Civilian Conservation Corps

views updated Jun 11 2018

Civilian Conservation Corps

United States 1933


President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), originally known as the Emergency Conservation Work program, in 1933 as a means to provide employment for young men in need. This also provided much-needed labor for various public works and conservation projects throughout the United States and its territories.

The United States Departments of War, Labor, Interior, and Agriculture collaborated to create the CCC and keep it running smoothly. Labor leaders objected to the program on several grounds, but by the end of the program in 1942, it had left an indelible legacy.


  • 1918: Influenza, carried to the furthest corners by returning soldiers, spreads throughout the globe. Over the next two years, it will kill nearly 20 million people—more than the war itself.
  • 1922: Published this year James Joyce's novel Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land will transform literature and inaugurate the era of modernism.
  • 1928: Penicillin is discovered by Alexander Fleming.
  • 1930: Pluto is discovered.
  • 1933: Hitler becomes German chancellor, and the Nazi dictatorship begins. A month later, the Reichstag building burns, a symbol of the new regime's contempt for democracy. (Though a Dutch communist is punished for the crime, the perpetrators were almost certainly Nazis.) During this year, virtually all aspects of the coming horror are manifested: destruction of Jewish-owned shops and bans on Jewish merchants; elimination of political opposition (including the outlawing of trade unions); opening of the first concentration camps (and the sentencing of the first Jews to them); book-burning; and the establishment of the first racial purity laws.
  • 1933: Germany and Japan withdraw from the League of Nations.
  • 1933: Newly inaugurated U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt launches the first phase of his New Deal to put depression-era America back to work.
  • 1933: Twenty-First Amendment repeals Prohibition.
  • 1933: Even as Stalin's manmade famine ravages the Ukraine, the new administration of President Roosevelt formally recognizes the U.S.S.R.
  • 1936: The election of a leftist Popular Front government in Spain in February precipitates an uprising by rightists under the leadership of Francisco Franco. Over the next three years, war will rage between the Loyalists and Franco's Nationalists. The Spanish Civil War will prove to be a lightning rod for the world's tensions, with the Nazis and fascists supporting the Nationalists, and the Soviets the Loyalists.
  • 1938: The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a minimum wage.
  • 1943: Worn down by two Russian winters, the Germans begin to fall back. In January the siege of Leningrad (which at more than 800 days is the longest in modern history) is broken, and a month later, the German 6th Army surrenders at Stalingrad.

Event and Its Context

Emergency Conservation Work Program Created

Newly elected president Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood the nation's need for manpower for tasks such as fighting forest fires and creating public structures such as bridges and roadways as well as recreation facilities and parks. Conservation was also a priority throughout the country, especially the prevention of soil erosion. Above all, Roosevelt knew that Americans needed jobs.

Congress passed legislation in 1933 to create the Emergency Conservation Work program, which was designed to address the problem of high unemployment. The program commenced with what one writer quipped "may be an all-time record for bureaucratic speed." The first induction of workers took place at Camp Roosevelt near Luray, Virginia, on 7 April 1933, only 35 days after Roosevelt's inauguration. Four Cabinet departments—Labor, Interior, Agriculture, and War—cooperated in the management of the program, which became popularly known as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Recruitment was the responsibility of the Department of Labor; the army prepared the enrollees for work and supervised the camps; the Interior and Agriculture departments, specifically the Park and Forest services, supervised work projects. The program's first director was Robert Fechner, who was known for his leadership role in organized labor. The CCC was considered the greatest work force mobilization in the nation's history. By July 1933 there were 274,375 young men in 1,300 camps.

Roosevelt was convinced this program would not interfere with routine employment. Labor leaders, however, opposed the program. William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, said he thought that army involvement would lead to the militarization of American youth. Later, labor leaders objected to vocational training in the camps on the grounds that it would cause too much competition for skilled jobs. Another objection, which originated in the timber industry, was that the CCC work in forestry-related projects would result in lower wages for laborers.

