Cooperating for an Education with the NYA - 1938

No Beribboned Diplomas. No Latin, Chaucer, Or Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. No grades. No credits. Instead, plowing, harrowing, fertilizing land. Raising fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Running and maintaining farm machinery.

Repairing and building dairy barns, feed houses, and dormitories. Making furniture. Planning and cooking meals. Studying how and why all this work is done.

Earning board and keep and having a little left over for clothes or for the folks back home who need it. What kind of school is this? It is a NYA Resident Project for young men and women from relief families.

From the beginning of the NYA work program, rural youth have been a challenge. It is difficult to provide sound work for isolated boys and girls who have no way of getting to or from a construction job, a workshop, or a sewing room in a town 20 miles away from their farms.

It is often impossible to offer related training to these young people. When boys and girls are placed as helpers in the county agricultural agent's office or with the county surveyor, or in a library, hospital, or with the highway department, supervision is good.

These types of sponsors, however, can absorb only a portion of the rural youth, who, perhaps even more than boys and girls from towns and cities, desperately need work and training under competent, helpful supervision.

Southwestern Louisiana Institute, a State engineering, teachers, and agricultural college, situated at Lafayette, started a low-cost co-operative living plan whereby students could pay $1.00 a month for room and $12 or the equivalent for food —the equivalent might be meat, vegetables, or other produce which they could bring from their home farms.

WPA built two $20,000 dormitories for this democratic educational development. Four hundred boys, who otherwise could not have gone to college, poured into Southwestern.

They do all their own cooking, serving, cleaning, and laundry. The agricultural department acquired a large tract of land. Developments for this department loomed large and the budget was very small.

An arrangement was made with NYA for out-of-school boys to work in developing agricultural and horticultural facilities. But the NYA boys in that district came from farms often too far away for practical transportation.

The idea naturally occurred—why couldn't they have some of the educational advantages which the college teaching staff and the equipment could give them, even if they had finished only the seventh or eighth grades?

Dr. J. L. Fletcher, the Dean of the Department of Agriculture, was enthusiastic about trying this experiment. In December 1936, 25 NYA out-of-school boys arrived at Southwestern, and the first co-operative NYA Resident Project was started. We visited this college one year later. Eighty-nine young men from families on relief were living in the co-operative dormitories.

They were not regular college students. The only requirement for entrance, besides relief status, was their desire to learn how to be good all-year farmers.

Every boy works 50 hours a month in the horticulture department, the dairy, the swine husbandry unit, the farm shops, the automobile mechanics shop, the cabinet-making shop, in maintenance of college grounds and buildings, or in the kitchens of the cooperative. All the boys "rotate" through all these activities.

Courses of study, not the regular college courses, but especially designed for these youth, are given in subjects related to the actual work they are doing. Plans have been completed for NYA boys to build a dormitory similar to the two constructed by WPA.

At present, boys may stay in residence for six months, with the privilege of a renewal of six months provided they show that further work and study can be of benefit to them. There is no official opening or closing dates.

Boys arrive throughout the year and begin their resident work and study on the day they arrive. Each boy receives $21 a month in NYA wages, and remits $13 of this to the college for maintenance.

The resident boys live in the same co-operative dormitories as the regular college students, and all the social and athletic activities of the college are open to them.

A number of boys from this Resident School have found jobs as milkers on dairy farms, in commercial nurseries, and as crew cooks for oil companies. This first co-operative resident experiment at Southwestern Louisiana proved successful; boys worked well, improved the facilities of the college, and learned eagerly.

Five hundred and thirty-five NYA boys and girls in Louisiana are now "going away to school" in nine resident projects." Plans are being completed for a resident project at the Louisiana State University to be started with 50 boys.

This group will build a co-operative dormitory. Fifty more boys will then come as resident students and they will build another dormitory.

A final total of 200 resident NYA youth will work and study at this university in a wide range of practical fields. None will be regular college students.

We spent an evening at a NYA home economics training center in Alexandria, Louisiana, where 49 young women from rural relief families spend alternate fortnights living, working, and learning in a pleasant brick house.

