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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25 as part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Robert Fechner was the head of the agency. A part of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men, to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000; in nine years 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of $30 a month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).
The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs. Principal benefits of an individual's enrollment in the CCC included improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. Of their pay of $30 a month, $25 went to their parents. Implicitly, the CCC also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation's natural resources; and the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for the protection and development of natural resources.
During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.
The CCC operated separate programs for veterans and Native Americans.
Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation for its existence. By 1942, with World War II and the draft in operation, need for work relief declined and Congress voted to close the program.
As governor of New York, Roosevelt had run a similar program on a small scale. Long interested in conservation, as president, he proposed to Congress a much larger national program on 21 March 1933:
I propose to create [the CCC] to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss, but also as a means of creating future national wealth.
He promised this law would provide 250,000 young men with meals, housing, uniforms, and medical care for working in the national forests and other government properties. The Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) Act was introduced to Congress the same day and enacted by voice vote on 31 March. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6101 on 5 April 1933 which established the CCC organization and appointed a director, Robert Fechner, a former labor union official who served until 1939. The organization and administration of the CCC was a new experiment in operations for a federal government agency. The order indicated that the program was to be supervised jointly by four government departments: Labor, which recruited the young men, War, which operated the camps, Agriculture and Interior, which organized and supervised the work projects. A CCC Advisory Council was composed of a representative from each of the supervising departments. In addition, the Office of Education and Veterans Administration participated in the program. To end the opposition from labor unions (which wanted no training programs started when so many of their men were unemployed) Roosevelt chose Robert Fechner, vice president of the American Machinists Union, as director of the corps. William Green, head of the American Federation of Labor, was taken to the first camp to demonstrate that there would be no job training involved beyond simple manual labor.
Reserve officers from the U.S. Army were in charge of the camps, but there was no military training. General Douglas MacArthur was placed in charge of the program but stated that the number of Army officers and soldiers assigned to the camps was affecting the readiness of the Regular Army.
The legislation and mobilization of the program occurred quite rapidly. Roosevelt made his request to Congress on March 21, 1933; the legislation was submitted to Congress the same day; Congress passed it by voice vote on 31 March; Roosevelt signed it the same day, then issued an executive order on April 5 creating the agency, appointing its director (Fechner), and assigning War Department corps area commanders the task to commence enrollment. The first CCC enrollee was selected 8 April and subsequent lists of unemployed men were supplied by state and local welfare and relief agencies for immediate enrollment. On 17 April the first camp, NF-1, Camp Roosevelt, was established at George Washington National Forest near Luray, Virginia. On 18 June, the first of 161 soil erosion control camps was opened, in Clayton, Alabama. By 1 July 1933 there were 1,463 working camps with 250,000 junior enrollees (18–25 years of age), 28,000 veterans, 14,000 American Indians, and 25,000 Locally Enrolled (or Experienced) Men (LEM).
The typical CCC enrollee was a U.S. citizen, unmarried, unemployed male, 18–25 years of age. Normally his family was on local relief. Each enrollee volunteered and, upon passing a physical exam and/or a period of conditioning, was required to serve a minimum six-month period with the option to serve as many as four periods, or up to two years if employment outside the Corps was not possible. Enrollees worked 40 hours a week over five days, sometimes including Saturdays if poor weather dictated. In return they received $30 a month with a compulsory allotment $22–25 sent to a family dependent, as well as food, clothing and medical care. Following the second Bonus Army march on Washington D.C., President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6129 (11 May 1933) to amend the CCC program, to include work opportunities for veterans. Veteran qualifications differed from the junior enrollee; one needed to be certified by the Veterans Administration by application, they could be any age, and married or single as long as they were in need of work. Veterans were mostly assigned to entire veteran camps. Enrollees were eligible for "rated" positions to help with camp administration: senior leader, mess steward, store keeper and two cooks; assistant leader, company clerk, assistant educational advisor and three second cooks. These men received additional pay ranging from $36 to $45 per month depending on their rating.