Enrollees participated in projects such as reforestation, road construction, soil conservation, park construction, trail clearing, and flood control projects. Enrollees' varied projects within parks, for example, included constructing bathrooms; installing campground showers, septic and water systems; erecting storage structures; and miscellaneous improvements such as building picnic tables. One observer dubbed the corps "Roosevelt's Tree Army" because the organization planted an estimated three billion trees between 1933 and 1942.

Outside of organized labor, objections to the program were few. Many viewed the CCC as a haven from the Great Depression's economic uncertainties. An estimated 25 percent of all Americans, or 13 million people, were unemployed. Those eligible for enrollment in the CCC were unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 (later changed to 17 and 28) whose families were on relief. CCC participants were commonly known as enrollees. Each enrollee was paid $30, between $22 and $25 of which was sent home. That share provided basics such as groceries for the families of the enrollees.

The government paid room and board as well as provided basic supplies. Camps housed about 200 enrollees initially in tents, but soon barracks and buildings housing support offices were erected. Enrollees had clothes, new shoes, and three meals a day. An enrollee from West Virginia said that one of his lasting memories was of seeing the food wasted. Another said that he ate bananas and oranges for the first time at the camp. According to Smithsonian, the workers "remember the food with a fondness born in deprivation." The magazine cited Harry Marsanick, an enrollee from Florissant, Missouri, as saying, "Oh, they really fed us, especially breakfast," recalled, "ham and potatoes and sausage, all the eggs you wanted. The kitchen was enough to keep me happy."

A typical enrollee was in his late teens with an eighth-grade education. Most were from humble backgrounds with little work experience. Enrollees reportedly gained weight with regular meals and strenuous work. Camp routine divided days into three eight-hour periods during which enrollees worked, slept, or enjoyed leisure time. There were, however, stories about enrollees in some camps running gambling operations or doing side work.

Enrollees would sign on for six months. Eventually, that was extended to two years. Camp leaders were eligible for longer reenrollment periods. An estimated 5 percent of the original 250,000 enrollees were out of the program within a few months. The majority of these enrollees either refused to work or were absent without leave (AWOL). Those who were AWOL were typically homesick.

Many enrollees learned to read, write, and even type after the CCC instituted educational programs after 1934. An estimated 8,500 enrollees learned to read and write between 1938 and 1939. Even so, critics decried the lack of formal education and called for the addition of vocational training to the program. The camps also taught etiquette and public speaking.

Reserve officers with limited ability to discipline the enrollees provided camp supervision. Fines of no more than $3 per month could be assessed as punishment. Disobedient enrollees might also be assigned specific drudge chores. As last resort, they could be dismissed, which resulted in their families losing their relief funds. Those charged with breaking discipline were permitted to appeal up to the corps area commander.

Camps were located in every state plus the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Each camp cost $6,000 a month in enrollee wages alone, with an additional cost of $8,000 for maintenance and administration. Within two years, the National Park Service estimated forestry and park development in the United States had advanced by 10 to 20 years.

CCC enrollees served when needed as firefighters and were deployed to assist in natural disasters. During flooding of the Ohio River in 1937, the CCC camps in the area assisted with emergency aid. The natural disasters to which they were dispatched included floods in the Mississippi Valley and in Vermont and New York in 1937 as well as various blizzards and hurricanes.

Along with the benefits of the CCC, there were also horrible losses. Three CCC camps located in the Florida Keys were directly in the path of the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, one of the most violent storms on record with winds up to 200 miles per hour. Less than one-third of the 684 corpsmen at those camps were on holiday. The CCC official report listed "44 identified dead, 238 missing or unidentified dead, and 106 injured. Many were literally sandblasted to death, with clothing and skin rasped from their bodies."

Diversity in the CCC

A 1933 executive order compelled the CCC to enroll Native Americans, U.S. territory residents, World War I veterans, and "older locally experienced men" to serve as supervisors. An estimated 300,000 African Americans were also enrolled but were in segregated camps under white supervision.