Twenty-two girls who live in the city of Alexandria also are assigned to this project; here is an opportunity for mutual understanding between rural and urban youth.

The girls told us how different groups plan meals, market, cook, clean, launder, raise vegetables and chickens, and can foods. Every girl "rotates" through every phase of homemaking work. To earn their NYA paychecks, they sew for the Red Cross and for public hospitals.

Girls interested in typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping may attend WPA classes, and one afternoon a week a WPA recreational leader comes for dancing, games, athletics, and the teaching of crafts. A Red Cross nurse gives regular instruction in first aid, hygiene, and home care of the sick.

NYA employs one house mother, a graduate of a home economics college. "I'm on the finance committee this week," one NYA girl said. "We make budgets and keep books, and we even help to sign the checks!"

An advisory committee of community leaders helps to plan and direct activities; one member of this committee serves as a financial adviser, and girls on the finance committee countersign checks which she writes in payment of supplies for the house.

The girls receive from $10 to $16 a month NYA pay. When the center started in November 1937, a committee of girls figured that food costs for two weeks would average $6.00 apiece. In actual practice, this has been reduced to $5.00, which each girl pays from her earnings.

We ate supper with the girls. They were proud of their simple, good food. They showed us the table linens they had made from sugar sacks and flour sacks, the curtains they had designed and sewed, the rugs they had braided from scraps.

After supper, we sat and talked. Several were learning to knit. A young man called to see one of the girls. Two asked the supervisor if they might go for a walk. "Certainly," she said, "it's a nice evening."

"We'll be sure to be back before nine-thirty," they called, as they left. Later, the supervisor said to us: "I think it's an advantage for our young women to come here for two weeks, then return home for two weeks, and come back again.

They constantly see contrasts in diets, cleanliness, and general household management. They often tell me of applying what they have learned here at home. Their mothers and fathers are beginning to visit them, and, of course, we like that."

Arkansas has eight Resident Centers" with an enrollment of 445 boys and girls, most of whom are sons and daughters of tenant farmers and sharecroppers. We drove through mile after mile of rural Arkansas and saw homes such as theirs. Many had never had doors and windows; few had ever known paint. Wind, dirt, and rain sifted through open rough-board walls.

These homes were shacks which the ordinary Middle-Western farmer would not tolerate as outbuildings. The first four Arkansas Resident Centers, opened in June 1937, were planned chiefly for agricultural work. Training was given on the job. The boys and girls wanted more than this. Not all the boys wished to be farmers; some were interested in auto mechanics or forestry.

The program was reorganized after the first few months and broadened in both work and educational activities. In agricultural training, more emphasis is now placed on particular fields in which boys show individual interests, such as livestock production, dairying, soil erosion, and improved farm methods.

Boys are given the chance to earn and learn in woodworking, welding, auto mechanics, soil conservation, forestry, power plant operation, and business occupations. Besides specific vocational studies, boys and girls are receiving general related instruction in English, mathematics, science, citizenship, physical education, and use of the library.

At Magnolia Agricultural and Mechanical College, one of the four Arkansas Resident Projects of which we had a glimpse, 22 NYA boys remodeled an abandoned building for a dormitory. The 22 boys who live here have their meals with the regular student body and take part in the extra-curricular activities of the college.

President Charles A. Overstreet, with whom we talked at Magnolia, said: "You wouldn't know these boys after they've been here a month or two. In the first six weeks, most of them gain ten to twenty pounds. A lot of them never had a day's full meals before.

The associations these boys get from their new environment would be worth this whole thing even if they didn't get a single other thing. But they're getting a lot more. They're learning how to make a living on a farm, which has been rare in Arkansas, as most of our farmers don't know how to make the soil produce enough for subsistence."

At Conway, Arkansas, we ate supper with a lively group of 38 boys and 30 girls who are NYA resident workers and students at the State Teachers College. It seemed incredible that these alert, clean, simply but attractively clothed youngsters came from the desolate farms that we had seen as we drove to Conway.

