Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. Editor: Richard C Hanes & Sharon M Hanes. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
“It is my belief that what is being accomplished will conserve our natural resources, create future national wealth and prove of moral and spiritual value not only to those of you who are taking part, but to the rest of the country as well.” These words of support for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program were spoken by one of its most ardent supporters, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (served 1933-1945), in a speech on July 8, 1933, while greeting CCC enrollees (quoted in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1938, p. 271).
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which lasted from 1933 to 1941, became one of the most notable programs launched by the federal government in response to the Great Depression. The purposes of this agency were to provide relief to millions of young men who needed jobs, to provide modest food and shelter to those in need, to offer instruction in basic work skills, and to build facilities and make improvements on public lands and Indian reservations.
By 1933 millions of young Americans were unemployed. The early onset of tough times in the mid-1920s kept a generation from working and securing experience that would enable them to become productive laborers. Compelled to remain with their parents and siblings, these young Americans were restless and frustrated. The CCC enrolled American males between the ages of 18 and 25, placed the CCC companies under U.S. Army control, relocated the men to work sites, established camps where they would live and work, and mounted projects which would benefit both them and the nation.
Critics charged that the CCC was a thinly veiled attempt to build up the nation’s military forces. The 1930s were years of American neutrality and disinterest in military preparedness. The close relationship between the young laborers in the CCC and the military structure of the organization drew the attention of those committed to peace and disarmament.
The CCC sought to create a positive atmosphere wherein young men could learn job skills, engage in projects needed by the nation, earn a modest salary, and return a large portion of their earnings to their parents to help them cope with their basic needs. For many young men, the CCC was a ticket to adventure. Enlistment in the CCC offered a chance to travel to new parts of the country, especially to the federal lands of the American West. The CCC afforded a break from the grinding monotony of enduring a poverty-stricken existence at home.
CCC-ID, the Indian Division of the CCC, enlisted American Indian young men in projects to provide special assistance to tribal communities. These segregated units of the CCC worked on reservations to build needed improvements. Another special division of the CCC was assigned to helping the U.S. Grazing Service carry out the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934.
Though the CCC proved to be an expensive program through the years, the work of the CCC survives into contemporary times. As of the early twenty-first century, the public still used CCC-built campgrounds and walking trails popular for outdoor recreation, reservoirs to water cattle on the open range, various stone structures including National Park facilities, water towers, and pump houses for irrigation. They also had fought many forest fires and planted over two billion trees. At its height in 1935, the CCC employed over 500,000 young men placed in over 2,600 camps.
Unemployed American Youth
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created in 1933 by the Emergency Conservation Work Act to provide work for young men who were jobless because of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt sought to put these men, ages 18 to 25, to work on resource conservation projects across the United States and intended the CCC to help solve two of the country’s most serious problems, unemployment and resource degradation. The projects provided for work in reforestation, road construction, prevention of soil erosion, park and flood control projects, and construction of facilities on federal lands and Indian reservations.
Distress during the Great Depression fell heavily on young Americans. Estimates by 1933 suggested that as many as 250,000 teenage hoboes, male and female, roamed America. Some were “street kids” and others were “boxcar kids,” riding the rails to escape their problems. Some teenagers left their homes because they sought adventure. Many more ran away to escape poverty and the burden they caused their parents. Tens of thousands looked for work, but few found it.
Creation of a Peacetime Army
President Roosevelt wasted no time: he called the 73rd Congress into Emergency Session on March 9, 1933, to hear and authorize his program. He proposed to recruit unemployed young men, enroll them in a peacetime army, and send them into battle against destruction and erosion of the nation’s natural resources. Senate Bill 5.598, introduced on March 27, 1933, went through both houses of Congress and was on the President’s desk to be signed on March 31, 1933. Roosevelt promised that he would have 250,000 men in camps by the end of July 1933 and hoped to launch an historic mobilization of men, material, and transportation on a scale never before known in time of peace. Only 37 days had elapsed from Roosevelt’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, to the induction of the first enrollee on April 7.
