16. The success of the CCC was due to the leadership of Robert Fechner
When President Roosevelt appointed Robert Fechner as the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps in April 1933 he all but ensured that the new agency would be a success. Fechner had a well-deserved reputation of having exceptional organizational and administrative skills, and his immediate work with the CCC did nothing but enhance it. Fechner was a labor organizer who approached the CCC with the understanding that unionization of the workers within the agency would detract from its mission, and stoutly opposed efforts from labor unions to infiltrate its ranks. When union workers persisted in attempting to recruit CCC members, Fechner expelled them from the camps.
Fechner initially resisted the attempts to provide educational classes within the camps (beyond those necessary for providing knowledge regarding the specific jobs) but gradually yielded to those who argued that basic education was necessary. By the time he died in 1939, classes were available in the camps corresponding to the educational needs of nearly all members, from illiterates to high school students. Upon Fechner’s death, of a heart attack suffered while he was still serving as Director, Roosevelt wrote to his widow, “As Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps he brought to the public service great administrative ability, vision, and indefatigable industry. His death is a loss to the CCC, and to the nation”.
17. The CCC began to take on a military nature in 1940
Although the CCC had from the outset shared many characteristics with military organizations, it had avoided being considered militaristic in reputation due to the voluntary nature of its enrollees and the direction of its projects being in the hands of civilian organizations of the government. In 1940 that began to change. In anticipation of the expansion of the army following the 1940 peacetime draft, the CCC began to build camps and training facilities for the military. Some of its own camps were converted for military uses. In the late 1930s the CCC was no longer being used solely as a relief organization, and the life in the camps began to take on a more regimented routine, including mandatory daily physical fitness activities.
Conscription and the growing American economy, which was benefiting from the American programs to support Great Britain (and later the USSR) reduced the number of men eligible for the CCC, and the shift of focus towards national defense limited the budget for internal conservation projects. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor all CCC work was shifted to support of the military, expanding existing bases and facilities. Men serving in the CCC were eligible for Selective Service. Some CCC camps were disbanded, with the CCC units transferring to the military bases where their work was performed, and by then both the work and their living situation was under military control.
Back in the days when the Congress of the United States passed budgets which followed the fiscal year, expiring on June 30, the 77th Congress decided the CCC was redundant, and funding for its operations ended on that date in 1942. Many of the camps were absorbed by the War and Navy Departments, others by state organizations, and still others were simply abandoned. Congress continued to fund the liquidation of the CCC (resolving and archiving records, establishing the status of incomplete projects, etc.) until 1948, when the process was declared complete. By then FDR was dead and Harry Truman expressed little interest in renewing the agency in peacetime.
Some former CCC camps were expanded during World War II to serve as internment camps for German, Italian, and Japanese nationals who were in the United States when the war began. Others were used to house conscientious objectors, who performed public service projects similar to those of the CCC but on a much smaller scale throughout the war. Other camps were expanded even further as housing facilities for prisoners of war as they began to arrive in the United States, beginning with Germans and Italians captured in North Africa in 1942 (most of the interned Japanese Americans along the west coast were held in camps built by the army).
19. The CCC was never officially closed by Congress
Officially the Civilian Conservation Corps was never terminated by legislative or executive order. Congress merely ceased to fund it in 1942. The equipment it operated was transferred to other agencies, both federal and state. Its forest fire fighting capability and equipment was absorbed by several federal and state agencies responsible for the maintenance and protection of public lands, and many of the techniques developed by the CCC are still used in combating forest fires. Many state agencies employ young men and women in a manner similar to that adopted by the CCC, providing food, housing, and work training for those who enroll in their programs.
There are over 100 programs across the United States in the 21st century which operate along the lines of the CCC model, spread across 41 states. Some are federal programs, some are state programs, and some are both, with state operated programs receiving federal funds. The Departments of the Interior, Labor, Agriculture, and Education are some of the federal level departments which support CCC model agencies across the country. Several philanthropic organizations, including the Ford Foundation and the Mott Foundations, provided funding to create new corps organizations, and continue to support them with funding. The AmeriCorps program supports many of these organizations.
One must but open one’s eyes in one of America’ National Parks, most of its state parks, and in many of its community parks, to observe the legacy of the CCC. During its existence, the men of which it was comprised planted over 3 billion trees, in parks, along roadways, and lining city streets. One of the largest urban parks in the United States, Cincinnati’s Mount Airy Forest, was built almost entirely by the CCC; until the early 21st century the former CCC camp served as a homeless men’s rehabilitation center. Many of the former CCC camps still stand, at least partially, restored as museums or recreational facilities.
Some camps, such as Rabideau Camp in Minnesota’s Chippewa National Forest, continue to serve the public as education centers. The Camp for the CCC members who built New Hampshire’s Bear Brook State Park now serves as the administration facility for the park, and provides a museum describing the park and its construction to the public. Several states have within their community’s monuments and memorials dedicated to the CCC, inarguably one of the most successful federal programs ever established by the United States government. It gave hope, work, housing, and sustenance for over 3,000,000 out of work American men during the course of its existence while literally changing the landscape of the United States, and of its history.
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