Girls and boys eat together at tables for ten or twelve, and one girl is a hostess at each table. As part of their regular work, the girls plan, cook, and serve the meals of the whole resident group.

"Do you like it here?" I asked my table hostess. "Yes, I do, now," she said. "At first I was kind of homesick. You know how it is when you've never been away from home at all. Not even farther than five miles.

There's eight of us children at home, too. After I got acquainted, I wasn't lonesome. I was home for Christmas, and I was glad to get there. And, then, I was glad to get back here."

Two of the boys at our table were playing in a basketball game that evening, and they were plainly excited. "Have you played basketball before you came to Conway?" we asked. "No," one answered. "We never had any place to play."

Besides cooking for the entire resident group, the girls take complete care of their own co-operative home, sew, launder, raise chickens, tend gardens, and assist the housekeepers in the regular campus dormitories. They observe and help in the WPA nursery school. In their own NYA house, they refinished all the woodwork and waxed the floors.

Each week four different girls live in a small cottage in the yard of this co-operative home. Here they cook, clean, and run a model family-sized home. Each evening, they entertain four NYA boys at supper. The boys built kitchen shelves and equipment for this cottage.

The State Department of Home Economics Education furnishes two full-time supervisors for this girls' resident project planned for family-life education. NYA boys at Conway work in the city power plant, in the college heat plant, in the State Forestry Station, and in carpentry, cabinetmaking, sheet metal, and auto mechanics shops.

Some are also getting work experience in landscaping, farm- and soil-mapping, and soil-erosion control. Dairying, poultry-raising, and livestock-raising are the principal agricultural pursuits. Besides related training instruction in all these fields of work, they have specially planned English, mathematics, and citizenship classes.

On a rolling hilltop in Russellville, Arkansas, 31 NYA boys, resident students at Polytechnic College, are working on a complete campus for out-of-school, unemployed Arkansas youth. We saw some of these young men building dormitories and a supervisor's house.

The plans call for four dormitories to house 96 youth, a recreation hall, a dining hall, athletic grounds, and, adjacent to this campus, a poultry house, barn, and machinery repair shop. The boys may also choose work and related training in auto mechanics, power plant operation, or diversified agriculture.

In these four Arkansas Resident Centers that we visited, boys and girls do NYA work 100 hours a month to earn $25 each, of which they pay $18 for board and room and 50 cents into a co-operative medical fund. Georgia has eight Resident Centers," where 517 NYA boys and girls divide their time equally between productive work and study.

For their half-time work, they each earn $27.20 a month, $17.20 of which covers the cost of their board and room. We were told that many of them send home the bigger part of their remaining $10. Five Georgia resident projects are for white youth, and three for Negro.

All but one are co-educational. Girls usually sew for public agencies to earn their wages, and in addition receive well-rounded practice and training in home economics, gardening and canning, handicrafts, and childcare. Rural Georgia boys who come to these resident projects seldom know how to raise anything but cotton.

Their work and their training are planned to give them knowledge and understanding of diversified farming—poultry-, swine-, and cattle-raising, dairying, gardening, and soil conservation.

They have a chance to learn farm mechanics, the care and repair of farm machinery; they acquire some of the fundamentals of construction so that, when they go home, they will know how to repair and how to build new farm sheds, barns, and houses.

At Fort Valley, in middle Georgia, 81 Negro boys and girls who have gone to school only four to five years are living for six months at the Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School. The 56 resident boys are completing the only Negro recreational camp in the State.

Largely through the generosity of Mr. A. T. Wilson, a Negro faculty member of this school, a 150-acre tract of land was obtained, and NYA boys cleared and landscaped this property.

They have completed 25 cabins to house 250 campers, a large assembly and dining hall, an athletic field, and a 500-foot earth dam with two concrete spillways, which will make an 18-acre lake.

The camp is available to all Negro youth groups in Georgia. Negro organizations such as the YMCA, the YWCA, and the Urban League have formed a permanent board to administer it.

