THE CCC AS SEEN BY THE YOUNG ENROLLEES: A RECENT PROMISED GIFT TO THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY
We have just recently received an important shipment of rare books and periodicals from Southpaw Books—items that come to us as part of a promised gift from museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Among the items included in the delivery are numerous issues of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp serials. These scarce items edited by enrollees were very cheaply printed periodicals that chronicled the regimen of daily life in the camps. The majority of the issues coming to the library were published in camps located in Oregon and Washington states.
As heir to his family’s substantial estate at Hyde Park in New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt had early on recognized the need for good stewardship and conservation of forest lands. He had also a lifelong interest in the scouting movement and became a fervent believer in the notion that work in the “great outdoors” was an antidote to the debilitating influence of urban slums.
After his election as governor of New York State, Roosevelt noted that following the 1929 crash and the onset of the severe worldwide depression a number of American and European states had set up forestry programs designed to relieve unemployment by sending young men to work in the woods. In September 1931, Governor Roosevelt established the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). But as someone who feared the demoralizing effects of unemployment, idleness, and the dole, his public relief program did not simply provide the unemployed and dispossessed with food, clothing, and shelter, but did so by employing ten thousand men on the public relief rolls in forestry and conservation work.
In the acceptance speech Roosevelt delivered at the presidential nomination convention in July 1932, Roosevelt proposed expanding that program and employing as many as a million men from across the nation in reforestation and conservation work in the country’s national and state parks. True to his promise, just five days after his inauguration as president on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt met with the secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, and War to outline his proposed conservation relief program, and on March 21, he submitted his Emergency Conservation Work bill to Congress.
Considering the major problem with hundreds of thousands of street kids and homeless youths riding the rails, his bill proposed to recruit within three months 250,000 unmarried youths from families on relief (ages 17 to 23) into “a civilian conservation corps 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.” (See also my earlier blog post describing youth and the CCC). Despite some considerable anxiety that the new president might be moving to create a paramilitary corps loyal to himself, and some initial labor opposition—(overcome by appointing Robert Fechner, a national labor union leader, as director of the CCC), the bill was signed into law on March 31. The program succeeded over the pessimistic predictions of it skeptics and detractors, becoming the most popular of the New Deal programs. Over the next nine years, Roosevelt’s “Tree Army” employed more than two and one-half million men planting three billion trees; building 800 parks across the country; constructing bridges and roads; upgrading camping and recreational facilities in state and national parks; helping to fight forest fires and floods; establishing model farms to demonstrate contour plowing and other scientific farming techniques; and, assisting in soil conservation efforts in the regions devastated by drought and “dust bowl” regions.
The periodicals deposited in our library by Mitchell Wolfson provide a different perspective on the camps—one from the point of view of the young recruits themselves. These in no way resemble the polished annuals sometimes published for the camps that resemble a military academy school yearbook.
Unlike the annuals that were sent off to private presses and professionally published, the twenty distinct periodical titles recently acquired appear to have been mimeographed sheets, typed and illustrated by hand, and staple-bound.
The amateur writers, illustrators, and editors of these camp newsletters were drawn from the ranks of the young recruits and describe their personal perspectives and views of daily camp life.
For that reason, we have no doubt that these fascinating periodicals will provide many generations of scholars with primary source materials offering a “bottoms-up” view of what these young male enrollees themselves thought and how they felt about CCC camp life. Their brief articles, editorials, and light commentary speak volumes about their keen interest in camp leisure and sporting events, educational and vocational opportunities, and their meager pay.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of library intern Keiron Stewart, all thirty-two issues of these periodicals have been accessioned, catalogued, and provided with metadata links to digital surrogates produced by digital library specialist, David Almeida, so that they can be seen and read online via our online public access catalog: www.library.wolfsonian.org