by Donna Casement, State Library of Kansas
KGI Online Library Blog -- September 10, 2020
(All copies of newspaper articles cited here
“Across 3,000 miles of ocean, in 1917 and 1918, we transported an army of 2,000,000 Americans, practically without loss of life from enemy guns, torpedoes or mines. Across that same expanse of water a little later, 117,000 wounded and sick were brought back to the United States-some to live, some to die, many not to know for years the price they must pay for their participation in the war. The total toll of war was such that death or disability claims have been filed for one-fifth of all the men who served in the armed forces of the United States during the World war. More than half a million claims have been allowed. And nearly ten years after the war-on July 1, 1928-250,000 veterans were receiving disability compensation.” (#1-The Toronto Republican, November 7, 1929)
“During World War I, 224,000 soldiers suffered injuries that sidelined them from the front. Roughly 4,400 returned home missing part or all of a limb. Nearly 100,000 soldiers were removed from fighting for psychological injuries; 40,000 of them were discharged. By 1921, approximately 9,000 veterans had undergone treatment for psychological disability in veterans’ hospitals. As the decade progressed, greater numbers of veterans received treatment for ‘war neurosis'. Ultimately, whether mental or physical, 200,000 veterans would return home with a permanent disability.” (“World War I: Injured Veterans and the Disability Rights Movement” by Wendi Maloney, Library of Congress BLOG)
Many disabled veterans returning to Kansas from the war needed assistance in rehabilitation and vocational training for injuries received during their wartime service. The federal government established the Federal Board for Vocational Education in 1917 and the following year, the Smith-Sears Vocational Rehabilitation Act. In 1919, the American Legion was established. This organization became a vocal and effective advocate for the medical support, financial compensation and vocational training of disabled veterans.
Multiple higher education institutions in Kansas adapted their curriculum to accommodate returning service men with disabilities. “The enrollment of the trainees of the Federal Board to date is approximately two hundred and fifty, which is about three times the number enrolled at the opening of the fall semester last year. Before the end of the year, the enrollment should go considerably above the three hundred mark,” said O. W. Price, local supervisor of vocational students at the Kansas State Agricultural College. Price went on to explain that one third are of college rank, the other two thirds are in the School of Agriculture and the several trade courses. (#2--Manhattan Nationalist, Manhattan, Kansas, October 14, 1920)
“The line of training that each man receives depends upon his early schooling, the kind of work he has followed since leaving school, his physical handicap, and his desires for his future,” according to R. L. Clute at the Kansas State Agricultural College. (“Training Disabled Ex-Service Men at the Kansas State Agricultural College” page 232, by R. L. Clute (1919-20, Twenty-second Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture)
The article by Clute went on to report that 78 men were enrolled as regular college students, 167 of the men were below college rank and that 80 of these were enrolled in the School of Agriculture taking classes in animal husbandry, dairying, poultry and beekeeping, agronomy and horticulture. Eighty-seven were specializing in various shop classes. Clute wrote, “The most difficult problem was whether to promote or demote individuals. A month or two after the school year began it was ascertained that certain men should be demoted and others promoted, but a sort of comradeship had developed in the classes, so that each man was unwilling to leave the group. The most apt students resisted the change as firmly as did the slower ones. But the problem was met in various ways.”
The Federal Board for Vocational Education had two divisions, the Vocational Education Division and the Industrial Rehabilitation Division. Representatives met with disabled veterans throughout Kansas to ascertain their acceptance into the appropriate program for their level of skill and disability.