After the authorization of the CCC, the program faced an immediate problem. The majority of the unemployed youth was concentrated in the East, while most of the projects were in the West. The army was the only agency with the capability of solving the problem and became involved in the program from the beginning. Mobilizing the nation’s transportation system, the army moved thousands of enrollees from induction centers to work camps. Officers of the army, coast guard, marine corps and navy worked together temporarily to command camps and companies. The presence of the army also created the necessary organization that was needed for the program to function in a systematic way. The CCC possessed a military organization with officers and enrollees. In the field most of the enrollees worked for the National Park Service, Soil Conservation Service, Grazing Service, or Forest Service. In camp they lived under army regulations. Although building designs were standardized, enrollees personalized the camps with their own landscaping, decorations and building improvements. The men lived by military schedules, ate in mess halls, and lived in tents or simple wood barracks. Many CCC facilities looked like army barracks housing troops in basic training.
Criticisms from the Peace Advocates
Many critics of the CCC were concerned with the Department of War’s involvement. They feared that the CCC was a means to put guns into the hands of young men and to prepare them for war. A growing concern was that CCC workers would have their shovels replaced with rifles. However, the focus of the CCC did not go astray, and the program remained true to its goals of resource conservation and solution to unemployment.
The military was not the only government agency to get involved in the CCC. The Department of Labor was responsible for the selection and enrollment of applicants. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior helped plan and organize work to be performed in every state. By working together and pooling resources, the federal government was able to create a national program that was efficient and successful.
Career army officers played a central role in shaping the layout and construction of CCC camps, establishing discipline, and laying down expectations for recruits. The CCC, however, did not require uniforms, drill young men in marching and weaponry, or require such protocols as salutes and deference to officers.
Civilian Control of the CCC
In April 1933 Roosevelt appointed Robert Fechner the national director of the Emergency Conservation Work Act. Although Roosevelt thought of the CCC as his special project and retained some decision-making power, Fechner grew in authority and proved an honest and capable administrator. In addition to Fechner’s role, an advisory council had oversight of the program. The council consisted of representatives of the secretaries of war, labor, agriculture, and interior. Never before had there been an agency like the CCC in the United States.
The coordination between the several branches of government in peacetime was unique and proved highly successful in achieving its goals in regard to the CCC. Such cooperation seen in the CCC program was carried over to some other New Deal programs, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). However, this era of such sweeping cooperation came to a close by the beginning of World War II (1939—1945). Political conservatives who disliked large government programs took stronger control of Congress by the start of the war. Big business, which largely disdained close coordination, took the lead on war efforts and gained support in curtailing New Deal government programs. Renewed efforts at social reforms in the 1960s were unable to achieve the degree of cooperation that the early New Deal years gained.
Requirements for joining the CCC were simple. Enrollees had to be aged 18 to 25, single, healthy, and unemployed. They signed up for six months of service, which could be renewed three times for a total enlistment of two years. They were expected to work at whatever job they were assigned. In return, the men received room, board, clothing and thirty dollars each month. The program required that $25 a month be sent home to the man’s family to provide some financial relief. Cities and rural areas all across the nation felt the economic impact of the money that was sent home. The remaining $5 was for the men to spend and was often used to buy necessities at the camp canteen. Communities close to the work camps also benefited from many local purchases, and this sometimes staved off failure of small businesses.
Expansion of the CCC Mission
Although relief of unemployed youth was the original objective of the CCC, in early 1933 two important modifications became necessary. The first change extended enlistment coverage to 15,000 American Indians whose economic difficulties had largely been ignored. American Indians were able to work on projects that aided them in protecting their heritage as well as more typical conservation projects. For example, the Haida and Tlingit of Southeast Alaska restored and replicated totem poles in the Tongass National Forest, thus preserving their artistic and cultural traditions. Their projects included construction of plank slab ceremonial houses at Totem Bight near Ketchikan and at Chief Shake’s Island in the middle of Wrangell Harbor—complete with replicas of totem poles—and handsome totem pole parks at Sitka and Saxman.
Before the CCC program was terminated, more than 15,000 American Indians were enrolled in CCC-ID (Indian Division) and were paid to help reclaim the land that had once been their exclusive domain. Other projects included construction on reservations of tribal halls, clinics, roads, reservoirs, fences, and telephone systems.
