The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:
A New Deal Case Study

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Chapter 2
The CCC Is Mobilized

If the new Emergency Conservation Work scheme was to be successfully organized, speed, above all, was needed. [1] The accomplishment of the President's plan to have 250,000 men at work in the forests by early summer would require feats of organization, construction, and mobilization never before attempted in the United States during peacetime. As the agency would have to be operating almost immediately, the co-operating departments had begun their planning in anticipation of the legislation's passage. By March 24, though the CCC Bill itself was still in committee, the General Staff had drafted complete regulations governing the Army's role in the establishment and maintenance of the Corps. The regulations included the division of the country into nine Corps areas for administrative purposes and provided cost estimates for such items as clothing, shelter, supervision, welfare, and transportation. Thus, the Army was ready to begin its task as soon as the legislation was passed. [2]

Nor had the Department of Agriculture been idle. Using its recently completed survey of the American forest situation, the Forest Service had quickly drawn up a work schedule, and Major Stuart had also prepared a draft executive order embodying Forest Service suggestions on the relationship between the cooperating agencies; this was widely circulated before the passage of the CCC Act. [3] The secretary of agriculture, too, had called a conference of state authorities for April 6 to discuss the extension of the conservation program to state-owned forest lands. [4]

Similarly, the Departments of Labor and the Interior were ready for immediate action. Officials in the Department of Labor, charged with the selection of the youths, realized that there was no time to build a nationwide organization of their own. They decided, therefore, to use agencies already in existence. Casting her net wide for a chief of CCC selection, Secretary Perkins remembered W. Frank Persons, a Red Cross adviser and administrator with whom she had worked during the war. She contacted him, convinced him that he should take the job, reconstituted the United States Employment Service with Persons as head, and turned the whole business of CCC selection over to him. It was a happy choice. The able, articulate Persons held the position throughout the Corps' existence and proved a liberal counterweight to Army opinion during the formation of policy. As far as the immediate problems of selection were concerned, Persons resolved to rely on local relief agencies, which were already acquainted with the young men qualified by need to be CCC enrollees; a state director of selection would co-ordinate the agencies' activities. [5] Selection was to be made on a state quota basis in proportion to population. Thus, though Persons was told only on April 3 to start selecting men, he had a going organization ready to meet the challenge by April 6.

Even before the legislation was passed, the Administration began to search for a man to administer the Civilian Conservation Corps. In this search, their choice was somewhat circumscribed; organized labor had been most vociferous in its criticism of the scheme, so it was decided that the director of the new organization should be someone who could mollify labor's protests. [6]

The man eventually appointed was Robert Fechner, a widely respected labor leader. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1876 and educated in the public schools of Macon and Griffith, Georgia, he had quit school at sixteen to sell candy and newspapers on Georgia trains. After spending a year at this occupation, he became a machinist's apprentice in the Augusta shops of the old Georgia Central Railroad. He joined the union then, but after serving his time he "took to the road" as an itinerant machinist, working principally in Central and South America. Fechner returned to Georgia in the late 1890's and settled in Savannah. He threw himself into union activities, and in 1901 helped lead an unsuccessful strike for a nine-hour day. In 1914 he was elected to the General Executive Board of the International Association of Machinists and became a vice president of the AF of L, positions he still held in 1933.

Fechner was no radical. A "down-the-line" Gompers man in his approach to labor questions, he attained a degree of respectability sufficient to bring him appointments as lecturer in labor relations at Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. During World War I, Fechner came to Washington as a special adviser on labor policy, and it was in this capacity that he first met Franklin D. Roosevelt. As assistant secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt had many an opportunity to mark the lean, rawboned machinist's skill and patience as a negotiator. Fechner was particularly instrumental in settling the 1917 strike of the Boston and Maine Railroad. The two men subsequently maintained a tenuous relationship, and Fechner, an active Democrat, worked hard for Roosevelt in 1932, eventually swinging the Machinists Union to him. When Roosevelt was looking for a labor leader to head the CCC, therefore, Fechner's name came readily to mind.

