Civilian Conservation Corps

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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program for young men from unemployed families that operated 1933-42 all across the country. It was created on March 19, 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first "Hundred Days." It was part of the New Deal designed to provide relief for families where the father was unemployed during the Great Depression. The CCC became the most popular New Deal program among the general public, appealing to liberals and conservatives alike, all of whom were worried about the long-term future of unemployed, unskilled poor young men. Some 3 million young men went to camps of about 200 men each for six month periods where they were paid to do outdoor construction work. The Indian Division was a major relief agency for Indian reservations. After 1940 the CCC concentrated on defense projects, but by 1942 the draft and full employment dried up the pool of applicants and the Conservative Coalition in Congress ended the CCC. In the 1970s several states, notably California, operated similar programs.


Unemployment was very high among less-educated young men, many of whom had never held a regular job. Roosevelt proposed conservation work as a relief device during his 1932 presidential campaign. The CCC was one of the first of many proposals enacted during the Hundred Days, becoming law on March 31, 1933. Roosevelt on May 7, 1933, extolled the CCC in a fireside address on the radio:

"First, we are giving opportunity of employment to one-quarter of a million of the unemployed, especially the young men who have dependents, to go into the forestry and flood prevention work. This is a big task because it means feeding, clothing and caring for nearly twice as many men as we have in the regular Army itself. In creating this civilian conservation corps we are killing two birds with one stone. We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources and second, we are relieving an appreciable amount of actual distress."

Administrative roles

The War Department and the Labor Department handled the administration. The Labor Department's role was to enroll eligible young men; the actual camps were operated by the Army, using 3,000 Army reserve officers who became camp directors. Each camp had a federal sponsor, usually a division of the Interior or Agriculture departments. The sponsor designed the work to be done, provided the project supervisor and hired the trained foremen necessary, called "LEMs" (Local Experienced Men), who in turn trained CCCers. Each camp had an educational advisor provided by the Office of Education. The Army provided chaplains, and contracted locally for groceries, fuel, and equipment and for medical services. There were no uniforms but the CCC provided a full set of work clothes, shoes, and sports gear. Each enrollee earned $30 a month; he kept $5 and the other $25 went to his family. By 1935 the CCC was promoting about 13% of enrollees to act as leaders (at $36–45 a month). The program cost about $1100 per year per full-time enrollee. Annual expenditures reached a maximum of $894 million in 1936. Peak numbers came in August 1935 with 502,000 enrollees in 2,600 camps.

The CCC was set up on a crash basis, as every aspect had to be invented new. The Labor Department organized a National Re-Employment Service for CCC recruitment; later the CCC handled its own recruiting through local welfare departments. The usual requirement was that the boy's father had to be registered as unemployed or on relief. The first CCC enrollee entered on April 7, 1933, just thirty-seven days after Roosevelt's inauguration. Young men aged 17–23 enrolled for six months, with the option of enrolling for another six months, up to two years. There was little penalty for leaving early, and the "desertion" rate was 1-2% per month. In a short time there were 250,000 enrollees working in CCC camps, plus 25,000 older World War veterans in special CCC camps, and 25,000 LEMs. By the time the CCC disbanded in 1942, over three million men had participated in it. The quota for African-American was 10%, and black CCC workers were assigned to segregated all-back camps.

No job training

At first there was serious concern about the CCC from the American Federation of Labor which feared it would be a job training program. With so many union construction workers unemployed a new job training program would introduce unwelcome new competition for scarce jobs. Roosevelt promised there would be no skills taught that would compete with established unions, and named a labor leader, Robert Fechner to run the CCC. After manual labor outdoors for 8-hours Monday through Friday, the enrollees could, if they wanted, attend evening classes on subjects ranging from civics to basic literacy. Skilled courses such as motor repair, cooking, and baking were popular; they did not seriously compete with union labor. LEMs took apprentices in forestry and soil conservation.

CCC life

The slogan of the Civilian Conservation Corps is "We can take it!" Building strong bodies was a major CCC objective. More than half the enrollees who entered CCC were aged 17 and still growing. Hard work, calisthenics, marching drill, good food, and medical care meant the young men returned home much bigger and healthier than they arrived.

The CCC was a work and relief program that focused on small-scale light construction and conservation projects in rural areas. Although at first intended to help urban youth escape the gang-infested inner cities, most city youth were reluctant to join and in practice most enrollees came from small towns and rural areas. The corps operated numerous conservation projects, including prevention of soil erosion and the impounding of lakes. The CCC constructed buildings and trails in city parks, state parks and national parks that are still used in the 21st century. Other projects of the CCC included installation of telephone and power lines, construction of logging and fire roads, fence construction, tree-planting, and even beekeeping, and archaeological digs. The CCC set up the first well-organized wildland fire control system, with crews that fought many forest fires. CCC men planted some 5 billion trees on land owned by state, local and federal agencies, especially the United States Forest Service.

CCC enrollees worked 40 hours a week and had an extensive recreational program, in which boxing was especially popular. Members all lived in dorms, wore civilian clothes, and lived under strict discipline that forbade any women, liquor, drugs, gangs or fighting. At the time of entry, 70% were malnourished and poorly clothed. Very few had more than a year of high school education; few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs. They lived in wooden barracks, rising when the bugle sounded at 6:00 A.M., reported to work by 7:45, and after a lunch break worked until 4:00 P.M. Late afternoon and evening activities centered on sports and optional classes. On weekends they could take a bus or CCC truck to nearby towns, or they could attend dances or religious services in the camp. The CCC provided two sets of clothes and plenty of food; discipline was maintained by the threat of "dishonorable discharge." There were no reported revolts or strikes. "This is a training station we're going to leave morally and physically fit to lick 'Old Man Depression,'" boasted the newsletter of a North Carolina camp.