Each CCC camp was located in the area of particular conservation work to be performed, and organized around a complement of up to 200 civilian enrollees in a designated numbered "company" unit. The CCC camp was a temporary community in itself, structured to have barracks (initially Army tents) for 50 enrollees each, officer/technical staff quarters, medical dispensary, mess hall, recreation hall, educational building, lavatory and showers, technical/administrative offices, tool room/blacksmith shop and motor pool garages. The company organization of each camp had a dual-authority supervisory staff: firstly, Department of War personnel or Reserve officers (until 1 July 1939), a "company commander" and junior officer, who were responsible for overall camp operation, logistics, education and training; and secondly, ten to fourteen technical service civilians, including a camp "superintendent" and "foreman," employed by either the Departments of Interior or Agriculture, responsible for the particular field work. Also included in camp operation were several non-technical supervisor LEMs, who provided knowledge of the work at hand, "lay of the land" and paternal guidance for inexperienced enrollees. Enrollees were organized into work detail units called "sections" of 25 men each, according to the barracks they resided in. Each section had an enrollee "senior leader" and "assistant leader" who were accountable for the men at work and in the barracks.
The CCC performed 300 possible types of work projects within ten approved general classifications:
The responses to this six-month experimental conservation program were enthusiastic, and on 1 October 1933 Director Fechner was instructed to arrange for a second period of enrollment. By January 1934, 300,000 men were enrolled. In July 1934 this cap was increased by 50,000 to include men from midwest states that had been affected by drought. The temporary tent camps had also transitioned from tents to wooden barracks. An education program had been established emphasizing job training and literacy.
Approximately 55% of enrollees were from rural communities, a majority of which were non-farm; 45% came from urban areas. Level of education for the enrollee averaged 3% illiterate, 38% less than eight years of school, 48% did not complete high school, 11% were high school graduates. At the time of entry, 70% of enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs. Peace was maintained by the threat of "dishonorable discharge". "This is a training station; we're going to leave morally and physically fit to lick 'Old Man Depression,'" boasted the newsletter, Happy Days, of a North Carolina camp.
The total of 200,000 African-American enrollees were segregated after 1935 but received equal pay and housing. Black leaders lobbied to secure leadership roles. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes pressured Director Robert Fechner to appoint prominent African-Americans to supervisory positions such as education directors in the 143 segregated camps.
The separate Indian Division was a major relief force for Native Americans. No women were ever enrolled.
The CCC operated an entirely separate division for members of federally recognized tribes: the Indian Emergency Conservation Work, IECW, or CCC-ID. Native men from reservations worked on roads, bridges, clinics, shelters, and other public works near their reservations. Although classified as camps there were no actual permanent camps; instead, organized groups moved with their family from project to project, for which a rental allowance was issued in their pay. The CCC often provided the only paid work in remote reservations. Enrollees had to be between the ages of 17 and 35. For example, during 1933 about half the male heads of households on the Sioux reservations in South Dakota were employed by the CCC-ID. With grants from the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Indian Division built schools and operated an extensive road-building program in and around many reservations. The mission was to reduce erosion and improve the value of Indian lands. Crews built dams of many types on creeks, then sowed grass on the eroded areas from which the damming materials had been taken. They built roads and planted shelter-belts on federal lands. The steady income created an improved sense of self-worth for participants who used the funds to improve their lifestyles. John Collier the federal Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Daniel Murphy, the director of the CCC-ID, both centered the basic goals of the program around Indian self-rule and the restoration of tribal lands, governments, and cultures. In Collier's words, "no previous undertaking in Indian Service has so largely been the Indians' own undertaking". Education programs also trained participants in gardening, stock raising, safety, native arts, and some academic subjects. IECW differed from other CCC activities in that it explicitly trained men to be carpenters, truck drivers, radio operators, mechanics, surveyors, and technicians. With the passage of the National Defense Vocational Training Act of 1941, enrollees began participating in defense oriented training. The classes were paid for by the government and after course completion and a passed competency test, automatic employment in the defense work was guaranteed. A total of 85,000 Native Americans were enrolled. This proved valuable human capital for the 24,000 alumni who later served in the military and the 40,000 who left the reservations for city jobs supporting the war effort.
