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Soldiers Literacy Training Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

The adult education holdings are collectively known as the
Alexander N. Charters Library of Resources for Educators of Adults.

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 7 Jun 2017

Biographical History

The United States Army was one of the first American organizations to conduct national literacy tests, in an effort to determine whether recruits had basic competence in reading, writing and arithmetic. During World War I, approximately 25% of recruits -- as many as 700,000 men -- were rejected as unable to meet basic literacy qualifications. Although public education improved during the 1920s and 1930s, during World War II the military again rejected an estimated 750,000 men who could not pass the basic literacy entrance tests. This persistence of illiteracy can be attributed in part to stricter testing of recruits (the World War I tests were retired and new ones developed), and in part to an expansion of recruiting to include minorities, who were often poorer and less educated.

Prior to America's entry into the war on December 7, 1941, recruits unable to pass the Minimum Literacy Test were simply rejected. In early 1942, needing substantially more men, the military ruled that up to 10% of inductees could be illiterate so long as they were deemed "intelligent and trainable." In the winter of 1943 this quota was reduced to 5%, as illiteracy began to cause problems in the field. A few months later, however, both manpower needs abroad and the political consequences at home of excessive rejection of black recruits -- whose literacy rates in the 1940s were far below those of white Americans -- caused the literacy requirement to be dropped entirely.

As a result, and out of necessity, the U.S. Army "embarked on one of the largest programs of basic adult education in human history" (Brandt, p. 487). Through the use of special training units -- well-funded, with qualified teachers, specially-designed course material, and small class sizes -- nearly 95% of illiterate recruits achieved minimum literacy within two months, a remarkable success rate. These soldiers were then able to go on to the standard basic training. Later research found that many of these men continued their education after leaving the military.

Brandt, Deborah. "Drafting U.S. Literacy," College English, vol. 66 no. 5 (pp. 485-502).
Gordon, Edward E., Ponticell, Judith A., and Morgan, Ronald R. Closing the Literacy Gap in American Business. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Soldiers Literacy Training Collection consists of printed material and memorabilia relating to the training of U.S. Army soldiers in basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

Printed material contains training material produced by the United States Army, including manuals, readers, textbooks, tests, etc. There is also a kind of "yearbook" for the Army Service Forces Personnel Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, with photographs and information about enlisted men, officers, and special training staff. Several of the staff names are starred or underlined, including those of Mildred Collins and Lt. Donald DuBois.

Memorabilia contains a photograph of Collins and DuBois, and an original sketch of "typical negro students" done by the student soldier.

Arrangement of the Collection

Alphabetical by type or title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Collins, Mildred E.
DuBois, Donald E.

Corporate Bodies

Army Service Forces Personnel Center (Fort Sam Houston, Tex.)
United States. Army -- Songs and music.


Adult education -- Study and teaching.
Adult education -- United States.
Adult education and state.
Adult education teachers.
African Americans -- Education.
Literacy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Literacy -- United States.
Reading (Adult education) -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Reading (Adult education) -- United States.
Soldiers -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Soldiers -- Education, Non-military -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Drawings (visual works)
Examinations (documents)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Soldiers Literacy Training Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Beverley C. Adams, 2017.

Table of Contents

Printed material