The second modification made to the CCC authorized the enrollment of about 25,000 older local men (called LEMs) who, because of their special skills or experience, trained unskilled enrollees. Communities near the work camps demanded that their own unemployed be eligible for hire and, because of the obvious need for this mentor program, their requests were satisfied. By working with local experts, enrollees were able to make a transition from city folk to expert handlers of axe and shovel. The LEMs trained the young men in skills such as masonry, carpentry, engine repair, blacksmithing, fire fighting, trail construction, and forestry.
A third unplanned modification was made in 1933 when President Roosevelt, through Executive Order 6129, authorized the immediate enrollment of about 25,000 veterans of the Spanish American War (1898) and World War I (1914-1918), with no age or marital restrictions. These men were at first housed in separate camps and performed conservation duties suited to their age and physical condition. Many war veterans participated in the CCC and took advantage of the opportunity to rebuild lives disrupted by earlier service to the United States. These older men understood military discipline and the value of hard work to achieve specific objectives.
In addition the CCC drew a fairly wide response from black Americans. The program did not discriminate on the basis of race or creed. By 1940, 250,000 black American recruits had served in the CCC. The CCC developed 83 all-black camps in 12 southern states and 151 mixed-race camps elsewhere in the country.
Mission in Education
The Emergency Conservation Work Act did not mention education or training and, not until 1937, were CCC recruits formally introduced to such programs. However, in 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Clarence S. Marsh as the first director of education. The education aspect of the CCC was often criticized, and some suspected that, at the camp level, it might interfere with the work program. This did not happen, and only in the later years of the program was training authorized during normal working hours.
Eventually, the CCC education program taught more than 40,000 illiterates to read and write. Many young men received high school diplomas and were trained in a variety of trades that helped them when they finished the program. As the CCC program progressed and education courses became available, many of the work camps offered journalism. Most camps published their own newspapers, or the young men wrote regular columns for the local town papers. Some camps built small dark rooms where the recruits learned how to develop photographs. Sometimes they submitted these photos to the regional CCC monthly newspapers.
Highly important in education were the on-the-job skills imparted to the recruits. The young men learned how to operate horse-drawn and mechanically powered equipment. Each camp had a blacksmith shop where a number of recruits mastered engine repair and general equipment maintenance. The men also mastered the use of shovel, axe, and saw and, in many units, became adept builders of fences, roads, trails, bridges, and structures such as barracks, barns, guard stations, ranger stations, and lookouts. Skills in carpentry, stone masonry, wiring, and plumbing were central to the CCC projects.
High Point Years, 1935-1936
By 1935 the program was well under way. Gone were the early days of drafty tents, ill-fitting uniforms, and haphazard work operations. Enrollees proved to be hard working, well fed, and providing for their families while they improved millions of acres of federal, state, and local lands. The CCC received acknowledgment through reports in major newspapers, even those that opposed other phases of the New Deal. The director’s office was flooded with letters and telegrams from people all over the country requesting new camps in their states. Eventually, there were camps in all states including Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. CCC workers were performing over one hundred different types of jobs.
The years 1935-1936 witnessed not only the peak in size and popularity of the CCC, but also the first major attempt to change the system, which had proved to be workable and successful since early 1933. Harry Hopkins was a new advisor to the program and established and coordinated ground rules for the selection of enrollees. His new procedures relied on federal relief rolls and did away with the more locally controlled quota systems used by local authorities. The quota systems had been based on recruiting from different racial groups in proportion to their presence in the local population. The system greatly limited the number of black American enrollees and other minorities who were highly represented on the relief rolls. Use of relief rolls would potentially increase the number of minorities enrolled. Recruiting from federal work relief rolls required a national federal coordination of the 48 states. This approach was opposed by political conservatives who resented the greater intrusion of the federal government into what they considered a responsibility of the states to provide for their citizens. The change produced confusion, and recruiting efforts were greatly affected. The CCC sought to employ 600,000 men, but by September 1935 there were only about 500,000 men located in 2,600 camps across the country. Fechner, the director of the program, struggled to meet the enrollment requirement. Then another change to the program was revealed to him. Roosevelt informed Fechner that there was to be a drastic reduction in the number of camps and enrollees in an effort to balance the federal budget in an election year. In order to get reelected, Roosevelt had to cut government spending, and this invited trouble for the CCC program.