Responding to favorable public opinion to alleviate unemployment, Congress approved the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, on 8 April 1935, which included continued funding for the CCC program through 31 March 1937. The age limit was also expanded to 18-28 to include more men. From 1 April 1935 to 31 March 1936 was the period of greatest activity and work accomplished by the CCC program. Enrollment had peaked at 505,782 in about 2,900 camps by 31 August 1935, followed by a reduction to 350,000 enrollees in 2,019 camps by 30 June 1936. During this period the public response to the CCC program was overwhelmingly popular. A Gallup poll of 18 April 1936 asked "Are you in favor of the CCC camps?"; 82% of respondents said yes, including 92% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans.
On 28 June 1937 the Civilian Conservation Corps was legally established, transferred from its original designation as the Emergency Conservation Work program. Funding was also extended for three more years by Public Law No. 163, 75th Congress, effective 1 July 1937. Congress changed the age limits to 17–23 years old, and changed the requirement that enrollees be on relief to "not regularly in attendance at school, or possessing full time employment." The 1937 law mandated the inclusion of vocational and academic training for a minimum of 10 hours per week. Another change allowed for those in school to be enrolled during (summer) vacation. During this period, the CCC was called in to help with disaster relief following 1937 floods in New York, Vermont and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, and response and clean-up after the 1938 hurricane in New England.
In 1939 Congress ended the independent status of the CCC and transferred control to the Federal Security Agency, along with other agencies such as the National Youth Administration, U.S. Employment Service, the Office of Education and the Works Progress Administration. About 5,000 Reserve officers for the camps were affected, transferred to Civil Service and military ranks and titles were eliminated. Despite this loss of an obvious military leadership in the camps by July 1940, with war in Europe and Asia, an increasing number of CCC projects focused on resources for national defense, developing infrastructure for military training facilities and forest protection. By 1940 the CCC was no longer wholly a relief agency, rapidly losing its non-military character, and becoming a system for work-training as its ranks had become increasingly younger, with life-inexperienced enrollees.
Although the CCC was probably the most popular New Deal program, it never became a permanent agency. The program had been reduced in operations as the Depression waned and employment opportunities improved. Fewer eligible young men were available after conscription commenced in 1940. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 all federal programs were revised to emphasize the war effort. Most CCC work, except for wildland firefighting, was shifted onto U.S. military bases to help with construction. The CCC disbanded one year earlier than planned, as the 77th United States Congress ceased funding, causing it to conclude operations formally at the end of the federal fiscal year on 30 June 1942. The end of the CCC program and closing of the camps involved arrangements to leave the incomplete work projects in the best possible state, the separation of about 1,800 appointed employees, the transfer of CCC property to the War and Navy Departments and other agencies, and the preparation of final accountability records. Liquidation of the CCC was ordered by Congress by the Labor-Federal Security Appropriation Act (56 Stat. 569) on 2 July 1942; and virtually completed on 30 June 1943. Liquidation appropriations for the CCC continued through 20 April 1948.
Some former CCC sites in good condition were reactivated from 1941 to 1947 as Civilian Public Service camps where conscientious objectors performed "work of national importance" as an alternative to military service. Other camps were used to hold Japanese American internees or German prisoners of war. After the CCC disbanded, the federal agencies responsible for administration of public lands organized their own seasonal fire crews, modeled after the CCC, which performed a firefighting function formerly done by the CCC and provided the same sort of outdoor work experience for young people. Approximately 47 young men died while in this line of duty.
In several cities where CCC workers worked, statues were erected to commemorate their presence.
Hitch - Making Good In Hard Times by Jeanette Ingold is a novel about how a teenager learns life lessons, skills for work and develops a character for himself in CCC camp.