As the boys build the camp, they receive from the school's regular staff related instruction not only in the actual work they are doing but also in practical farming, health and hygiene, and elementary subjects such as reading and writing.

In the foothills of western Georgia, 48 NYA boys and girls are resident students at West Georgia College, a junior college of the State university system. Upon entering, all these youth, most of whom had no more than elementary schooling, took intelligence tests ordinarily given to the regular student body. One NYA boy had an intelligence quotient two points higher than any ever recorded in this institution.

Southern States have led in the development of the NYA Resident Program. Rural relief youth in many parts of the South have been denied even what is usually considered a minimum American education. Many of them know only one-crop farming. If the soil is to provide them a living, they must learn new, better, and diversified farming methods.

Their parents have seldom known how to raise chickens, cows, or pigs. Surprisingly, few Southern tenant farmers, sharecroppers, or small individual farmers know how to raise vegetables and fruit.

The NYA Resident Center can open many new agricultural possibilities to Southern youth. Of course, there is no reason why every rural boy should want to be a farmer.

There is a trend in the Resident Program toward giving boys not interested in farming a chance to acquire training in other fields, such as auto mechanics, conservation, or shop work.

A group of NYA resident boys from sharecropper and tenant farmer families was asked: "How many of you want to be farmers?" Not more than two or three hands were raised.

This same group was then asked: "If it were possible for you to buy land and simple buildings, and pay for them over a period of time at a reasonable rate of interest, how many of you would like to farm?" The majority quickly raised their hands.

When resident projects were first established in the cotton belt, some resistance from plantation owners was expected. This has not materialized, according to the reports of NYA officials in the Southern areas.

Undoubtedly the Resident Centers are introducing to these young people a new standard of living and ways of life likely to make them discontented with their former lot. But apparently many landlords believe that this training will make more valuable tenants of the youth.

Some, we are informed, have expressed sympathetic interest in the possibility that the more energetic and ambitious youngsters in the families of their tenants may have opportunities in other fields opened up to them through their training in Resident Centers.

Another reason why the South leads in the resident program may be that many of its educational institutions seem to have less reluctance than has been shown in some other sections of the country to open their doors to relief youth, sometimes illiterate, usually badly dressed, often completely inexperienced in the ordinary social amenities, but in need of earning their living as they learn spelling, writing, arithmetic, farming, trades, or homemaking.

NYA Resident Centers, however, are by no means confined to Southern States. Idaho has developed five centers for rural youth, who often live in isolated mountain or farm districts. Intermountain Institute in the fertile Snake River Valley in Idaho was originally planned with just such a philosophy as underlies the agricultural NYA Resident Project—to give farm youth who cannot take advantage of regular agricultural colleges an opportunity to earn their way as they learn practical methods of scientific farming.

Because of a lack of funds, Intermountain Institute was forced to disband its school in 1933, although the land was still worked, and the fine herds were maintained. A campus with dormitories, vocational farm buildings, a gymnasium, and a library was idle.

In January 1938, an arrangement was completed whereby School District Number 1 of Idaho took title to Intermountain Institute, and turned over to NYA all the campus buildings, furniture, and equipment, all barns, livestock, and poultry, and 700 acres of good farming and grazing land.

First NYA resident girls moved in and made curtains, bed linens, and other household supplies for a large resident group. The girls also cook, clean, launder, raise chickens, garden, and have training classes in practical academic subjects, health and hygiene, and childcare.

In the latter part of April 1938, the first groups of NYA resident boys arrived. One hundred and seventy-five are to work and study here. They are raising wheat, alfalfa hay, oats, rye, corn, sugar beets, potatoes, and garden vegetables. NYA inherited a champion Holstein herd, 1,500 white Leghorn chickens, and 50 Duroc red hogs.

The farm equipment includes all types of machinery from a wheat combine to hoes and rakes. Besides farm work and study, these boys maintain and repair buildings, make roads where needed, maintain and repair the watershed of the Weiser River, from which water for this land and other farms is obtained, and work in trade shops necessary for so large a farm plant.