President Roosevelt’s proposed reduction in spending resulted in public outrage. The CCC was at the height of its popularity, and no one wanted camps to close, especially in their own state. Both Republicans and Democrats sought to reverse Roosevelt’s policy on the proposed budget cut. Roosevelt wanted the budget reduction to begin in January 1936 and he proposed that by June approximately 300,000 men would be enrolled in 1,400 camps. Dissent to the proposal was so strong that Roosevelt and his advisors believed the public outcry to be a threat to their whole legislative program. Roosevelt retreated, and called off the proposed cut on the CCC, advising Fechner that all existing camps and personnel would remain.
Improvements on Federal Lands
The CCC developed many types of projects, including forest preservation, drainage improvements, park restoration, disaster relief, and grazing and wildlife protection. The CCC built fire towers, fought forest fires, and controlled soil erosion on millions of acres of land by planting trees. Man-made drainage systems helped reclaim 84.4 million acres of good agricultural land. Forty-six camps were assigned to the drainage program, most of them American Indian enrollees.
In 1937 members of the CCC were called upon to provide flood relief in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Other disasters that the CCC participated in were the floods of Vermont and New York in 1937 and the New England hurricane of 1938. Workers were also called upon during the blizzards of 1936-1937 in Utah where one million sheep were stranded and in danger of starvation. CCC crews braved snowdrifts and the bitter cold to save the flocks. Workers also sought to protect natural habitats of wildlife, were involved in stream improvements, restocked fish, and built dams for water conservation.
Many of the CCC projects, however, also harmed native animals. The CCC was directed to kill prairie dogs, coyotes, jackrabbits and other “varmints.” This task was done by dispensing poison by hand. Enrollees also pulled weeds and dug out “invading” plants deemed harmful to livestock.
Several units of the CCC worked with the U.S. Grazing Service, established in 1935, to implement the Taylor Grazing Act (1934) on public lands. These companies worked in remote parts of the American West to build roads, corrals, drift fences, reservoirs, and to make spring improvements. They fought fires, dug out livestock and haystacks buried in snowdrifts, and stretched telephone lines. The projects mounted in conjunction with the U.S. Grazing Service were vital in assisting ranchers and farmers in maintaining their flocks and crops during the Great Depression.
Permanent Federal Agency Status
The Civilian Conservation Corps approached maturity in 1937 with thousands of enrollees passing through the system and returning home to boast about their experiences. Hundreds more demonstrated their satisfaction with the CCC by extending their enlistment. By this time life in the camps was fairly routine with work every day except Sunday.
In April 1937 Roosevelt sought to make the CCC a permanent agency. Even though the success of the corps was apparent, Congress never considered it to be more than a temporary relief organization with an uncertain future. Many saw the CCC as a solution to unemployment rather than a continuous agency working to protect the dissipation of the nation’s resources. Congress refused to make the CCC permanent, but did extend its life for two more years.
Changes and Termination of Funding
Major changes that brought about the demise of the Conservation Civilian Corps began to occur in 1939 with changes in both the United States and Europe and within the structure of the CCC. England and France were being drawn into World War II (1939-1945), which directly affected the United States, causing jobs to become more plentiful. As a result, applications for the CCC declined. However, the most significant change to the CCC was Roosevelt’s plan to reorganize the administrative functions of some federal agencies. The Federal Security Agency (FSA) was created to consolidate several offices, services, and boards under one director. The CCC lost its status as an independent agency, and was brought under control of the FSA. Fechner was furious, especially when he learned that the director of the FSA would have authority over him. In angry protest Fechner submitted his resignation but, probably at Roosevelt’s request, later withdrew it.
A year of change for the CCC began in 1940 with Fechner’s death from a heart attack. Fechner was replaced as director of the CCC by John T. McEntee. McEntee had an entirely different personality, especially lacking the patience and friendships that Fechner had possessed. Tension between the Department of the Interior and the director’s office increased. Although the CCC was facing new problems, the program remained popular with the public. In response Congress appropriated $50 million in funding for the CCC to last through 1941, but Congress would never again be so generous. Other major problems were developing in Congress, especially in the area of defense and concern over the war in Europe.
