My Hopes for the CCC Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In January 1939, Robert Fechner, director of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), offered his assessment of the CCC's accomplishments to date. Fechner also gave an overview of his improvement goals for the program, including improving the educational and vocational training programs the CCC offered. Fechner did not recommend a significant expansion of the CCC's main focus–forestry–although he did suggest that the CCC look at increasing efforts to offset erosion, expand the number of recreational sites, and plant new trees in previously bare spaces.

Summary Overview

In January 1939, Robert Fechner, director of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), offered his assessment of the CCC's accomplishments to date. Fechner also gave an overview of his improvement goals for the program, including improving the educational and vocational training programs the CCC offered. Fechner did not recommend a significant expansion of the CCC's main focus–forestry–although he did suggest that the CCC look at increasing efforts to offset erosion, expand the number of recreational sites, and plant new trees in previously bare spaces.

Defining Moment

In 1929, the fantastic economic boom the United States enjoyed throughout the previous decade suffered an equally fantastic collapse. Stock markets crashed, banks folded, industries faltered, and countless jobs disappeared in what would come to be called the Great Depression. More than eight decades after the Wall Street crash of October 1929, when the US stock market experienced its greatest losses, signifying for many the official start of the Depression, economists, social scientists, and other scholars are still seeking to understand the specific causes that, in aggregate, ushered in this decade of economic turmoil. Experts point to citizens' inability to repay loans and credit debt, a lack of government regulation of businesses and markets, and a lack of sustainability in the country's leading industries as some of the leading causes of this event. Many scholars cite the sharp divide between the nation's wealthy and poor–including the large percentage of immigrants who came to the country during the early twentieth century to work in the energy and manufacturing industries–as a contributing factor.

One of the most visible impacts of the Depression was widespread unemployment. In the first few years of the Depression, the country's unemployment rate had reached 25 percent. Meanwhile, President Franklin Roosevelt, who was inaugurated in 1933, began working on his “New Deal,” which would involve comprehensive moves to restore both the American economy and society.

Only weeks after his inauguration, Roosevelt introduced to Congress the Emergency Conservation Work Act. The proposal, which was quickly passed into law, created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC would recruit able-bodied and willing young men to develop and maintain the country's state parks. Headed by Robert Fechner (a longtime Democratic supporter), the CCC would utilize four major agencies: the Department of Labor would recruit these men, the War Department would train them in camps for two weeks, and the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior would administer the wide range of projects in parks and forests.

Roosevelt's focus on environmental and natural resource concerns was not arbitrary. When the Depression began, a major drought hit the nation's heartland. In 1933, the same region experienced crippling dust storms known as the Dust Bowl, 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 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.

In the January 1939 edition of the American Forestry Association's publication American Forests, Fechner outlined the CCC's accomplishments to date and presented a few of the goals he hoped to achieve in the near future.

Author Biography

Robert Fechner was born on March 22, 1876, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He received training as a machinist in Georgia and, during the course of his work in this arena, rose through the ranks of organized labor, ultimately becoming a board member of the International Association of Machinists. From 1914 to 1933, Fechner was based in Boston and lectured on labor relations at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration before being tapped by President Roosevelt to head the CCC. Roosevelt had previously worked with Fechner to negotiate the end of two New England machinist strikes. Under Fechner, the CCC saw the nearly 2.5 million men enrolled in the program develop the country's national, state, and local parks while also working to fight soil erosion, forest fires, and intrusive insects. He died in Washington, DC, on December 31, 1939.

Document Analysis

Robert Fechner takes the opportunity given to him by the American Forestry Association to discuss two themes. The first is to review the many accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corps as of 1939, including the program's significant expansion over its relatively brief existence, and the fact that the federal government's money was utilized responsibly and with positive returns. The second is to outline his aspirations for the continued expansion of the CCC's operations, including programs to plant trees, prevent flooding, and restore wildlife populations.

Fechner first describes what he sees as the CCC's most notable accomplishments. In only its first few years, Fechner writes, the program provided work opportunities for about 2.3 million people at approximately 4,500 different camps across the country. The cost to the government for these young men to be trained and work at these camps was about $1,000 per person, Fechner says. He concedes that there is room for economizing the myriad programs involved, but stresses that his agency is spending the monies appropriated by the federal government efficiently and in line with the provisions of the law that created it.

The returns on the government's $2 billion investment, Fechner continues, spoke for themselves. CCC laborers, working under the collective supervision of the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Labor, and War, had successfully built fire watch towers, ran telephone lines, restored grazing lands, improved water flow and drainage systems, and planted trees. These activities remained true to the legislative intent of the Emergency Conservation Work Act, linking available workers to restoring and protecting the country's natural resources and, thereby, helping prevent future natural disasters, like the Dust Bowl.

An added bonus to the CCC program, Fechner writes, is that it provides an experienced-based education for the workers. While he is careful not to suggest that the CCC was providing a replacement for school–which would be beyond the scope of its legislative mandate–Fechner writes that the workers, many of whom lacked even a basic education, were, through their duties, learning the fundamentals of good citizenship, including developing the desire and tools to pursue a career once the Depression came to an end. Furthermore, CCC camp residents were given clean facilities and healthy meals so that they would be in the best possible physical condition when their stay at the camps came to a close.

In light of these successes, Fechner says, the CCC was in a good position to move forward. He next presents a few areas in which the CCC could be improved. For all the success the CCC has had in developing the country's parks, Fechner writes, the agency would do well to invest more energy in its tree-planting, water conservation, soil conservation, wildlife restoration, and flood mitigation programs. Fechner writes of his hope that the federal and state governments will work together more effectively to develop and implement more projects, as the broad framework in which the CCC was constructed has relevance to countless potential projects and programs.

Essential Themes

In the mind of CCC founding director Robert Fechner, the Civilian Conservation Corps by 1939 was an unmitigated success. Millions of unemployed young laborers were being put to work protecting the country's natural resources. Fechner–who had been tapped by President Roosevelt to lead the CCC because of Fechner's well-known leadership and organizational skills–said in an article featured in American Forests that the program functioned well within its operational and budgetary parameters. Moreover, the CCC was successfully engaging in projects that protected and restored the country's grazing land, forests, soil, and water resources.

Fechner also commented on the fact that the CCC was providing an education of sorts to its workers as they labored at camps across the country. This education gave workers the psychological tools to pursue a meaningful career as well as continue to be positive contributors to American society even after they left the CCC camps. Although the CCC achieved almost immediate success–in terms of its recruitment, organization and completion of projects–Fechner did see areas in which the CCC's activities could be improved. He suggested that the CCC could continue to streamline budgets, for example, but he also said that there were many other activities in which the CCC could become engaged. The objective of the Emergency Conservation Work Act was not just to give millions of American workers short-term employment, he suggested. It was to protect the country's natural resources. As long as the CCC stayed within its legislative parameters–and the economy continued to keep the CCC's participants out of long-term work–Fechner said, there were a great many other projects in which the CCC could invest.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Edsforth, Ronald. The New Deal: America's Response to the Great Depression. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Print.
  • Maher, Neil M. Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
  • McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America, 1929–1941. 25th anniv. ed. New York: Three Rivers, 2009. Print.
  • Roach, Edward J. “Fechner, Robert.” American National Biography. Ed. Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. 166–77. Print.
  • Salmond, John A. The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933–1942: A New Deal Case Study. Durham: Duke UP, 1967. Print.
  • Sommer, Barbara W. Hard Work and a Good Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2008. Print.
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