Native American enrollees were not placed in camps but were allowed to return home each night. These enrollees were under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division (CCC-ID). Tribal councils administered projects, typically on reservations because of the dearth of jobs.

One of the beneficiaries of CCC-ID labor was the National Park Service (NPS), which was in a fevered rush to stabilize and maintain various archeological sites throughout the southwest. Working jointly with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the NPS provided all-Navajo crews with materials and equipment as well as a supervisor who was a specialist in regional archeology. This particular group was known as the Mobile Unit. The 25 enrollees were based at Chaco Canyon, but for the five years that the unit was active, it worked on some 14 southwestern monuments. The number of Navajo participants within the Mobile Unit numbered 20 in 1938 and dwindled to 10 in 1940.

CCC-ID projects included the restoration of buildings ruined at Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins National Monuments and removal of rock at Pueblo Bonito from a fallen cliff. The Mobile Unit's successes earned them a reputation as competent stonemasons.

Although there is little information about women in the CCC, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt requested that they be given a place within the corps. In addition to those women who served as staff in the camps, typically in secretarial or clerical positions, there were reportedly several all-women camps located near Elmira, New York.

The Broader Scope of Benefits

The larger CCC story is more about good works than problems or controversies. Although just about every Roosevelt New Deal program was fair game for critics, the CCC seemingly escaped the bitterest wrath. Taxpayers could see the fruits of these work programs and benefited from them. They and the participants saw boys transformed into men by hard work and discipline. Educational advisors posted to each camp taught an estimated 40,000 participants to read and write, a task completed after their daily duties. Some enrollees reportedly earned high school diplomas and many learned skills. The CCC-ID, with the aid of Department of Education, sponsored job training starting in 1941.

The CCC was at its top operational capacity in September 1935. There were 502,000 enrollees in 2,514 camps. Raymond Gram Swing, writing in The Nation in 1935, called the CCC "the bright jewel of the New Deal. … [On] the whole the CCC is liked throughout the breadth of the land, and deservedly so. … As a form of relief the CCC has avoided the pitfalls of other relief agencies. And conservation has been both furthered and publicized." By 1942, more than two million young men had participated in the work program. At its peak of operation, more than 500 CCC camps could be found in national, state, and local parks.

As the United States entered World War II, the NPS ended those projects deemed nonessential to the war effort. The program was not truly discontinued until 1942. The Mobile Unit, for example, was disbanded in April 1942. Among the lengthy checklist of completed projects were the planting of more than three billion trees, construction of about 47,000 bridges, and creation of about 800 state parks. The best known legacy of the CCC is located in Catoctin Mountain Park. A camp built there in 1939 became known as Camp David. When President Roosevelt used the camp, he named it Shangrila; President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed the camp in 1953 in honor of his grandson. Many other CCC-built structures are still standing.

The National Association of CCC Alumni remains active with an estimated 6,500 members in about 120 chapters nationwide as of 2001. The organization has its own museum, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt CCC Museum at Warm Springs, Georgia.

Several contemporary programs, including Ameri Corps and the California Conservation Corps, are modeled on the CCC and contribute to its enduring legacy.

Key Players

Collier, John (1884-1968): Born in Georgia, Collier was a community leader and reformer best known for shaping federal policy on Native Americans. His first career was as a community worker. He was introduced to Native American life while on a trip to Taos, New Mexico. He founded the American Indian Defense Association in 1923 and was active in criticizing the government's legislative proscriptions. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Collier commissioner of Indian affairs in April 1933. As such, he admitted Native Americans to New Deal relief programs, including the CCC. He resigned his post in 1945.

Fechner, Robert (1876-1939): Although best remembered for his government work, Fechner had a prior career as an organized labor leader. He was appointed director of the Emergency Conservation Work on 6 April 1933. Under his leadership, the program was effective and was considered a New Deal success story.

Murphy, Daniel E.: Successor to Jay B. Nash as director of theCCC-ID, Murphy had previously been the Osage Agency superintendent.