By the middle of 1941, the CCC was in serious trouble. There was a lack of new applicants, enrollees left work camps for jobs, and public support was weakening. Many were beginning to question the necessity of the CCC when unemployment had almost disappeared. Many CCC workers were finding better jobs that paid more than the $30 a month rate. Most agreed that more work could be done, but ensuring the country’s defense became a central concern. As the war progressed, the nation became focused on the war effort. The joint committee of Congress, authorized by the 1941-1942 appropriations bill, was in session to investigate all federal agencies to determine which ones, if any, were essential to the war effort. The CCC came under review in late 1941, and the committee determined that it was to be abolished by July 1, 1942. The CCC was never abolished but, instead, Congress refused to appropriate the CCC any additional funds. In 1942 many politicians were trying to pass legislation to fund the CCC, but their efforts failed. The agency’s assets were liquidated, and the Civilian Conservation Corps dissolved.
With the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941, more than 120 CCC camps across the country began to receive young men who refused the draft and induction into the armed forces. The camps housed conscientious objectors, or “conchies.” These men resumed many of the activities that the CCC had done, including fighting forest fires and replanting over burned areas. The Conscientious Objectors’ Public Service Camps finally closed in 1947.
Several factors set the stage for the programs of the CCC and its general success between 1933 and 1942. This federal agency reached out through its employment of more than three million young men to become a major success of the New Deal.
Homeless American Youth
Thousands of young Americans left home to try to find jobs or to lessen the burden on their parents and siblings during the 1930s. An estimated 250,000 teenage hoboes roamed America. Between 1929 and 1939, the Interstate Commerce Commission logged the deaths of 26,647 trespassers on railroad property and noted another 27,171 who were injured.
A number of those involved in the New Deal were aware of the dangers to health and life of so many young people wandering across the land. With this in mind, the CCC was the first New Deal program aimed specifically at providing relief for homeless and unemployed young people. The CCC became a means to reduce the numbers who were “riding the rails” and living in poverty, hunger, and danger.
Needs in National Forests and Public Rangelands
Since its creation in 1906, the U.S. Forest Service had lacked personnel and appropriations to mount programs to develop a management infrastructure. The CCC became the innovative agency to provide the much-needed assistance so long awaited by the forest rangers. CCC crews opened thousands of miles of trails and roads by hand labor. They stretched telephone wires and erected lookouts atop lofty peaks where monitors watched for fires. They built guard stations, ranger stations, warehouse complexes, playgrounds, campgrounds, and day recreation sites in the national forests. When peace came in 1945 and America’s economy improved, the recreation boom of the 1950s on federal lands was directly a result of CCC labors in the 1930s.
Passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 brought more than 150 million acres of public lands under the administration of the U.S. Grazing Service and, after 1946, under its successor, the Bureau of Land Management. Between 1935 and 1942, the numerous CCC companies in western states worked directly with the Grazing Service to construct improvements on the public range. These included drift fences, corrals, spring surrounds, and reservoirs. CCC men opened trails, eradicated poisonous weeds, sewed nutritious grasses, and poisoned “varmints” believed detrimental to the health of the range.
Needs of American Indians
American Indians suffered terribly in the years leading up to the Great Depression. All aspects of American Indian life were touched by poverty. In the early 1900s, infant mortality rates were twice the national average. American Indians were seven times more likely to die of tuberculosis than was the general population. Indian boarding schools were overcrowded and staffed with unqualified personnel that provided poor medical care and an unhealthy diet. Under these conditions Indian literacy rates remained low. The infrastructure of their reservations was crumbling or nonexistent.
The federal government mounted reforms to respond to some of these issues. The CCC-Indian Division was created to help American Indians build and rebuild their own facilities on their own lands. The CCC-ID employed more than 80,000 American Indians who built clinics, community buildings, roads, reservoirs, and telephone systems. The CCC-ID generated jobs, skills, and important long-term benefits for tribes.
Needs of Rural Residents
As the Great Depression deepened, older men also found themselves unemployed. Skilled laborers such as carpenters, farmers, lumbermen, miners, and others found themselves idle. Job scarcity in the rural areas of the United States devastated local economies.
The arrival of 150 or more green recruits at CCC camps convinced older, local resident men that they had important things to offer the CCC. The Local Experienced Men (LEM) recruits were those over age twenty-five who became the teachers at the CCC camps. These men knew blacksmithing, carpentry, equipment operation, fence and corral building techniques, cooking, and plumbing. Their involvement helped the CCC succeed and also provided jobs for unemployed men and some stimulus to local economies.
