© 2023
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Camp Depression


Students are always looking for cheap accommodation while going to school, but the University of North Dakota was taking it to a whole new level. On this day in 1933, the Leader reported that university officials had established a new innovative dormitory for students struggling through the Depression. “Conceived by the university officials as one means of beating the depression,” said the Leader, “the most unique dormitory in the United States is made up of six cabooses that have been joined together and remodeled.”

That’s right, UND bought six cabooses to use for dormitories. Officials joined four of the cabooses together to be used as sleeping quarters, while one served as the kitchen and washroom, and the sixth was the study hall. Thirty students shared the new quarters, and each paid only two dollars a week for the accommodation. The cheap and unique dormitories were attracting so many students that the university bought two more cabooses to accommodate incoming students.

The new dormitories were known as “Camp Depression” by the students who lived there, but the atmosphere was anything but depressing. The students living there worked together and combined their resources and efforts to keep Camp Depression a comfortable place to live and study, and UND was still providing quality instruction and curricula. Despite the damaging effects of the Depression, UND and its students were still flourishing. “Entering its second half century of educational service,” reported the Leader, “the University of North Dakota today ranks among the finest of American schools. The institution enjoys a Class A rating, the highest accorded any university.”

Apart from cheap accommodations and education, the university also offered students a means of making income and paying for their education. For those already housed in Camp Depression, it was a requirement to work on campus for four hours a week to help pay room and board, but the university also employed 219 other students under the Civil Works Administration. Men and women worked on several projects on campus, including the preparation of the two new cabooses for Camp Depression, painting and repairing other campus buildings, replacing the sewer line on campus, and helping professors with various projects, including O.G. Libby’s preservation of pioneer biographies. Overall, the work helped many students remain either partially or entirely self-supporting.

The University of North Dakota was definitely working to help students pursue an education throughout the Depression, and Camp Depression was among one of its greatest ideas. The Leader reported that the university’s efforts had set a new model for universities. “It typifies a growing feeling that the true college is not necessarily a collection of ornate buildings with marble corridors,” reported the Leader. “Coming through the depression years with an excellent record, the University of North Dakota looks forward to even better days in 1934.”

By Tessa Sandstrom


“CWA projects provide work for students,” The Leader. Dec. 27, 1933: 8.

“‘Camp Depression’ attracts students of limited means,” The Leader. Dec. 27, 1933: 8.

“North Dakota University maintains Class A rating among U.S. colleges,” The Leader. Dec. 27, 1933: 8.

“‘Depression Camp’ at state university cuts education costs for N.D. students,” The Leader. Dec. 7, 1933: 2.