Nash, Jay B.: Nash was appointed first director of the CCC-ID, but he left after one season.

See also: Stock Market Crash.



Biondi, Victor, ed. American Decades: 1930-1939. Detroit:Gale Research, 1995.

Graham, Jr., Otis L. and Meghan Wander, eds. Roosevelt,His Life and Times: An Encyclopedic View. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1985.

Parman, Donald Lee. The Indian Civilian Conservation Corps (typescript of thesis). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

——. The Navajos and the New Deal. New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1976.

——. Indians and the American West in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Phillips, Cabell. The New York Times Chronicle of American Life: From the Crash to the Blitz, 1929-1939. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

The Reader's Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Watkins, T. H. The Hungry Years: A Narrative History of the Great Depression in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.


Gower, Calvin W. "The CCC Indian Division: Aid for Depressed Americans, 1933-1942." Minnesota History 43 (spring 1972): 3-13.

"Is Roosevelt Slipping?" The New Republic (14 August1935).

Jackson, Donald Dale. "They Were Poor, Hungry, and They Built to Last." Smithsonian 25, no. 9 (December 1994): 66-78.

McIntosh, Phyllis. "The Corps of Conservation." National Parks (September-October 2001): 23.

Meyer, Eugene L. "Camps That Changed Lives; CCCVeterans Work to Preserve Memories." Washington Post (27 April 2000): M16.

"Old Beat-up Trucks Represent Something More to CCCVeterans." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service (15 November 2001): K5336.

Parman, Donald Lee. "The Indian and the Civilian Conservation Corps." Pacific Historical Review 40, no. 1 (1971): 39-56.

Rosen, Jeffrey. "Washington Diarist: Happy Days." New Republic 215, no. 20 (11 November 1996): 62.


Aztec Ruins—Administrative History. Chapter 12, Stabilization: The High Cost of Water. National Park Service. 27 February 2001 [cited 6 August 2002].<>.

The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History. National Park Service. 4 April 2000 [cited 6 August 2002]. <>.

The Civilian Conservation Corps. Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. 1 August 2002 [cited 6 August 2002]. <>

. "Dusting Off Our Roots: The Dirty 30s." Countryside & Small Stock Journal. March-April 2000 [cited 6 August 2002]. <>.

Gilbert, Jess and Alice O'Connor. "Leaving the Land Behind: Struggles for Land Reform in U.S. Federal Policy, 1933-1965." Land Tenure Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. July 1996 [cited 6 August 2002]. <>.

Golden, Randy. "Civilian Conservation Corps." About North Georgia. Summer 2000 [cited 6 August 2002]. <>.

—Linda Dailey Paulson

Civilian Conservation Corps

views updated Jun 08 2018


CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS. Because of his fervent commitment to preserving natural resources, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) the first recovery and relief bill he submitted to Congress. Enacted swiftly on 21 March 1933, the CCC remedy of healthy outdoor work for jobless youth had the highest public approval of any New Deal legislation. Roosevelt even used its appeal to persuade desperate World War I veterans to call off their protest demand for early payment of service bonuses and instead accept enrollment in the CCC as a way to ease their economic plight.

During its nine-year existence the CCC enlisted nearly 3 million single men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five to work at erosion control, fire prevention, land reclamation, and pest eradication. Concentrating on forest management, the CCC accounted for more than half of all the tree-planting in the United States through the twentieth century. For their service, enrollees received $30 monthly, $25 of which they were required to send home to their families.

Organization of the CCC was shared widely. The Department of Labor selected the men enrolled, the Department of War administered the work camps with army officers, and the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior devised and supervised the projects. Roosevelt chose Robert Fechner as director partly because he had the practical and fiscally cautious qualifications the president favored for such leadership and partly because Fechner's

position as vice president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) allayed union concerns about meager pay and military regimentation.

