Keeping Them on the Straight and Narrow: Youth Strategies
Rx = School, Healthy Jobs, and Wholesome Recreation
A casual observer during the war could have gotten the impression from some newspapers, magazines, and other popular sources that an entire generation of youth was stampeding off a cliff and into an oblivion of delinquency, debauchery, and criminality. Certainly, juvenile delinquency was on the rise but sensational stories also fueled a misconception that the majority of the youth generation was on the wrong track - that listening to Frank Sinatra was a ticket to delinquency or that dancing the jitterbug was "emulating sexual foreplay." In truth, while some youth captured the headlines with their scandalous behavior, most young people went about helping their families cope with the burdens of the home front while staying in school and often volunteering for various tasks to further the war effort. Government authorities, wanting to do everything possible to maintain well adjusted and productive young people, developed a large number of policies and programs to keep them in school, working in healthy jobs, and taking part in wholesome recreation.
Although education leaders devised various ways to accomplish the goal, most of the efforts to get young people to stay in school centered on the need to make the curriculum challenging, involving, and relevant. By doing this, they hoped to stem the tide of decreasing enrollment nationally during the course of the war, and by extension reduce juvenile delinquency. By 1944, officials recorded an enrollment drop of one million students since the beginning of the war, a loss of almost 14 percent. At the same time, they wanted to prepare high school students, particularly juniors and seniors, to be productive in the war effort after graduation, either in the armed forces or in any number of civilian defense or community service jobs.(1)
Navy Pleads for Model Airplanes
The High School Victory Corps required that each member participate in wartime community service. This included a wide range of programs such as salvage and war bonds, but one that really appealed to thousands of Oregon youth was the opportunity to build model airplanes for the Navy.
Early in 1942 the Navy urgently asked the youth of the nation to build 500,000 model planes. The goal was to construct 10,000 copies of models for each of 50 different types of aircraft, both Allied and Axis. These models would then be used by Army and Navy air corps as well as civilian defense units to help with aircraft identification, range and gunnery needs, and other training purposes.
The Navy issued the plans for the planes and the Oregon Department of Education coordinated the effort with schools across the state. As usual quotas were set. State officials emphasized that elaborate shop equipment wasn't needed to construct the models. However, schools were asked to have "one or more instructors who understand the reading of blueprints and the demands of precision work which this project requires." In fact, the Navy emphasized the need for both speed and accuracy by the young builders since "all models must pass a rigid inspection with no detail omitted."
Plans called for a wide range of sizes. The smallest model would have a wingspan of 5.5 inches while the largest measured 25 inches across. Most planes averaged less than 12 inches across. They were to be made of wood such as white pine and poplar with the only other ingredients being glue and paint.
The Navy saw the program as a winner on two fronts. It provided them with needed models for training. But at the same time it "should arouse a great deal of interest on the part of pupils and parents in aviation...." Just the ticket to entice some of the most talented youth into a career in naval aviation.(15)
Participation by schools and students was voluntary, but an American Legion survey conducted early in 1943 found significant activity and plans across the state. The Legion sent the survey to 250 Oregon high schools, of which 232 responded. Of those, 86 schools already had set up a Victory Corps program with another 96 schools planning to implement it the following semester. Schools diverged significantly in what components they offered students. Thus, 78 schools offered a "general membership" in the corps, with varying offerings for the five divisions: 41 schools offered air service training; 28 provided sea service; 39 offered land service; 44 provided production service; and 53 gave students training in community service curriculum. Schools were split on offering military drill, with 47 offering it and 46 not providing it as an option, according to the survey.(3)
By 1944 education officials continued to express disappointment with the ongoing drop in school enrollment nationwide. To attack the problem, they launched the National Go-To-School Drive of 1944-45. Typical of wartime campaigns, the effort sought to educate and mobilize students, parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders, and others to think again about the importance of staying in school. Although the effort acknowledged the reality that some students need to work, both for financial support and for war production, officials wanted to limit the type and amount of work so that it would not damage educational goals. The program suggested numerous "action ideas" such as radio programs and posters targeted at various community groups. It enlisted quotations from leading generals and educators about the importance of staying in school. And it even resorted to scare tactics by cataloging accidents frequently caused by "immature, reckless, and irresponsible young workers." For example, a campaign handbook recounted the story of a "15-year-old boy on the night shift in a laundry [who] tried to extract a tangled sheet from an operating mangle. He was drawn into the mangle. His right arm was torn off above the elbow."(4)
Youth work programs and regulations
The National Go-To-School Drive and other efforts to keep students in school saw the need for balance in the approach to work and school. Too much of any kind of work was damaging, as was the case of one youth who was putting in 73 hours a week on school and work; the wrong kind of work clearly was a recipe for disaster, either physically or morally; and too little work reminded one Oregon State Defense Council official of the old saying: "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." Along these lines, the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense created the Junior Citizens Service Corps for young people under the age of 16. Patterned as a junior branch of the U.S. Citizens Service Corps, the program enlisted volunteers for unpaid work in a wide range of activities from collecting Victory Books and salvaged materials to working in hospitals and canvassing for war bond drives.(5)
