Adair Village Mothers Club: Invisible Community Builders in the Postwar Era

Students in Dr. Marisa Chappell’s fall 2023 History 363 “Women in U.S. History” class spent the final three weeks of Fall Quarter 2023 in OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center exploring women in Camp Adair’s history.

By Molly Bransetter, Gracie Kreitzer, and Emma Miller

Aerial view of Adair Village, when it served as housing for married OSC students. Image from Oregon Digital, accessed December 7, 2023.
“Married students at Adair Village housing for veterans.” Image from Oregon Digital, accessed November 30, 2023.

After World War II, Oregon State College (OSC) established married student housing on the old Camp Adair military site, calling it Adair Village. Married student housing became a necessity in the years after World War II, when the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or GI Bill, gave returning soldiers the opportunity to pursue higher education subsidized by the federal government. Student enrollment across the country soared. A 1964 article in the New York Times noted that in response to the influx, including at OSC, where “returning veterans created [an] enrollment boom in the post-war years – nearly 7,500 students by 1947,” a growth that “continued through the 1950s.”[1] Many new students were married. A 1964 New York Times article noted that as late as 1961, “American universities provided housing for 47,780 married couples.”[2] OSC was no exception; it established Adair Village in 1946 to house students with families. Much like in the postwar era’s rapidly developing suburban neighborhoods, women in Adair Village took on homemaking and community building roles. Members of Adair Village’s Mothers Club were especially active, organizing dances and holiday parties, child care and early education, and fundraising activities. Through these activities, the Mothers Club brought residents of Adair Village together and created a sense of community.

We researched the Adair Village Mothers Club in archival collections and newspapers at SCARC. A 1956 dissertation by Dan Poling, who served as Dean of Men from 1947 through the early 1970s, chronicled the establishment and operation of Adair Village. Poling, who was pursuing a doctorate in Education at the University of Oregon, was exploring solutions to the problems facing married students, and discussed “the impact of World War II upon institutions of higher education.” We focused specifically on a section about Village activities, which describes in detail the events and clubs organized by Adair Village women. Poling describes the Mothers Club as providing recreational and educational activities such as sponsoring a play school and play center for Adair Village. As the club developed, though, its attention expanded beyond child care to other community needs.[3]

Mothers Club activities are chronicled in other sources, as well. Adair Village’s newspaper, Community Spirit, which was run by the Community Church Board, frequently discussed the activities of the Adair Village Mothers Club, which was very active. The newspaper chronicles its extensive community work, from holding thrift sales to hosting Saturday night dances.[4] The Adair Village Directory, published in late 1949, included the Mothers Club in its list of “Who’s Who” in the community.[5]

Archival and newspaper sources provide limited information about specific Mothers Club members or other women at the postwar Adair Village. The Adair Village Directory included a list of club officers: Jean Koester (President), Lorene Reid (Vice President), Jo Otto (Secretary), Ruth Osburne (Treasurer), Martha Hagan (Play School Coordinator), and Joyce Kelly and Virginia Nelson (teachers).[6] It appears that these and many women residing in Adair Village were not OSC students themselves but rather the wives of male students; they do not appear in university documents or published sources such as the Beaver Yearbook and the Daily Barometer.

This photo from the University of Chicago in 1961 illustrates the typical situation of married students in the postwar era: the husband was the student, while the wife served as primary caretaker of the children, community builders, and often engaged in paid work, as well. “Married Student Housing, 1961,” from “Married Women and the Postwar University,” On Equal Terms: Educating Women at the University of Chicago, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago.

This invisibility suggests how much women’s community-building work went uncredited in the postwar period. The Mothers Club was open to all women, not just mothers, which also suggests how closely tied women’s identities and roles were to family and motherhood.

OSC and other universities responded to the needs of World War II veterans by expanding housing for married students and student families, and women’s unpaid labor turned that housing into communities. This history prompts many questions. How did these same universities respond to the growing enrollment of women, who outnumbered male undergraduates by the 1980s?[7] Oregon State University’s housing website notes that currently, applicants generally wait between sixteen and twenty-four months for family housing, suggesting that the need is significant.[8] Benton County, like most of the state, also has a severe shortage of child care slots.[9] Why are these needs seemingly so acute? And finally, how the labor of community building changed as women’s employment rates increased in the decades after World War II?

[1] Larry Landis, “Oregon State University,” Oregon Encyclopedia, accessed December 15, 2023.

[2] Allen Young, “Universities Across Country Spurred by Housing Demands of Married Students,” New York Times, January 16, 1964, 77.

[3] Dan Poling, “Adair Village: A Postwar Project in Community Living for Married Students of Oregon State College” (PhD dissertation, University of Oregon, 1956), Dan Poling Papers, Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, OR (hereafter SCARC), 132-141.


[5] “Who’s Who at Adair Village,” Adair Village Directory (Adair Village, OR: Adair Village Council, 1949, SCARC, 3.

[6] “Who’s Who at Adair Village,” 3.

[7] Oksana Leukhina and Amy Smaldone, “Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College Enrollment?” On the Economy Blog (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis), March 15, 2022, accessed January 10, 2024.

[8]Family Housing Application,” Oregon State University, accessed December 5, 2023.

[9] Megan Pratt and Michaella Sektnan, “Oregon’s Child Care Deserts 2022: Mapping Supply by Age Group and Percentage of Publicly Funded Slots” (Oregon State University, College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Oregon Child Care Research Partnership, May 2023), accessed January 10, 2024.

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