It’s a Great Life in the CCC Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In October 1933, Robert L. Miller, unemployed and living in near poverty in California, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In a 1937 article, he chronicled his experience working at camps in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Hayward, California. In addition to discussing the financial and health benefits of working for the corps, Miller emphasized the effects his participation had on his personal character. Although he was lacking in confidence and personal drive when he enlisted, as a direct result of his experience, he said he developed leadership skills and deep friendships that allowed him to regain his self-esteem. Thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's CCC initiative, Miller argued, he had transformed from a physically and emotionally underdeveloped child into a man.

Summary Overview

In October 1933, Robert L. Miller, unemployed and living in near poverty in California, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In a 1937 article, he chronicled his experience working at camps in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Hayward, California. In addition to discussing the financial and health benefits of working for the corps, Miller emphasized the effects his participation had on his personal character. Although he was lacking in confidence and personal drive when he enlisted, as a direct result of his experience, he said he developed leadership skills and deep friendships that allowed him to regain his self-esteem. Thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's CCC initiative, Miller argued, he had transformed from a physically and emotionally underdeveloped child into a man.

Defining Moment

In 1929, the Roaring Twenties came to an abrupt and devastating end. Stock markets crashed, banks folded, and industries faltered as the United States entered a severe economic downturn that would become known as the Great Depression. One of the most visible impacts of the Depression was the tremendous loss of jobs it caused, with the unemployment rate in the United States peaking at more than 20 percent. Crime rates also soared, a trend that many linked to the lack of job opportunities. Meanwhile, President Roosevelt, who was inaugurated in 1933, began working on his New Deal, which would involve comprehensive reforms intended to restore both the American economy and American society. Many of the New Deal's key components were passed by Congress in the first hundred days of Roosevelt's first term.

Only weeks after Roosevelt's inauguration, Congress passed the Emergency Conservation Work Act, which created the CCC, an organization that would recruit able-bodied and willing young men and veterans of World War I to develop and maintain the country's state parks and other land. Headed by labor leader Robert Fechner, the CCC operated with the assistance of three major agencies: the Department of Labor, tasked with recruiting participants; the War Department, which helped transport the workers; and the Department of Agriculture, which planned and managed a wide range of projects in parks and forests. Roughly 250,000 men joined the CCC in the first few months of its existence, and millions more joined the corps during the following decade.

Roosevelt's focus on environmental and natural resource concerns was not arbitrary. During the Depression, a major drought hit the nation's heartland. In 1933, the same region experienced numerous severe dust storms, all of which tore up the topsoil needed for crops and replaced it with worthless dust. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were displaced as a result of these storms, which devastated millions of acres of farmland. Many of the farmers who were displaced by these storms returned to the Midwest as part of the CCC, building natural park roadways, establishing soil conservation programs, and working to rebuild the nation's forests and natural resources.

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