Although the designers of the program encouraged local groups to adapt it to their particular needs, there was a basic pattern to the Corps. Boys and girls needed to meet three conditions in order to claim membership. Foremost was their obligation to be good citizens. To do this, a Corps handbook noted, "a young citizen [needed to be] doing his best in school work, home responsibilities, and to safeguard his personal health." Underscoring the need to fight what many saw as the moral drift into juvenile delinquency, officials reminded the potential Corps member that "personal responsibilities as a good citizen are not to be neglected for community services." In addition to that fundamental condition, participants needed to be in training for a particular community service project and they needed to pledge to do Corps work at least one hour a week.(6)Beyond volunteer work, officials recognized the reality of large numbers of young people entering the paying job force and tried to steer the results to limit the damage. By 1944 nearly three million people under 18 years old were working full or part time. Almost one million of these were only 14 or 15 years old, about 20 percent of the children of that age. During the summer the ranks of employed youth swelled with work in agricultural programs such as the youth unit of the U.S. Crop Corps called the Victory Farm Volunteers. Federal Department of Labor (DOL) officials pressed for strict limits related to hours of work. For instance, labor officials warned employers to not work 16- and 17-year-olds more than 28 hours per week during school sessions and 48 hours otherwise while 14- and 15-year-olds were to be limited to no more than 18 hours per week during school and 40 hours otherwise. Officials frowned on late night work also, saying that the older group was to quit by 10 p.m. and the younger group by 7 p.m. Of course, actual observance of these limits varied wildly according to local circumstances, both nationally and in Oregon.(7)
By late 1944 conditions had changed enough that the U.S. Department of Labor lobbied states to establish a basic 16-year-old minimum age for employment in manufacturing or during school hours. Officials looked forward to the coming postwar period when millions of veterans would be streaming back to the domestic workforce. Noting that many of these returning veterans were uneducated, disabled, or in some way "physically below par," planners didn't want them to have to compete with 14- and 15-year-old youths for low skill jobs. This problem was sure to be exacerbated by the "inevitable reduction in manpower needs that will accompany the termination of hostilities and the curtailment of war production..." Thus, officials promoted the plan as a win-win proposition: young people would be allowed to have "better mental and physical development" while veterans would be rewarded with jobs instead of unemployment lines. According to DOL research, 33 states still had a basic age of less than 16-years-old for employment in manufacturing or during school hours. Oregon was one of 28 states that set the bar at 14-years-old.(8)
Wholesome recreational outlets
Along with engaging young people with a relevant education and moderate work opportunities, most experts advocated for a robust recreational program to help stave off juvenile delinquency. And the youth of America were clear about their recreational preferences according to a survey by Fortune magazine in November 1942: "Ahead of any specific sport came dancing and movies for both boys and girls. After these the favorite pastimes are running around with friends, gab sessions, and the like." Most officials saw advantages to staging events such as dances and socials on a local basis, saying that "the object is to keep the boys and girls in their own neighborhood with their own neighborhood group." This would discourage young people from "wandering around on the streets in the afternoons and evenings" and hopefully keep them away from "places of doubtful recreational value and at the same time will satisfy their desire for gaiety and amusement."(9)
Many communities met the need for healthy social outlets by setting up canteens specifically designed for young people. The national Associated Youth-Serving Organizations, Inc. (AYSO) promoted canteens as part of a well rounded program of youth services by schools, churches, and other entities. The AYSO emphasized that young people needed to be involved in the planning and management of local canteen programs to ensure the best results. Yet, they also stressed the need for oversight in the form of adult matrons or hostesses, saying that "competent professional adult leadership skilled in the supervision of young people is urgently recommended." The key was to provide guidance in a wise and "unobtrusive" way that didn't alienate the young people and cause them to leave in favor of less savory places. Officials also never lost sight of why the canteens needed to be co-recreational: "There is no doubt but that this is one of the chief desires of youth - for boys and girls to be together."(10)
The ideal teen canteen would have several popular features that mimicked the canteens designed for servicemen. According to AYSO officials: "Youth likes to feel that it has a place similar to that of a soldier or sailor and with the same types of activities. Anything in the form of decoration or program that is like those in the servicemen's clubs will be helpful." Of course, the opportunity to dance was first on the list. Lacking this, many young people would simply ignore a canteen. Centers also featured juke boxes to go with the dancing and to set the mood. These coin-operated record players had an added advantage of providing money needed to operate a canteen. Officials also suggested that small orchestras could be brought in for special events to add to the attraction. Likewise, snack bars could bring in money to keep a center afloat, but experts recommended that prices be kept as low as possible to not drive patrons away. In design, these snack bars often imitated a "cocktail bar" with milk, soft drinks, and other non-alcoholic beverages served. A game room also could be a very good resource to bring in the youth of a neighborhood. Many of these offered such pastimes as badminton, table tennis, checkers, Monopoly, chess, and other games as well as pianos, magazines, and other offerings.(11)
Even though much of the reason behind teen canteens or centers was to keep young people away from the temptations that led to juvenile delinquency, some experts saw a real benefit for the quiet and well-behaved boys and girls, a "group which does not get very much publicity." They said that "hang-out rooms" at teen centers could provide an "informal and pleasant" place for these young people to interact without their normal self-consciousness:
Because this group is usually quiet and
well-behaved, it is very often neglected and these boys and girls are allowed
to grow up shy and ill at ease with each other, easily embarrassed and
self-conscious. In this group the foundations of unhappiness and maladjustment
are being laid for adult life.