As with other relief programs, affording aid to all in need faced problems. Camp commanders drawn from a segregated army and Fechner, who was raised in Georgia with conventional southern views, were not inclined to heed the legislative amendment added by the only black member of Congress, Representative Oscar De Priest of Illinois, that "no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, or creed." Ultimately pressure from the Department of Labor opened the program to blacks. By 1938 the number of blacks reached 11 percent, and by the end of the program over two hundred thousand blacks had served. Less fortunate in finding a place were women, who were excluded altogether in the original act. Only at Eleanor Roosevelt's insistence did eighty-six camps enrolling 8,500 women briefly flourish before Congress eliminated the women's section in 1937.

Camp management included the usual New Deal emphasis on education as the key to rising from disadvantage. Over 100,000 young men who arrived at camps in a woefully weak and deprived state not only rounded into good shape but also learned to read. At a higher level almost 5,000 enrollees completed high school, and another 2,700 earned college degrees.

Roosevelt always believed the CCC was one of the New Deal's best achievements. However, because World War II absorbed the unemployed, the program ended in 1942. Despite later problems with unemployed youth and a damaged environment, general aversion to collective government action prevented any kind of revival of the CCC concept.


Bernstein, Irving. "Social Programs in Action." In A Caring Society: The New Deal, the Worker, and the Great Depression. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Hill, Edwin G. In the Shadow of the Mountain: The Spirit of the CCC. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1990.

Salmond, John A. The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933–1942: A New Deal Case Study. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1967. The standard survey.


See alsoGreat Depression ; New Deal ; World War II .

Civilian Conservation Corps

views updated May 23 2018

Civilian Conservation Corps

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a program established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) and his New Deal program in 1933. The New Deal was a series of government-sponsored projects aimed at providing relief to citizens during the Great Depression (1929–41). The Great Depression was a time of slow economic growth and high unemployment. The Civilian Conservation Corps hired young men for projects aimed at conserving the nation's resources.

The CCC was part of the Hundred Days Legislation that President Roosevelt signed when he first took office in 1933. The CCC was among the most accepted of his programs, because it proved so successful. First called Emergency Conservation Work, the program fell under the guidance of a national director and involved four federal departments. The Department of Labor worked to select men for the program. The Department of War administered the work camps through a U.S. Army officer in command. Organization and supervision of each project fell to the departments of Agriculture and the Interior. Projects included building park facilities, planting trees, cleaning reservoirs, building dams, and fighting forest fires.

The CCC employed only unmarried men between the ages of 17 and 25. They lived at camps run by the Army and were provided with clothing and food. They earned $30 per month, though $25 of it was sent home directly to their families. Minority men were included in the program, but discriminatory practices often limited the number that the CCC actually employed.

At the peak of the program in 1935, the CCC employed about five hundred thousand men in more than twenty-five hundred camps nationwide. Over two and a half million men found employment through the CCC during the course of the program. Congress voted to end the program in 1942 as the demands of World War II created employment opportunities for men in factories and the armed forces. The program was highly successful, but the CCC was no longer necessary to help save a failing economy.

Civilian Conservation Corps

views updated Jun 11 2018


Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a federal agency created in 1933 as part of the New Deal program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945). Originally called Emergency Conservation Work, CCC had its name formally changed to Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, when Congress extended its period of operation. To minimize the effects of the Great Depression, CCC was given responsibility for conserving the nation's resources, in particular timber, soil, and water. CCC was designed to provide jobs for unmarried men between the ages of 17 and 25, who would receive a base pay of $30 per month for a six-month stint. Normally, $25 of their monthly pay was sent home to the workers' families. Food, clothing, and shelter were provided to CCC workers at no charge. Although the men who served in the CCC were required to live in work camps run by the Department of War, they were not subject to military control. Conservation training included instruction on how to plant trees, build dams, and fight forest fires. Approximately 3 million men served in 2,600 camps during CCC's ten years of existence, with enrollment peaking at about 500,000. With the outbreak of World War II (19391945), the production of industrial materials and munitions was emphasized at the expense of resource conservation. In 1942 Congress voted to abolish CCC, and the president's order for liquidation followed within six months.

See also: Great Depression, New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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