Adaptive Use of CCC Camps
When Congress withdrew funding of the CCC in 1942, the federal government converted dozens of camps into alternative facilities during World War II. More than 150 facilities became Public Service Camps that housed conscientious objectors, men who declined to fight but who were willing to work in alternative service during wartime. Nearly 50,000 war objectors became medics and served with the military; 13,000 elected not to have anything directly to do with the war effort and were placed under the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO). This board operated 143 camps, and the federal government ran another eight. Most provided assistance to the Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service, Soil Conservation Service, and the Farm Security Administration. The “conchies,” as they were often called, fought fires, planted trees, helped to check erosion, and continued CCC programs.
In early 1942 President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. This measure mandated the removal of persons of Japanese American descent, whether citizens of the United States or not, residing in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, but not in Hawaii or Alaska (in the war zone). Over 100,000 people were relocated and held in internment camps for the duration of World War II. In a number of instances, these facilities included the recently abandoned CCC camps in Idaho, Nevada, and California.
The CCC was viewed with mixed feelings by local communities. A number of Americans were suspicious of the “city boys” who came in from far across the country to mount projects close to the homes, farms, and properties of those who had resided in an area for a long time. Some feared threats to local morality, but most realized that the CCC was a great infusion of talent and energy for projects much needed and long overdue.
Local communities soon became accustomed to hosting monthly dances, baseball and basketball games, and attending open houses at the CCC camps. Isolated residents found fellowship and friendship with the CCC men who lived nearby, and many CCC men decided to settle down and marry young women who lived near the camps where they had served.
The shipshape manner in which the CCC operated its camps, its sense of discipline, and the many projects and good deeds accomplished by the CCC won over almost all of the critics. When CCC men fought fires, cleared snowdrifts, helped farmers get hay to their snowbound livestock, or provided rescues of those swept up in disasters and accidents, the appreciation was widespread. Similarly, CCC work in construction of parks, playgrounds, flood control facilities, and soil conservation projects attracted local support and favorable attention.
In southeast Alaska the CCC-ID projects helped preserve rapidly decaying totem poles and, for a time, perpetuated traditional arts by enabling a younger generation to work with surviving master carvers. The CCC-ID projects in the Tongass National Forest today draw tens of thousands of tourists who visit the totem parks and native cultural centers and museums in the state.
The CCC met a great human need. It took homeless men from the streets and boxcars and gave them bed, board, and modest income. The CCC also created a flow of income to the families of recruits. This was founded on the principle of each man sending home $25 per month for the support of his family.
The CCC met a great need for improvements on federal lands, especially on the public land of states west of the Mississippi River. The CCC built parks, playgrounds, roads, and much-needed buildings on Indian reservations and national forests. On the public domain, it helped implement the mandates of the Taylor Grazing Act.
Critics of the CCC who feared it was merely a guise to prepare America for war, found little evidence to support their suspicions. The role of the army in the CCC was largely structural. The army did not impose a military regimen or drill the recruits in anticipation of war. Instead, it brought stability and order to a rapidly mobilized peacetime force of young men whose assignment was to do “good works” all across the land.
The CCC left many legacies. Many small towns in America never before had improved parks, secure playgrounds, trails, and community buildings. The CCC developed remarkable buildings and roads in the national forests. Crews built guard stations, ranger stations, lookouts, trails, bridges, roads, and campgrounds. A two-mile river trail in the Grand Canyon, constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, took two years to complete. Many of the cabins in Yellowstone National Park were built or rebuilt by the CCC.
Much of the post-World War II recreation on public lands was a direct consequence of the facilities constructed by the CCC. Similarly, the U.S. Forest Service, when it increased staffing and began to shift from merely caring for the land to preparation of timber sales, made use of the warehouses, office compounds, and other facilities built in the 1930s by the CCC.
The CCC also enlivened many rural communities. A CCC camp brought a new spirit to many areas. The young men played basketball and baseball against local teams. They came to dances, and many met and married local women and settled in the areas where they had come to work. Many of the recruits had never before been away from home. The CCC enabled them to see new parts of the country and to pick up important vocational skills many would use in jobs for the remainder of their lives.