“Good news for ex-service men suffering with disabilities which constitute vocational handicaps was received in Minneapolis today by the American Legion Posts, the Red Cross and other agencies cooperating in the work of aiding former service men. Local people who received the announcement declared it one of the most important steps taken by the Federal Board for Vocational Education in the handling of its job of retraining soldiers, sailors, marines or nurses, whose disabilities incurred in, or traceable to the service prevent them from competing successfully in their old employment.” (#3-Minneapolis Betterway, December 30, 1920)
In January 1921, the American Legion presented to President Wilson and Congress an appeal for just treatment for sick and disabled veterans of the World War. The Legion stated that thousands of disabled veterans were waiting for compensation for their injuries. The American Legion called for the integration of the three individual federal programs, the Public Health Services, the Federal Board for Vocational Education, and the financial support from the War Risk Bureau. “Thousands have waited for months for an opportunity to re-establish themselves as self-sustaining members of society by vocational training. Afflicted and penniless veterans have been driven to refuge in almshouses and jails. Many have died and if immediate relief is not forthcoming more will die, destitute, without proper medical care.” (#4-The Wichita Beacon, January 16, 1921)
In Kansas, the Federal Board for Vocational Education had offices throughout Kansas. Topeka had a local office established on February 21, 1921. “In the Topeka territory there are 1,000 disabled men. Of this number 420 are now in training under the supervision of the local office of the Federal Board for Vocational Education, and 318 will enter the training within the next three months. Of the number in training, 55 are in Topeka and 225 are in Manhattan at the Kansas State Agricultural College” (#5-The Topeka State Journal, July 16, 1921)
In 1921, Congress created the Veterans’ Bureau to consolidate the Federal Board for Vocational Education, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance and the Public Health Service. This action was lobbied and supported by the American Legion.
The University of Kansas had 103 former service men enrolled in their 1921 fall classes. “The number of men is a distinct increase over the number who received training last year,” according to John R. Dyer, dean of men. “Last year there were approximately seventy-eight; and these men were enrolled in nearly all the different schools and departments of the University, as they are this year. Ages of the men range from twenty-one to forty-seven. I want the people of the University to know that all men who are receiving vocational training are not totally disabled. The Vocational Education Act does not imply that a man should be physically disabled to receive its benefits; he must be vocationally handicapped in the pursuit of the vocation he followed before the war, by reason of disability incurred in the service, he is entitled to vocational training.” (#6-University Daily Kansan, October 6, 1921)
The Kansas State Manual Training Normal School in Pittsburg reported in their 1921-22 biennial report, that the number of veterans who attended their school since July, 1921 are as follows: June, 1921-205, Fall, 1921-315, Spring, 1922-335, Summer, 1922-287, and Fall, 1922-260. “The courses these trainees carry are in many instances the same as are taken by our Smith-Hughes classes. Their advanced courses are built upon these vocational classes. Twenty-eight of these trainees have changed their objective to teaching since coming to us. It is the judgement of their instructors that they will make excellent teachers.” (1921-22, Fifth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Manual Training Normal School, Pittsburg, page 32) (Report is within the 1921-22-Third Biennial Report of the Board of Administration, page 122)
In the summer of 1922, the Veteran’s Bureau released statistics on veterans receiving vocational training. Up to May 1, 1922, the Veteran’s Bureau stated 601,515 veterans had applied for vocational training, with 312,930 applications approved. “In addition to the 30,000 factories and industrial organizations which are affording placement training to 36,704 veterans, there are 3,228 engaged in the work of remaking men who were disabled or partially disabled. The number of those graduated or declared rehabilitated is constantly increasing. Up to last July, 5,050 men had been declared fit to take up new vocations, and since that time, 7,514 veterans have been added to that number.” (#7-Lawrence Daily World, July 11, 1922)
“Another Sign of War Fades From Campus” was the headline of a Manhattan newspaper in April of 1926. The Manhattan Chapter of Disabled Veterans had disbanded and presented their flag to the Manhattan Grand Army of the Republic post. “One by one the traces of the World war are disappearing from the campus of the Kansas State Agricultural College. The chapter at one time had several hundred members, practically all trainees-wards of the disabled veteran’s bureau-at the college. As the trainees completed their work and went out from the college to start weaving the broken threads of their lives back into a pattern of usefulness, the chapter’s membership dwindled until the decision was reached last week to disband.” (#8-The Kansas Industrialist, Manhattan, Kansas, April 28, 1926)