Getting by during the Great Depression

Allison Smith

Alumna worked for 15 cents an hour

In the 1930s, a small shack stood about where the rock is today. It was referred to as “Bachelor Hall,” and as many as 10 needy students lived there during the Great Depression. Soon, it became an embarrassment to the administration, so it then evicted the students and burned the building down.

William H. Hildebrand, professor emeritus of English, said the university was only imitating what went on around the country during the Great Depression.

“It was very hard times,” Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand helped edit “A Book of Memories: Kent State University 1910-1992” along with Anita D. Herington and Dean H. Keller. The book says board rates in the 1930s were $4 a week, and this was “beyond the means of many students.” The book also says Kent State’s student body grew during the Depression because of the scarcity of jobs.

“It was cheaper to take classes than to stay at home,” Hildebrand said.

However, Kent State, then known as Kent State College, was not as bad off as some other colleges. In 1933, the Kent Stater reported that Kent State had “financial superiority over nearly 75 other colleges of its kind in the United States.” Kent State had hired four other professors that year, according to the Kent Stater.

Helen Dix, a student at Kent State University

from 1934 to 1938, still lives in Kent to this day.

She worked her way through college and the Great

Depression at the Robin Hood, waiting on tables

for a meager wage of 15 cents an hour.

Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Helen Dix was a student at Kent State University from 1934 to 1938. She recalls most students having to work during the Depression.

“Not everybody could find a job,” Dix said. “A few people had parents who could afford to put them through school, but most people worked, so it was not a disgrace to have to work.”

Dix said she rented a bedroom and walked to school when she was a student. She worked at the Robin Hood for 15 cents an hour in order to pay her rent. Dix remembers her first tip was 10 cents.

“I waited on tables,” Dix said. “I did anything they needed. On Saturday mornings I scrubbed furniture.”

In 1935, the college gathered support on campus and among the alumni to lead a campaign for Kent State to achieve university status, Hildebrand said. It was granted, but the Ohio Government Survey Commission did not think Kent State was “equipped to play the part of a university.”

Because of this, the budget for building expansion was cut drastically, according to “The Years of Youth” by Phillip R. Shriver. According to the book, Kent State had the option of receiving funds from the federal government through the Works Progress Administration, but president James Orzo Engleman was a Republican and against the New Deal.

The Great Depression started Kent State’s second “building holiday” in which no new buildings were erected, according to an excerpt from Hildebrand’s new book on Kent State’s history. But when Engleman announced his retirement in 1937, Kent State negotiated with the WPA for finances to build new buildings. The money went toward two new buildings on campus: Engleman Hall and McGilvrey Hall.

Engleman Hall was Kent State’s first fully furnished single-room residence on campus and was available for upper-class women, Hildebrand said.

“It was the finest dorm on campus,” Hildebrand said in an e-mail, “the place most women wanted to live in when they became upperclassmen.”

The rush of student enrollment at Kent State during the Great Depression had overcrowded the classrooms, according to Hildebrand’s new book, so a new classroom building was needed.

The new science building was named after former-president, John E. McGilvrey.

“It was the first classroom building built in 12 years,” Hildebrand said.

Contact news correspondent Allison Smith at [email protected].