Victory Book Campaigns, 1942-1943

Victory Book Campaigns, 1942-1943

The Victory Book Campaign was a national book drive to gather 10 million books for American soldiers that began in February 1942, just two months after the United States entered World War II.  It was one of many material drives during the war as Americans scrambled to find ways to support the hundreds of thousands of men who enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The American Library Association, the American Red Cross, and the United Service Organizations sponsored the national Victory Book Campaign.  The campaign hoped to reach its goal of 10 million books by April 1, 1942.  The Harris County Public Library (HCPL), the Houston Public Library (HPL), and the Soldiers' Service Bureau organized the local Houston-area book drive.  Julia Ideson, Librarian for Houston Public Library, was the director of the local campaign, with two co-assistants: Harris County Public Library's Reba Anderson, and Elton V. Amburn.
The campaign asked members of the public for donations of fiction, poetry, travel, history, and sports books.  Technical books - including works on radio, aviation, naval and aircraft identification, and mathematics - were highly desired to help train soldiers for special assignments.
Various points around Houston and Harris County were designated as donation drop-off centers.  Libraries in both Houston and Harris County accepted donations.  Local schools, grocery stores, and businesses also served as collection points.  Harris County's bookmobile would also pick up donations throughout the county during its routes.
Donations were collected from February 8 through March 15.  After the books were collected, Harris County Public Library staff organized and packaged them for final distribution to training camp libraries by the USO.  There were two local training camps: Ellington Field, about 15 minutes south of downtown Houston, and Camp Wallace in Galveston County.  Military librarians estimated that Ellington Field would need 6,000 books and Camp Wallace would need 5,000 books.
Advertisements for the campaign were published in newspapers and asked for books: "Almost any kind of book is acceptable." Donors were encouraged to write their names in their donated books to provide reminders and connections to home to the soldiers who might be reading them half a world away. 
About 1,500 books were received during the first week of the campaign.  The community response to the drive was very generous—many individuals and groups donated books or money.  Direct donations through Harris County Public Library sites totaled 2,524 books and $41.50.  The money raised was used to purchase Janes Fighting Ships of the World and Janes All the World's Air Craft for Ellington Field—two technical books on aircraft maintenance that were essential teaching tools for the men stationed there. 
By the end of the 1942 campaign, more than 10,000 books were placed at local camp libraries.  The national campaign collected 10,247,760 books, exceeding the original goal of 10 million books. 
In the fall of 1942, John M. Connor, director of the national Victory Book Campaign, released a report in the American Library Association Bulletin on the program's progress and future.  Many donations were deemed unusable due to their poor physical condition.  The military units also rejected many books for being "primarily intended for children or women."  There was a continued need for adventure and detective fiction, technical books published since 1935, "funny books" with jokes or humorous stories, and small-sized editions of popular works.  Connor's report concludes:
"Our men are giving us their best.  We cannot afford to do anything less than our best for them.  Let's give them also along with their "bacon, beans, and bullets" good books to make their hours of recreation and relaxation more enjoyable and refreshing."
In February 1943, the second county-wide Victory Book Campaign began.  In contrast to the previous year, the campaign slogan this time was, "Any Book You Want To Keep Is A Good Book To Give." The drive wanted only books in good condition that would also interest "some man in the military service."  Early on, there were signs of trouble, as Mrs. Malcolmn Whitehead, chairman of the steering committee, noted one week into the campaign:
"People have not been behind it 100 percent.  They don't seem to realize that the drive is on and we really need their help [...] The least we can do is to offer our fighting forces a means of relaxation.  And that means giving them good books that they have asked for." 
One such trouble was the "meanest man," who donated a 50-pound box that turned out to be full of old newspapers.  Another donation of four large boxes was discovered to contain only "filthy newspapers dated 1937 and 1938" chewed by rats.
However, despite these early disappointments, nearly 3,000 books were collected during the first two weeks of the campaign, and librarians reported that a much higher percentage of the books were of good quality than the ones collected in 1942.  After four weeks, the campaign had gathered 13,000 books.  
The second campaign featured several new tactics to boost donations.  The Boy Scouts of East Harris County went door-to-door to visit every home in the area to collect books.  The Footlights Club of Robert E. Lee High School in Pelly (modern-day Baytown) put on a comedic show to help out.  Admission to the show costs one donated book.  Boys modeled girls' apparel, and girls modeled boys' clothing during the show.  The Goose Creek Chamber of Commerce sponsored a special screening of the film "Smart Alecks" for children "if they hand the doorman a book."
In the end, more than 20,000 books were collected, fewer than the initial (and perhaps overly ambitious) goal of 45,000.  The campaign did succeed in providing local military camps with leisure reading and educational materials at a time when quick mobilization of resources was crucial.  
The national campaign ended on December 31, 1943, when it was announced that the War and Navy Departments were given a budget to purchase 35,000,000 books and send them directly where needed. During the two years of the campaign, over 17,000,000 books were collected, and 10,999,000 books were distributed. 

From the HCPL Digital Archive

(1942, February 3). Victory Book Campaign opens. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1942, February 3). Deposit centers for Victory Book drive announced. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1942, February). Victory Book Campaign. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1942, February 15). Houstonians respond warmly to Victory Book Campaign. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1942, February 15). Miss Ideson urges more books for Victory Drive. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1942, February 22). State Director of Victory Book drive cites needs. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

1942 Annual Report, Harris County Public Library

(1943, February 2). Book collection Saturday to open Scout Week here. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, February 5). Anniversary of Boy Scouts opens with book drive. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, February 7). Many agencies join in campaign to collect books for servicemen. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, February 12). "1943 Victory Book Campaign". From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, February 14). Victory Book Campaign proves city is asleep, says committee head. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, February 19). "Meanest man" sends old papers in book drive. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, February 21). Nearly 3000 books given in drive here. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 3). To our fighting men [advertisement]. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 4). Kids real workers in Victory Book drive. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 5). And after the battle [advertisement]. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 8). Wherever they may be [advertisement]. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 11). "Book" movie for kids Saturday. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 11). Famous models in footlights show. From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

(1943, March 14). Book drive leaders sing "Praise Lord, pass new editions". From HCPL Scrapbook (1941-1948)

1943 Annual Report, Harris County Public Library



Learn more about World War II efforts

American Women's Voluntary Services. Wikipedia. (Accessed April 26, 2024)

Connor, John M. (1942, September 1). On to victory with the Victory Book Campaign. ALA Bulletin, Volume 36, Number 9. (Accessed April 26, 2024).

Material drives on the World War II home front. National Park Service. (Accessed April 26, 2024)

The Victory Book Campaign and the New York Public Library. The New York Public Library. (Access April 26, 2024)

Women in World War II. National Park Service. (Accessed April 26, 2024)