The Army gained valuable experience in handling large numbers of young men, but there was no military drill or training in the camps until 1940, and the work projects were civilian in nature until then. Eventually over 4,000 camps were established in all 48 states and in the Hawaii and Alaska territories, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The total of 200,000 black enrollees were almost entirely segregated after 1935, but always received equal pay and housing. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes pressured Director Fechner to appoint blacks to supervisory positions such as education directors in the 143 segregated camps.

Initially, the CCC was limited to young men age 18 to 25 whose fathers were on relief. Average enrollees were ages 18–19. Two exceptions to the age limits were veterans and Indians, who had a special CCC program and their own camps. In 1937, Congress changed the age limits to 17 to 28 years old, and dropped the requirement that enrollees be on relief.

Indian Division

The CCC operated an entirely separate division for Native Americans, the Indian Emergency Conservation Work, IECW, or CCC-ID. It brought Indian men from reservations to work on roads, bridges, schools, clinics, shelters, and other public works in or near their reservations. The CCC often provided the only paid work in remote reservations. There were no age limits for CCC-ID enrollees. In 1933 about half the male heads of households on the Sioux reservations in South Dakota, for example, were employed by the CCC-ID. Thanks to grants from the PWA the Indian Division built schools and operated an extensive road-building program in and around many reservations. IECW differed from other CCC activities in that it explicitly trained men to be carpenters, truck drivers, radio operators, mechanics, surveyors, and technicians. A total of 85,000 Indians were enrolled. This proved valuable human capital for the 24,000 Indians who served in the military and the 40,000 who left the reservations for war jobs in the cities.


Although the CCC was the most popular New Deal program, it never became a permanent agency. The Gallup poll of April 18, 1936, asked, "Are you in favor of the CCC camps?" 82% said "YES", including 92% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans.[1]

The last extension passed by Congress was in 1939. After the draft began in 1940 there were fewer and fewer eligible young men. When war was declared in December 1941, most CCC camps except for wildland firefighting, were relocated onto military bases to help with construction there. The agency disbanded one year earlier than planned, after Congress voted to cut off funding for the CCC entirely after June 30, 1942.


  • American Youth Commission. Youth and the Future: The General Report of the American Youth Commission American Council on Education, 1942
  • Cole, Olen Jr. The African-American Experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps (1999)
  • Cornebise, Alfred Emile. The CCC Chronicles: Camp Newspapers of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942. McFarland, 2004. 286 pp
  • Gower, Calvin W. "The CCC Indian Division: Aid for Depressed Americans, 1933-1942," Minnesota History 43 (Spring 1972) 7-12
  • Douglas Helms, "The Civilian Conservation Corps: Demonstrating the Value of Soil Conservation" in Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 40 (March-April 1985): 184-188.
  • Hendrickson Jr.; Kenneth E. "Replenishing the Soil and the Soul of Texas: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Lone Star State as an Example of State-Federal Work Relief during the Great Depression" The Historian, Vol. 65, 2003
  • Hill, Edwin G. In the Shadow of the Mountain: The Spirit of the CCC. (1990)
  • Holland, Kenneth, and Frank Ernest Hill. Youth in the CCC (1938) detailed description of all major activities
  • Jolley, Harley E. That Magnificent Army of Youth and Peace: The Civilian Conservation Corps in North Carolina, 1933-1942 (2007)
  • Kolvet, Renée Corona, and Victoria Ford. The Civilian Conservation Corps in Nevada: From Boys to Men. (2006) 2240 pp. isbn 978-0-87417-676-6.
  • Maher, Neil M. Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Moore, Robert J. The Civilian Conservation Corps In Arizona's Rim Country: Working In The Woods (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Paige, John C. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History National Park Service, 1985
  • Parman, Donald L. The Navajos and the New Deal (1969)
  • Parman, Donald L. "The Indian and the CCC," Pacific Historical Review 40 (February 1971): pp 54+ in JSTOR
  • Patel, Kiran Klaus. Soldiers of Labor. Labor Service in Nazi Germany and New Deal America, 1933-1945 (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Salmond John A. The Civilian Conservation Corps 1933-1942: a New Deal case study. (1967), the only scholarly history of the entire CCC
  • Salmond, John A. "The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Negro," The Journal of American History, Vol. 52, No. 1. (Jun., 1965), pp. 75–88. in JSTOR
  • Sherraden, Michael W. "Military Participation in a Youth Employment Program: The Civilian Conservation Corps," Armed Forces & Society, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 227–245, April 1981 pp 227–245; ISSN 0095-327X available online from SAGE Publications
  • Speakman, Joseph M. "The New Deal Arrives in Penn's Woods: the Beginnings of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Pennsylvania." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 2006 130(2): 211-232. Issn: 0031-4587 Fulltext: History Cooperative
  • Steely, James W. "Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal" (1999), detailing the interaction of local, state and federal agencies in organizing and guiding CCC work. excerpt and text search
  • Wilson, James; "Community, Civility, and Citizenship: Theatre and Indoctrination in the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s" Theatre History Studies, Vol. 23, 2003 pp 77–92 online edition

External links


  1. Public Opinion, 1935-1946 ed. by Hadley Cantril and Mildred Strunk 1951. Page 111