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In the 1800’s, traveling was arduous, uncomfortable, and dangerous. Pioneers faced huge obstacles as they traveled without access to food and medicine along the way. The city of St. Louis became a stopping point for these weary émigrés. Finally, The city’s mayor put half a million dollars in his will to create the “Travelers Aid” movement supporting immigrants and travelers crossing the continent. By the 1800’s, Travelers Aid chapters appeared in major cities in the Midwest and along the East coast.
Later, Travelers Aid became involved in welcoming, advising and helping new immigrants with advice and directions on available facilities and their costs. Travelers Aid was the first grass roots social welfare organization in the country, its founding principles was to serve anyone regardless of religion, gender or race. In 1941, it became one of the six groups that President Roosevelt tapped to form the United Service Organizations, what we know today as the USO.
The USO’s “mission statement” was: “… to aid in the defense of the United States by serving the…needs of the men and women in the armed forces and defense industries, [and] to contribute to the maintenance of morale in American communities…” Today, the mission statement is shorter and simpler, but the mission is the same: “to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.”
The USO engages “celebrity status” artists with “significant coverage in entertainment industry trade magazines such as Billboard and Variety…” as well as television and movie stars, major concert acts and other well-known artists. But even if someone is not quite a “superstar”, the USO states: “We realize there are many excellent performers who don’t fit that criteria, but who would be well-received by the troops. For other professional touring opportunities, please visit the “Armed Forces Entertainment’s” website.”