In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to reduce unemployment, especially among young men; and to preserve the nation's natural resources. For example many CCC projects centered on forestry, flood control, prevention of soil erosion, and fighting forest fires. The impact of this New Deal program reached far beyond those specific goals however. This 5 Lesson Depression Unit will view this difficult time through the focused lens of the Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC) These lessons will address the larger national themes of Relief, Recovery and Reform, New Deal Race Relations, Agricultural and Environmental Crisis, and American Culture during the Depression.
The CCC operated in cooperation with and under the technical supervision of the War Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor. Other agencies such as the Office of Education and the United States Veterans Administration also played a role. Nationwide camps were established primarily for young men, but were also established for U.S. Military Veterans, (in response to the Bonus Army march on Washington in 1932) as well as “Colored Camps” for African Americans. As the CCC continued to develop, one group was conspicuously absent from the ranks of most relief programs, namely women. The appreciation of the need for relief jobs for women was not very high on the “New Dealers” list, save one, Eleanor Roosevelt. “From the earliest discussions of the CCC, she championed the cause of adding the estimated 200,000 homeless women to the CCC to work in tree “nurseries,” perhaps shrewdly sexist, but well intentioned. She eventually met with Francis Perkins, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, but nothing came of it. Eventually, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) would establish relief programs for unemployed women referred to as “She-She-She” work camps, the CCC remained all male.
It is interesting to note that these camps had significant local economic impact as well. Whether it involved the purchase of needed supplies, the enrolling of local men, or the hiring of Local Experienced Men (LEM’s), primarily unemployed local woodsmen, the impact was both significant and long term. From 1933 through 1942, the CCC assigned nearly 165,000 men to 128 camps throughout Wisconsin, planting nearly three billion trees, some 265 million of them in Wisconsin.
Within four months after America entered World Was II, 90% of CCC men joined the Armed Services and continued their contribution to their country.
All necessary elements are included in this unit and are available through the Center for History Teaching and Learning Website so teachers are not required to do extra work in order to teach it. There are a variety of resources and exercises providing teachers with numerous options. This unit, though designed for a high school U.S. history class, is easily adaptable for a variety of grade levels simply by selecting the desired sources to analyze and by changing the amount of guidance for the activities.