CCCs put men to work in Depression
By Matt Troll
In 1933, America was deep in the Great Depression when newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6101, the legislation creating the Civilian Conservation Corp. The CCC, Roosevelt's "tree army," was born. Masses of unemployed young men joined the Corp and before disbanding in 1942 the count was in the millions.
The enrollees signed on for an initial six month tour of duty in the Corp. The Boys, as they were collectively called, were taken from cities and rural areas and assigned to camps administered by the military. For logistical reasons, the young men were usually relocated as close to their homes as possible.
Each CCC camp was located in the general area of particular conservation work and organized around a compliment of up to 200 enrollees in a designated numbered "company" unit. Each camp was structured to generally have barracks for 50 enrollees each, officers/technical staff quarters, medical dispensary, mess hall, recreation hailldayroom, education building, lavatory, technicalladministrative offices, tool roomlblacksmith shop and motor pool garages.
The enrollees were organized into work detail units called "sections" of 25 men each, according to the barracks they resided in. Each section had a "leader" and "assistant leader" who were accountable for the men at work and in the barracks.
New arrivals who showed aptitude were assigned duties as cooks, mechcanics, clerks or even medical assistants.
Most new enrollees were assigned as site workers, the foot soldiers of the camp. Regardless of an enrollee's assigned duties, every enrollee was a candidate for advancement to assistant leader or leader.
Leaders provided knowledge of the work at hand and guidance for inexperienced enrollees. Over this CCC company organization each camp had a dual-authority supervisory staff: Department of War personnel, generally reserve officers, who were responsible for overall camp operation, logistics, education and training; and technical service civilians, a camp "superintendent" and "foreman," employed by the Departments of Interior or Agriculture, responsible for the type of field work.
When an enrollee reached his camp, he was issued two uniforms and a small cardboard box that contained items such as soap, razor, a toothbrush, tooth powder and so on. New arrivals were tutored in personal hygiene, something that was often lacking in their previous years.
After the $25 family allotment was sent home, the enrollee was left with $5 of personal pay, a lot more than other men of their age in the nearby area. After all, a pouch of tobacco was a nickel as was a supply of cigarette papers or a Coke. A pack of Lucky Strike was eleven cents and a sundae was fifteen. The five bucks went a long way considering the camp provided the enrollee's daily necessities. In locales where an enrollee was allowed to leave camp, some nearby movie theaters provided discounts or issued free tickets for the Boys as a way to show thanks for their CCC service.
A new camp in an area was met with mixed emotions from the locals. The added revenue from the CCC eased the depression's impact but having hundreds of new, young male faces did not go unnoticed by civilian male suitors along with mothers of dating age daughters. Fathers kept tabs on everything of value in fear of criminals lurking among the CCC ranks. Enrollees seemed to have silver dollars rattling in their pocket in a time when a dependable income of any amount was rare.
Some enterprising Boys would supplement their income by providing a laundry service for the other enrollees. Although frowned upon by officers, rumors of loan-sharking and gambling in most barracks were not unfounded.
Dayrooms were the free time centers of the camp. Enrollees could relax, grab a soft drink or make use of the small library. A number of enrollees, in some camps over 50 percent, were classified as illiterate. Several Boys used CCC classes or personal instruction to learn to read and write. Many later earned a high school diploma and some continued to college degrees.
In the next edition in the series, we will highlight the accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corp. Young men from every part of our nation ban together to make our farms, fields and forests what they are today.
The Southern Forest Heritage Museum requests that readers who have CCC information or artifacts, please contact the main office at 318-748-8404. All donations will be displayed or cataloged so that future generations can honor the men who served in the Civilian Conservation Corp.