An Historical Study of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Illinois

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Mance, Frank
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Western Illinois University
The purpose of the study was to write a brief history of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Illinois. The writer was particularly interested in ascertaining the following: (1) the objectives of the CCC; (2) the organization of the CCC at federal, state and camp levels; (5) the cooperation of government and private agencies on various levels; (h#) the camp locations in Illinois; (5) the various types of CCC work projects; (6) the work accomplishments of the CCC; (7) the extent of COO operations in Illinois; (8) the costs of operations; (9) the experience of a CCC enrollee; (10) public reaction to the CCC in Illinois; and (11) the impact that the OCC had on Illinois. Procedure was traditional and both primary and secondary sources were utilized. First, the secondary sources in the Western Illinois University, the Parlin-Ingersol Library in Canton, and the Illinois Historical Library were consulted. Primary sources, however, provided the bulk of pertinent information. Congressional hearings were found in the Illinois State Library. The writer researched the Chicago Tribune and the Illinois State Journal dating from April, 1955, to January, 1950, in the newspaper office of the Illinois Historical Society. Since the great bulk of the CCC records are stored in Record Group 55 at the National Archives in Washington, D. C., and these records proved to be the most fruitful source of information, the writer utilized them extensively. In addition to using the records in Record Group 55, the writer relied upon records in Record Group 79. Record Group 55 1s the major file for the CCC, while Record Group 79 contains information about the National Park Service. Staff members of the National Archives indicated that some of the CCC records had been destroyed. The thesis is organized into the following chapters: I. A Description of the Conditions of the Nation which Led to the Establishment of the CCC; II. The CCC in the State of Illinois; III. The Extent of CCC Operations in Illinois; IV. Life in the CCC, and, V. Evaluation of the CCC in Illinois. Chapter I discusses the general economic conditions which prevailed in the United States, the problems of unemployed youth, the need to do conservation work, and how the New Deal meant to cope with these problems. This chapter also discusses the creation and establishment of the Emergency Conservation Work program, its purposes and objectives, and its organizational structure on the federal level. Chapter II covers the economic conditions of the State of Illinois and its problems dealing with relief payments to the unemployed. It also records the beginning of Illinois participation in ECW. The first work projects are identified, along with a description of the types of work in the various types of CCC camps which existed in Illinois. Special emphasis has been placed on the work accomplishments of CCC camps in state, county, and municipal parks. ~ case study of CCC work projects in Camp New Salem, which was located in the New Salem State Park, is presented along with some pictures and a blueprint of work projects. i complete listing of all work accomplishments of the CCC in the United States and in Illinois is included. Chapter III supplies statistics pertaining to the number of CCC personnel, the number of CCC camps, the amount of work completed and the dollar value of work completed in the United States and the State of Illinois. In addition, data are provided pertaining to the total amount of money which was expended in Illinois and the United States. A discussion comparing the costs-per-man-per-year of the CCC and the NYA and the WPA is included. In addition, a comparison of work done in Illinois with CCC work done elsewhere in the United States is presented along with a map showing the location of CCC camps in Illinois during the year of 1935. Chapter IV presents a discussion of the selection of CCC enrollees on the state, regional and local levels; the physical and financial prerequisites for joining the CCC, and the pay are given along with allotments received by the dependents of the enrollees. It also presents life in the CCC by describing the physical plant of a typical camp, a normal work day, the staff of a CCC camp, educational and recreational opportunities in the CCC, discipline, food, and medical problems and sanitary conditions which many Illinois enrollees faced. Also included are a few letters written by Illinois enrollees giving their impressions of the CCC. In Chapter V a discussion is presented pertaining to partisan politics in the 0CC, and the influences and attitudes of trade unions in regard to the CCC. It also contains a discussion of the cooperation and relationship of the CCC and the State of Illinois, public reaction to the CCC in the United States, Puerto Rico and Illinois. In addition, the immediate and long-term impact of the CCC on the State of Illinois is discussed which concludes with an assessment in regard to the justification of the CCC. A series of appendices gives detailed statistical information about the varied operations of the CCC in Illinois, with statistics for the total CCC program included for comparison purposes. CONCLUSIONS Since there was a depression in the 1950's which drained the financial resources of the states and private agencies, and since there was need to accomplish a good deal of conservation work, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was justified in creating the Emergency Conservation Work agency. The organization of the CCC was cumbersome and complex, thereby creating an environment in which partisan politics could and did exist. Unions hampered the enrollees from being more proficient in the learning of skills. The CCC acted as a stimulus to the state to the degree that Illinois increased and improved its park system. Many projects of historical value were restored and preserved as a result of CCC work. The work accomplishments of the CCC were useful projects since they helped to preserve natural resources, increased the productivity of the land, and developed recreational areas. Illinois farmers were taught conservation techniques by the coo. Many men in the Illinois Conservation Department received experience in the CCC. Conservation progress was pushed forward from ten to twenty years. The costs-per-man-per=year were rather high. The total costs of the CCC program did not equal the total value of the work completed. CCC expenditures did aid needy citizens of Illinois, and did stimulate the economy of Illinois, thereby lessening the financial strain on the State of Illinois. Camp life generally speaking provided the enrollees with a wholesome environment. Therefore, health gains were achieved. However, due to isolated conditions, and the lack of potable water, sanitary conditions at times left much to be desired. The rate of desertions from the CCC was relatively high. Although the CCC education program was fragmentary, it provided one of the best opportunities available during the thirties for inexperienced young men. Thousands of illiterates were taught to read and write in the CCC. Cooperation between the federal government and the State of Illinois was excellent. An excellent rapport prevailed with local municipal governments, park districts, local schools, local clubs, soil conservation districts, drainage districts, and university officials and the CCC. The general public in Illinois and elsewhere in the United States (with the exception of Puerto Rico) gave a favorable reception to the COO. Both in Illinois and in the nation at large the COC programs were approved by the populace and the positive contributions made to the Illinois economy and the Illinois work force clearly outweighed any disadvantage inherent in the program. Over the years, changes were made and greater or less emphasis was placed on one or another phase of CCC operations. The 0CC could not be justified strictly as a training and educational agency, as a work agency doing conservation work, or a necessity to our national defense. However, as a work-relief agency doing all of the above, the CCC was justified. The CCC remained what its designers planned, a work-relief-training enterprise with overtones stressing health, education and self-reliance.