The State Department for Vocational Education has furnished two home economics teachers for the girls, and three agricultural teacher-supervisors for the boys. The University of Idaho is interested in providing "agricultural internes," graduate students in the College of Agriculture, to assist in the supervision of practical work and classroom instruction.

The income from crops sold goes for taxes, insurance, equipment, general upkeep, and improvement of the property. Each NYA boy and girl at this Resident Center receives $25 a month pay.

All live co-operatively, with committees to budget living costs, purchase foodstuffs not raised on the farm, keep books, and charge resident students according to their individual shares of the total living expenses.

Wisconsin calls its ten NYA resident projects Co-operative Training Centers. The name is singularly appropriate because the 302 rural boys enrolled in these centers each pool $20 a month of their $24.85 NYA salary into a common fund from which they pay all living expenses.

Boys elect their own committees to make budgets, purchase food and household supplies, in some cases rent living quarters, keep books, and pay bills.

At the end of the six- or seven-months' training period, the co-operatives declare dividends from surplus funds. For example, at the Co-operative Training Center at the Marinette Vocational School, 27 NYA boys rent a house for $45 a month, pay for gas, light, heat, water, and food. They do their own cooking, cleaning, personal laundry, and general household maintenance.

Their February 1938 per capita living cost was $16.73, leaving a co-operative dividend of $3.27 for that month. Each Wisconsin Co-operative Center has its own self-government organization and makes its own disciplinary rules.

Once a month the elected presidents of the ten co- operatives meet in Madison to discuss common problems and to act as a youth advisory board to the State NYA.

Most of the Wisconsin centers are established at State vocational schools, and, consequently, a wide variety of both work and training can be offered the resident youth.

In Racine, 30 boys are building an airplane hangar and constructing school furniture; they attend some of the regular classes in the vocational school as well as separate courses designed to fit their specific needs and educational backgrounds.

At Green Bay, another NYA group is developing a 120-acre wildlife sanctuary. According to individual interests and aptitudes, they have choices of practical work and study in auto mechanics, woodworking, electricity, sheet metal, a machine shop, and commercial subjects.

At some centers, boys are building NYA dormitories either from salvaged lumber or from materials contributed by sponsors. Boys who wish to concentrate on farming may work and study in many different agricultural fields, from plant and animal husbandry to farm mechanics and co-operative marketing.

Although the Wisconsin resident boys usually live apart from the regular student body of the school, they may take part in all social and athletic activities of the sponsoring institutions.

Each year at the University of Wisconsin, about 100 NYA boys from rural relief families attend the Agricultural Short Course. They live in barracks provided by the university and work 55 hours a month each, assisting on the university farm or in the library, or making and repairing furniture for the university.

Because of Wisconsin's outstanding vocational education system, Co-operative Training Centers have been comparatively easy to establish. Vocational schools offer well-equipped shops, excellent teaching, and deep interest in the problems of economically underprivileged youth who wish more education and training but who have found the doors of academic schools closed to them.

NYA provides them work with which they can earn their livings and the opportunity to continue their education and to discover and develop useful occupational skills.

Betty and Ernest K. Lindley, "Cooperating for an Education," in A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, New York: The Viking Press, 1938, pp. 86-99.

Return to Top of Page

WPA / Works Progress Administration
GG Archives

Brochures, Booklets, & Pamphlets


Farmers on Relief and Rehabilitation - WPA - 1937

Inventory: An Appraisal of Results of the Works Progress Administration - 1938

Rural Families on Relief - Research Monograph XVII - 1938

Rural Youth: Their Situation and Prospects - Research Monograph XV - 1938

Rural Youth - Their Situation and Prospects - Conclusions - 1938

New Deal for Youth - The National Youth Administration (NYA) - 1938

1935-05 The Drought and Current Farm Imports

1936-10-15 Report on Progress of The Works Program

Final Report on the WPA Program 1935-43

Handbook of Proceedures - 1937

Report on Progress of WPA Program - 1942

Other Information

WPA Reference Section