The closing of CCC operations in 1942 and the abandonment of its facilities led to other uses of the camps. More than 150 Public Service Camps housing conscientious objectors who declined to fight in World War II were established in former CCC camps. These men continued many of the programs started by the CCC, especially fighting fires and reforestation. Some CCC camps were also converted into relocation centers for Japanese Americans subjected to Executive Order 9066.
Aside from the many roads, bridges, lookout towers, and other physical reminders of the CCC, the program became a model for later youth programs. In 1964, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s (served 1963-1969) Great Society programs, Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act. The act created the Job Corps to provide educational and vocational training to 16-to 24-year-old young men and women. The program was directly patterned after the CCC and prepared youth to enter the job market. As with CCC alumni, graduates of the Job Corps have frequently pointed back to the Job Corps experience as life changing.
Robert Fechner (1876-1940)
Appointed by Roosevelt to be the national director of the Emergency Conservation Work Act, Fechner, along with an advisory council, oversaw the CCC program. Fechner was born in Tennessee but largely educated in Georgia. For many years he worked as a railroad machinist and traveled widely throughout the South, Mexico, and Panama. He then became a labor organization specialist and dispute arbitrator. In 1901 he was a national leader in the campaign for a nine-hour workday, and in 1915 he helped lead the efforts for the eight-hour movement. Fechner worked hard to garner cooperation of the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, War, and Labor and headed the CCC from 1933 until his death on January 1, 1940.
Harry Hopkins (1890-1946)
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Hopkins attended Grinnell College, where he was instilled with social ideals and Progressive political values of honest government, public service, and aid to the “deserving” poor. After graduating Hopkins became a social worker in New York City. Supported by Dr. John A. Kingsbury of New York’s Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor, Hopkins rapidly rose as an administrator. In 1923 Hopkins became president of the American Association of Social Workers and the following year director of the New York Tuberculosis Association. The unemployment crisis of the Great Depression changed Hopkins’s career, and in 1931 he became director of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, which provided jobs for New York’s unemployed. After Roosevelt became president, Hopkins was appointed head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Hopkins influence also persuaded Roosevelt to create the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to provide work relief for all able-bodied unemployed workers. When the CWA ended in 1934, Hopkins then became head of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was to provide the largest amount of relief labor for the projects. Hopkins had health problems throughout his life, but shortly before he died he received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.
James Joseph McEntee (1884-1957)
A labor arbitrator and government administrator, McEntee was born in New Jersey. He attended parochial schools and became an apprentice machinist, working his way up until he became an officer of the International Association of Machinists. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson (served 1913-1921) named him to the New York Arbitration Board. During the 1920s, he helped settle newspaper strikes and worked in railroad contract agreements. At the request of Robert Fechner, a longtime friend and colleague, McEntee was named in 1933 as assistant director of the CCC. He succeeded Fechner in 1940 and continued to direct the CCC until it was abolished in 1942. McEntee tried to strengthen the central administration of the CCC, a position opposed by Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes. McEntee returned to the Machinists’ Association and his work with organized labor following the termination of the CCC.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)
Born on his family’s estate in Duchess County, New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the son of James Roosevelt, a wealthy gentleman, and Sara Delano. Roosevelt was the thirty-second president of the United States. As a young boy, he had Swiss tutors who supervised him at home and on the family’s annual travels through Europe. In 1900 Roosevelt entered Harvard College where he became president of the student newspaper. In 1905 he married his distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was President Theodore Roosevelt’s niece. He attended Columbia Law School and passed the bar, though he never completed the requirements for his degree.
Roosevelt began his involvement in politics in 1910 when he was elected the Democratic senator of the state senate of New York. After Woodrow Wilson was elected president, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy and thus began his career in Washington politics. In 1920 Roosevelt secured the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice-president but lost to the Republican Party.
In August 1921 Roosevelt developed polio, and within days he lost the use of both his legs. Months later, doctors told him he would never walk again. He disguised his paralysis for public purposes by wearing heavy leg braces and supporting himself with a cane. So effective was Roosevelt’s deception, and the cooperation of the press in preserving it, that few Americans knew during his lifetime that he was largely confined to a wheelchair.
Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1928 and again in 1930. Under the Democratic ticket, Roosevelt was elected president in 1932 as the country began to fall into the Great Depression. He was well known during his presidency for his “fireside chats” over national radio. He was the first leader whose voice was part of the country’s everyday life, and people were glued to their radios to hear of government proposals and plans. Roosevelt also created the New Deal, a plan to turn around the depressed economic situation in the United States.
Life in the CCC
Frank “Bo” Montella was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1921. At the age of 17 he joined the CCC and was assigned to San Juan County, Utah. Montella was interviewed by the California State-Fullerton/Utah State Historical Society on July 9, 1971 about his days in the CCC (available from the World Wide Web at http://www.sanjuan.k12.ut.us/sjsample/CCC/CCCHOME/Montella.htm) .
Being First Sergeant in the camp, my responsibility was to keep the camp in tip-top shape with good living conditions in which the fellows cooperated well. If they didn’t then we would assign them extra duties… We also learned how to survey. James Albertano, as a boy, was a dropout, but he just took a notion that he wanted to be a surveyor. Old Chap Blake, our camp engineer, would take anybody in there and try to teach them to survey. Albertano wasn’t a high school graduate but he got together with Old Chap Blake and learned surveying. And do you know what he turned out to be? He turned out to be one of the vice-presidents of James White Engineering in Denver. He took correspondence courses and he studied a little more. But that’s what I say, every one of the boys that I know personally from the CCC’s progressed. I think it was a great organization. To tell you the truth, if they had it today, I’d go in it today. That’s the truth.
Another veteran of the CCC was Norman A. Myers. Myers enrolled in CCC Company 754 and came to western Oregon in the Umpqua National Forest, near Tiller, Oregon, in the summer of 1933. He wrote letters home twice a week in 1933 and 1934 describing his experiences with CCC. The letters were later published by the Forest Service in Norman A. Myers Letters to Home: Life in C.C.C. Camps, Douglas County, Oregon (1983, pp. v, 11, 15, 83).
A total of 100 men in Dodge County [Nebraska] applied for enrollment in the CCC and this Selection Committee found exactly 100 met all requirements for the Corps. The principal consideration used in this selection was need. Only single men between the ages of 18 and 25 who had dependents were eligible… The physical examinations were given under the direction of Major Philpot of the U.S. Army. Due to the early arrival of most men, the physicals were started during the mid-morning hours. Only three of the 162 men could not be enrolled… I had my first taste of real work today [June 19, 1933]. It is not going to be hard when I get used to it. We start to get our tools at 8 in the morning and check them in at 11:45. We get our tools at 1 p.m. and have our tools in by 4. This seems to be short hours. The men are under the forest ranger bosses while out of camp… The first part of the week [June, 1933] we worked in an awful steep canyon burning brush. My legs sure got tired. Then we moved up the canyon about half a mile to a level valley to clear timber for a road to Summit, a lookout station. Passed it going to work today and can see at least 50 miles from there. It is 2,000 feet higher than the camp and only 4 miles away. There are no fires now. A little too damp. Soon will move into new tents with floors in. Helped unload three loads of lumber at off times this week. Thursday they started to dynamite stumps. Tried to get on but didn’t. I guess I look to sloppy. You have to do whatever they give you anyway. Thurs. afternoon we all got a lesson in chopping by a forest ranger… We were issued swell boots (leather) Saturday morning [January 21, 1934] and I am going to take good care of mine so I can have them when I get home. I have a pair of good loggers [boots] I bought for $3.00 so I will have a lot of shoes. I ordered a gray army locker for $3.50 so it will take most of the month’s paycheck. I still have $4.00 left from my last check so I have plenty. I am going to save a little every month so I have some when I go back. They took our measurements yesterday and they said it was for army dress uniforms. This is just a rumor though.
Suggested Research Topics
- What was the role of the CCC in development of city parks, state parks, and recreation facilities on federal lands? Assess the criticisms that the CCC was a paramilitary organization designed to get the United States involved in World War II.
- How do autobiographical reminiscences by recruits confirm that service in the CCC changed their lives? Be able to discuss the organization of the CCC and the benefits it accorded to those enrolled in it.
- Identify the impact of the Civilian Conservation Corps on U.S. public lands, national forests, state and city parks, and Indian reservations. Why was the work of the CCC of critical importance to the administration and management of national forests?
- How did Public Service Camps housing conscientious objectors during World War II continue the labors of the CCC?