The vast needs of a nascent peace-time military, transformed overnight into a multi-million-man world power, provided the economic stimulus needed to propel the United States out of the Great Depression and into prosperity. Thanks to countless government contracts, millions of men who heretofore had no work were desperately needed by companies to fill jobs in factories located in towns throughout the nation. But the sudden wealth of jobs was accompanied by a dearth of housing for these workers and their families. The federal housing project that built homes for war industry is the subject of the book I Grew Up in War Housing: The History of the Defense Housing Projects in East Alton, Illinois 1941-1954 written by Philip David Walkington.
East Alton, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis located along the banks of the Mississippi River, was one such town affected by the sudden war industry needs. Home to one of Western Cartridge Company’s factories, it suddenly found itself overflowing with workers attracted to the factory by the high-paying war industry jobs the company offered. Among the many workers hired was Emory Walkington, Philip’s father. And, like all the other out-of-town workers now in East Alton, he and his family needed a place to live. Responsibility for providing housing for him and other workers like him throughout the nation was the job of the Federal Works Agency, which did so through the Defense Housing and Community Facilities and Services Act of October 1940, popularly called the Lanham Act.
Phillip has done an extraordinary job shedding light on a forgotten, yet vital, chapter in the home-front history of World War II. His research is excellent. In addition to highly-detailed accounts and descriptions of the design and construction of the housing units and sites chosen for them, his narrative includes contemporary newspaper accounts of the social impact of war housing communities like those in East Alton on host cities and their services. He includes stories from other communities, with attention paid to white cities suddenly finding themselves with a significant influx of African-American workers.
I Grew Up in War Housing includes illustrations of housing blueprints and photographs of families and their war housing homes, along with other contemporary documents. For history buffs interested in little-known facts about World War II, and for individuals interested in housing construction and the sociological impact on communities caused by the sudden influx of large groups, I Grew Up in War Housing is a must-have book in the library.
Review by Dwight Jon Zimmerman (March 2019)
During WWII, two government defense housing projects were built in East Alton, Illinois. These projects became known as the “defense area,” where author Phillip Walkington lived from birth through high school. War workers flocked to our small village seeking employment with Western Cartridge Company and though jobs were to be had, there was nowhere for the influx of workers to call home. Multiple tiers of government worked together to build the defense housing projects under the Lanham Act, which provided federal funds to defense-impacted communities where the population had soared and local facilities were overwhelmed. Only now does Walkington fully understand the unique set of conditions in which he grew up. He says, “Those conditions created an unintentional experiment in social reorganization and a broad and ongoing lesson in community identity.” Written to praise the war workers who in-migrated throughout America to support the war effort --- and for his father, who was one of those workers --- Walkington's "I Grew Up in War Housing" is a firsthand account of an exceptional place created during an unparalleled time in history.
ISBN/ASIN: ISBN: 978-1-64112-005-0
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Review Genre: Nonfiction—History
Number of Pages: 189