Story by Avery Gregurich
Drake University, like most collegiate institutions, is in many ways a peephole into the past. In the 132 years that Drake has existed, it has been in a constant state of growth — morphing and stretching its curriculum and its campus. Antiquated structures bearing the battle-scars of unforgiving Midwestern winters stand adjacent to recently constructed, unseasoned institutes with virgin facades. It won’t surprise most readers that many of the structures and establishments that once called Drake’s campus home have since been devoured by the cold, constant hand that we call progress. One surprise does lurk in Drake’s history though: a trailer park.
World War II having a significant impact on the framework of Drake University, let alone the United States, would be a gross understatement. Looking into the history of this mystery of the Drake trailer park one of the campus publications described the situation in America during World War II as follows:
“Continually more calls came for teachers or ministers than could possibly be filled in many years. Pharmacists who were growing older knew of no one to whom they could sell their stores. Not for years had a normal law class been graduated from any school. Journalists could not be found.”
With the heavy demands placed on all citizens during the course of the war and the thousands actually in uniform, universities and colleges everywhere were by-in-large without pupils to teach, and therefore graduating classes were meager at best. The conclusion of the war in the fall of 1945 drastically changed this. Kevin Howe, adjunct instructor of history, said it was an unprecedented time. In 1944, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act was passed with the intent to “assist returning veterans of WWII in settling back in to civilian life,” Howe said. This act soon became known by the less-formal name of the “G.I. Bill.” The “G.I. Bill” offered many dividends to the returning soldiers, but the most lucrative was “tuition assistance,”
“Many vets took advantage of this opportunity and college campuses swelled with new students who had gone directly from high school into the armed services during WWII,” Howe said.
A large majority of these veterans were married upon return, leading both spouses to the grounds of universities. Strapped for cash and with limited housing, Drake was not particularly well equipped to handle this sudden influx of students, and so, in April 1946, a solution was put into effect.
In the month of April, a trailer park was opened and ready for residents. The land where it resided was not under Drake ownership, and was rented from the Des Moines Home for the Aged. Married couples doubling as university students moved in shortly after the trailers rolled in and started homes and school careers simultaneously. While undoubtedly hungry for knowledge, it became painfully obvious soon after these couples moved into the complexes that they were also eager to start families. Students began humorously referring to this strange campsite with a title that it has since become permanently entitled: Pregnant Acres.
From the spring of 1946 until the fall of 1953, Pregnant Acres operated as a world within itself. It existed as a village with its own culture and attitude. The Acres even had its own governing body, further establishing it as an entity all its own. At the height of its glory, it contained 178 trailers of various makes, models and sizes, housing the families whose children became known as the Baby Boomer Generation.
Howe said the Baby Boomer Generation was the “name given to the large increase in births in America from roughly 1946 to 1957, although some track the trend to 1964.” In this time frame, Howe estimated that 76 million infants were born. These 76 million, created what Howe would call a powerful “youth market.” Howe said “youth market” refers to the generation’s “sheer numbers combined with the growing economy.” This youth driven generation created a “very lucrative market for toys, candy, music, clothes, etcetera,”
Digital Initiatives Coordinator at Drake Claudia Thornton Frazier has her own ties to the G.I. Bill at Drake. Thornton Frazier’s, father, Bud Thornton, returned from the war also armed with a G.I. Bill and took summer classes here at Drake in what was then called the School of Commerce. He didn’t reside in one of the trailers on the Acres, but Thornton Frazier, a member of the Baby Boomer Generation, offered some insight into why some returning veterans did.
“A lot of the soldiers coming back didn’t want to come back and live in residence halls with freshmen after living in barracks during the war,” she said.
She also understands why Drake chose the seemingly strange option of bringing in these trailers. Thornton Frazier said the trailers were “easy to put up and tear down” and they were easier than having to “mess with foundations of small individual homes.” Thornton Frazier said zoning laws and building permits restricted building homes, and the trailer park was a way to bypass those.
When enough funds were available, a more permanent solution to the housing problem was proposed. Soon thereafter, in the fall of 1953, three dormitories were erected on the very ground where 178 trailers once stood. They were later to be named after benefactors to the university — Stalnaker, Crawford and Carpenter respectively. In the spring of 1954, Hubbell Dining Hall opened its doors and began serving hungry scholars. A few years later, in 1957, Herriott Hall was erected and the quadrangle of housing and dining that we know today was established, leaving the Drake Pregnant Acres trailer park yet another strange and fascinating tale of the constantly evolving Drake legend.