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The CCC program was never officially terminated. Congress provided funding for closing the remaining camps in 1942 with the equipment being reallocated. It became a model for conservation programs that were implemented in the period after World War II. Present-day corps are national, state and local programs that engage primarily youth and young adults (ages 16–25) in community service, training and educational activities. The nation's approximate 113 corps programs operate in 41 states and the District of Columbia. During 2004, they enrolled more than 23,000 young people. The Corps Network, known originally as the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC), works to expand and enhance corps-type programs throughout the country. The Corps Network began in 1985, when the nation's first 24 Corps directors banded together to secure an advocate at the federal level and a repository of information on how best to start and manage a corps. Early financial assistance from the Ford, Hewlett and Mott Foundations was critical to establishing the association.
Another similar program is the National Civilian Community Corps, part of the AmeriCorps program, a team-based national service program in which 18- to 24-year-olds spend 10 months working for non-profit and government organizations.
The CCC program became a model for the creation of team-based national service youth conservation programs such as the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The SCA, founded in 1959, is a nonprofit organization that offers conservation internships and summer trail crew opportunities to more than 4,000 people each year. The SCA mission is to build a new generation of conservation managers by inspiring lifelong stewardship of the environment and communities by engaging high school and college-age volunteers in hands-on service to the land. SCA program is active nation-wide in the USA, including national and state parks, forests, wildlife refuges, seashores and historic sites. SCA National Headquarters is located in Charlestown, New Hampshire with regional offices across the country.
In 1976, Governor of California Jerry Brown established the California Conservation Corps. This new program had many similar characteristics - residential centers, high expectations for participation, emphasis on hard work on public lands. Young adults from different backgrounds were recruited for a term of one-year. Corps members attended a training session call the Corpsmember Orientation Motivation Education and Training (COMET) program before being assigned to one of the various centers. Life at CCC centers is rigorous, starting with early morning exercises, breakfast, roll call and a full day's work. After hours include education, life skills workshops, community meetings, volunteerism. Project work is also similar to the original CCC of the 1930s - work on public forests, state and federal parks.
Established in 1995, Environmental Corps, now Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC), is an American YouthWorks program which allows youth, ages 17 to 28, to contribute to the restoration and preservation of parks and public lands in Texas. The only conservation corps in Texas, TxcC is a 501(c)3 non profit corporation based in Austin, Texas, which serves the entire state. Their work ranges from disaster relief to trail building to habitat restoration. TxCC has done projects in national, state, and city parks.
The Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a mission to equip young people with the skills and values to be vigorous citizens who improve their communities and environment. Collectively, MCC crews contribute more than 90,000 volunteer hours each year. The MCC was established in 1991 by Montana's Human Resource Development Councils in Billings, Bozeman and Kalispell. Originally, it was a summer program for disadvantaged youth, although it has grown into an AmeriCorps-sponsored non-profit organization with six regional offices that serve Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota. All regions also offer MontanaYES (Youth Engaged in Service) summer programs for teenagers who are 14 to 16 years old.
The Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) is a sub-agency of the Washington State Department of Ecology. It employs men and women 18 to 25 years old in a program to protect and enhance Washington's natural resources. WCC is a part of the AmeriCorps program.
Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa provides environmental stewardship and service-learning opportunities to youth and young adults while accomplishing conservation, natural resource management projects and emergency response work through its Young Adult Program and the Summer Youth Program. These programs emphasize the development of job and life skills by conservation and community service work.
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) is a non-profit, youth service and education organization that hires Corps Members, aged 16–24, to work on high-priority conservation projects in Vermont. Through these work projects, Corps Members develop a strong work ethic, strengthen their leadership skills, and learn how to take personal responsibility for their actions. VYCC Crews work at VT State Parks, U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds, in local communities, and throughout the state's back country.
The Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) is a non-profit employment, job training, and education organization with locations in Durango and Salida, Colorado, and Tucson, Arizona. SCC formed as a merger of the Southwest Youth Corps and the Youth Corps of Southern Arizona.
SCC hires young adults ages 14 to 25 and organizes them into crews emphasizing the completion of conservation projects on public lands. Corp members work, learn and commonly camp in teams of six under the supervision of two professional crew leaders.
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