Recently a study was made of thirty-three Wisconsin high schools. [T]wo out of every five girls, said that they never had any dates, and of these 1/3 said that they really cared. Half of the girls confessed that they were shy with boys. Half the girls did not get much chance to meet boys.(12)
Oregon officials also saw the wisdom of expanding recreational facilities targeted at teenagers. A blue ribbon committee formed by Governor Snell met in December 1943 to explore ways to improve the offerings. One member, Warren McMinnimee of the State District Attorneys' Association, highlighted how far the state had to go: "Only eleven counties out of thirty-six have places for children to go, other than commercialized recreation centers. I would strongly recommend opening schools and churches for recreational purposes."(13)
In fact, the Portland school board recommended that six schools be opened on an experimental basis during the next month for a program of weekend recreational and craft classes. The city parks bureau volunteered to furnish trained supervisors while members of the parent-teacher organization offered to act as chaperones. The plan was to make the facilities open to any student or school drop-out "who conforms to the correct social standards." The parks bureau also teamed up with the Portland housing authority to provide neighborhood recreational programs in various church, community, and school buildings throughout the city. The centers typically were open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. but were stretched to the limit in terms of supervision, with a program official revealing that "more staff workers are needed desperately." Other schools were singled out for offering successful recreational facilities for young people. The Dalles and Grants Pass both had centers patterned after USO canteens and they reported "quite satisfactory" results.(14)
Many other recreational programs aimed at adults also benefited young people. These are explored in the chapter entitled: More to Life Than Wages and Patriotism: Recreation Programs.
1. "National Go-To-School Drive" Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Security Agency, 1944. Page 16, Folder 5, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
2. "High School Victory Corps" Schedule of Subjects, Portland School District No. 1, 1942. Box 2 of 28, Education Dept. Records, OSA; "The Victory Corps Program: A Wartime Program for High Schools" Oregon Dept. of Education, January 1943. Box 2 of 28, Education Dept. Records, OSA.
3. High School Victory Corps Questionnaire Survey Summary, American Legion Oregon Department, March 20, 1943. Box 2 of 28, Education Dept. Records, OSA.
4. "National Go-To-School Drive" Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Security Agency, 1944. Folder 5, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
5. "The United States Junior Citizens Service Corps" Handbook, U.S. Office of Civilian Defense, 1943. Folder 4, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
7. "National Go-To-School Drive" Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Security Agency, 1944. Folder 5, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
8. "A 16-Year Minimum Age for Employment Proposed for 1945 Legislative Action" Policy Memorandum, U.S. Department of Labor, November 24, 1944. Folder 1, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA.
9. "Teen Trouble: What Recreation Can Do About It" Booklet, National Recreation Association, 1943. Page 17, Folder 5, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
10. "On Teen-Age Canteens" Memorandum, Associated Youth-Serving Organizations, Inc., October 1944. Folder 5, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
12. "Teen Trouble: What Recreation Can Do About It" Booklet, National Recreation Association, 1943. Pages 18-19, Folder 5, Box 31, Defense Council Records, OSA.
13. "Minutes and Reports of Governor Snell's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency," December 18, 1943. Folder 6, Box 2, Gov. Snell Records, OSA.
14. " Youth on the Loose," The Sunday Oregonian, April 4, 1943, Magazine Section, Page 7.
15. Letter from Rex Putnam to Oregon School Administrators, February 10, 1942. Box 2 of 28, Education Dept. Records, OSA; Memorandum Re: Model Airplane Plans and Procedures, U.S. Office of Education, January 30, 1942. Box 2 of 28, Education Dept. Records, OSA.