The Texas Department of the American Legion is a nonpolitical and nonpartisan organization. Its principal aim is to secure legislation for the benefit of veterans in Texas, including adequate hospitalization, physical and vocational rehabilitation, and preference in public jobs. The organization also supports legislation for assistance to underprivileged children. The legion was founded by service veterans from World War I at a meeting held in San Antonio on San Jacinto Day, April 21, 1919. Col. Claude V. Birkhead was elected first chairman. The organization was originally known as the Texas Division of World War Veterans, but the name was changed a short time later to Texas Department, American Legion, to conform to the constitution adopted by the national organization in December 1919.
Among the most important concerns of the early members was the need to secure adequate hospital facilities for sick and injured former servicemen. Donations were collected from posts and individuals throughout the state, and within a short time more than $500,000 was raised. In 1921–22 the department built the American Legion Memorial Hospital at Legion, Texas, with funds raised through legion activities, supplemented by state aid. The hospital was sold to the United States in 1925 and became a Veterans Administration facility.
While rehabilitation for veterans remained the number-one goal of the legion through the early 1920s, the agenda was soon expanded to include employment, legislation, and the care of needy families, widows, and orphans of veterans. In 1920 the American Legion Auxiliary, composed of the wives and widows of veterans, was formed, with the purpose of augmenting and supporting the organization's activities. During the early 1920s, the Legion also turned its attention toward fighting what it perceived as a growing tide of anti-Americanism. The Americanism committee at the 1923 convention called for "vigilance against teaching in public or private schools in Texas false or `doctored' history, or subversive doctrine" and "against textbooks tainted with foreign or special propaganda and careful study of textbooks used in schools." It also endorsed a measure adopted at the national convention calling for the "total cessation of immigration until assimilation shall catch up with immigration." The legion also sponsored a variety of civic projects. Some posts erected community Christmas trees or made donations to the needy; others sponsored parks and playgrounds, built swimming pools, and equipped lighted baseball parks. After 1923 most of the posts in the state also sponsored local Boy Scout troops and took part in scouting activities. During the 1920s and early 1930s legion posts throughout Texas also began to sponsor baseball teams and oratorical contests. Beginning in 1938 the Americanism program organized the annual Boys State convention (see LONE STAR BOYS' STATE and BLUEBONNET GIRLS' STATE), held each summer in Austin, to promote citizen education for young men.
Between 1919 and 1942 membership in the legion ranged from 10,540 to 37,709. In 1942 veterans of World War II were made eligible, and after the war large numbers of returning soldiers joined the organization. Black Texas veterans were made eligible in 1945, though at first they were confined to a separate district-at-large, with the posts sponsored and guided by existing White posts. In the period just after World War II, when the demand for veterans' services exploded, the legion lobbied for additional hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and other benefits. Korean War veterans began joining the organization in large number in the mid-1950s, and in 1979 Vietnam veterans were made eligible for membership. By the early 1990s the statewide membership was 90,000. Subsequently, the legion continued its earlier charitable activities and added new ones, including programs for abused children, the intellectually disabled, missing children, and drug-abuse prevention. The state organization has been headquartered in Austin since 1927.