Forgotten history

Postwar prefabs

After World War II, veterans and their families lived in tiny, uninsulated houses—and felt grateful to have them.

Ingrid Gonçalves, AB’08

The end of World War II prompted an influx of applications to the University of Chicago as returning veterans pursued their education with support from the GI Bill. In 1946, to meet growing demand for housing, the University used converted barracks to erect 190 temporary houses (known as “prefabs”) for married students along the Midway and next to Burton-Judson Courts, where the Laird Bell Law Quadrangle now stands.

“It may seem that we lived under spartan conditions, but we were the envy of many married students who lived in the neighborhood’s one-room, shared bath-down-the-hall units,” Robert A. Harper, PhB’46, SB’47, SM’48, PhD’50, wrote in the October 2002 University of Chicago Magazine. He and his wife Sally, AB’44, shared a prefab with their baby daughter, Carol. “Moreover, we prefabbers were all in the same boat, struggling to balance school, family, and a bare-bones budget.”


(UChicago Photographic Archive, University of Chicago Library)