Oshkosh's Housing Problem

Regent's Letter to Attorney General

Efforts to increase veteran housing went to the highest levels as Edgar Doudna, secretary of the Normal School Board of Regents, sought to purchase properties near the school.  This attempt, like most others, was not successful.

UWO 1999/016. UW Oshkosh Archives and Area Research Center.

While the college could provide academics and advising, it had no ability to house any of the returning veterans coming to Oshkosh to study. Men’s dormitories were simply not President Polk’s priority. Prior to the war, Polk had big plans to update his campus and he was not about to use his available state funds for men’s housing when his college lacked a modern gym, library, or student union. And after hearing from concerned fathers for years, Polk was intent on building women’s dormitories first. So for Polk, if veteran housing was to be built, it would have to be with new monies and on someone else’s land. With this in mind, the college president and Oshkosh Mayor George Oaks worked together on two different occasions, applying to the Federal Public Housing Authority. In their first application, they hoped the government would provide the money to build 100 temporary housing units. When this plan was rejected, their second idea was to convert the nearby Paine Lumber Company’s offices into veterans’ apartments. After these efforts failed, the college's Dean of Men, Ernest Thedinga, then turned to the local media for help. He wrote an article in the Oshkosh Northwestern urging citizens with extra space to rent rooms to veterans. He claimed the veterans would not be a burden on their landlords and that they had “expressed their willingness to do work about the home and…take care of their rooms.” Radio also got into the act. At Thedinga’s request, Allen Curnutt, manager of local radio station WOSH, made several presentations on air to try to help secure housing for men.

Despite all his efforts, the only official housing Polk was able to provide was a small cottage on campus for two men and their families. The cottage, which occupied a space behind Dempsey Hall, had served as the head janitor’s quarters for a time and had been converted to office space. Polk had the building remodeled into two apartments, and several vets and their families occupied the building well into the 1950s.  

1936 Quiver Page

The cottage shown to the left of the original Normal School building in a pre-1916 photograph. 

Quiver, 1936. UW Oshkosh Archives and Area Research Center.

1936 Quiver Page

Although the cottage, the small building shown on the left in this pre-1916 photo, could not house many veterans, it had a convenient location at the center of campus.

1936 Quiver yearbook. UW Oshkosh Archives and Area Research Center.

Section 2: World War II
Oshkosh's Housing Problem