As a New Dealer, Fechner was, as he once wryly observed, "a potato bug amongst dragonflies." Indeed, he was fond of proclaiming that his clerks were all better educated than he. A simple, homely man, who still wore in 1933 the high-topped hooked shoes fashionable around the turn of the century, his idea of a good time was to see a movie and his idea of mental stimulation was to shed his boots and read a magazine, lying on a bed in the modestly priced hotel room he always occupied while in Washington. He had very little in common with the bulk of Roosevelt's advisers and departmental heads.

By and large, Fechner ran the CCC camps well. Hard working, honest, and affable, he was a favorite both with his office staff and the enrollees. But as the CCC developed, certain limitations in his ability were to become apparent: he lacked sufficient vision ever to see the Corps as possibly having wider functions than the simple provision of relief and performance of useful work, and he was often too ready to defer to Army advice. Moreover, the particular virtues of a conciliator—patience and caution—were not always the qualities required in the director of a large and complex organization, a post which often called for swift decisions and immediate action. Given organized labor's declared opposition to the Corps, however, his selection in 1933 was a wise move. [7]

Fechner chose another machinist to be his assistant director. He was James J. McEntee, a bluff, quick-tempered Irishman from Jersey City. Born in 1884, McEntee served his apprenticeship at the Blair Tool Works in New York. He first met Fechner in 1911 when he became a full-time officer of the International Association of Machinists. In 1917 McEntee was appointed by President Wilson to the New York Arbitration Board and was active in adjusting disputes in munitions plants. In the 1920's he helped to settle several newspaper strikes and was also associated with railway contract negotiations. Fechner and he had been close friends for more than twenty years, and it was at the director's personal request that Roosevelt asked McEntee to come to Washington. These two men ran the Corps until its abolishment. [8]

Co-ordinating both men and organization in the first few days of the CCC's life was, of course, the duty of President Roosevelt. At a White House conference on April 3 which decided finally the position of the co-operating agencies, he personally drew up a chart stating in graphic form the roles of each. Lines drawn from the name Fechner (he misspelled it Fechter) [9] led to boxes labeled Labor, Army, Agriculture, and Interior. Within each box, the President outlined the task of that particular department. He also clarified his own function when he wrote underneath the chart: "I want personally to check on the location and scope of the camps, assign work to be done, etc." [10] His genuine interest in the Corps cannot be doubted; yet, by insisting that he approve personally every single camp site, the President greatly limited Fechner's authority and geared the pace of the work to his own availability. Busy with a host of other projects, his failure to give prompt attention to camp approvals seriously retarded the CCC's early progress.

Specific functions were assigned at this April 3 meeting: the Department of Labor was directed to select the men for enrolment; the War Department was to enrol the men, feed, clothe, house, and condition them, and transport them to the camps; the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, through their various bureaus, were to select work projects, to supervise the work, and to administer the camps. [11] Apart from the almost immediate extension of the Army's role, these divisions remained relatively stable until the CCC came to an end in 1942.

Several other questions were also decided on April 3. An Advisory Council, consisting of one member from each of the co-operating departments, was authorized to assist the director. [12] Basic policy decisions governing selection were also made. It was decided to limit initial enrolment in the CCC to single men aged eighteen to twenty-five—primarily, but not exclusively, to those whose families were on the public relief rolls, and who were willing to allot $22 to $25 out of their monthly $30 wage check to their dependents. Thus, assumptions about the breadth of the CCC's appeal were shown to be correct. It was to be almost solely concerned with a specific sector of the unemployed, the young. The vast majority of Americans were placed, by deliberate action, outside its purview. Other solutions would have to be found for their problems. These regulations were forwarded to Corps area commanders and selection agents and announced in the press. Persons was directed to begin selection on April 6. He did so, and the first enrollees were accepted by the Army the next day. The first camp was established at Luray, Virginia, on April 17 and named, appropriately, Camp Roosevelt. [13]

The decisions taken at the important meeting of April 3 were embodied in Executive Order No. 6101, issued by the President on April 5, 1933. With it, the Civilian Conservation Corps began its official existence. The order confirmed Fechner's appointment as director of emergency conservation work, at an annual salary of $12,000, and provided that "The Secretary of War, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Labor, each shall appoint a representative, and said representatives shall constitute an Advisory Council to the Director of Emergency Conservation Work." Funds were provided for the proper performance of the work, and authority was given for the furnishing of supplies and equipment. [14] Just one week after the passage of the act which gave it statutory existence, the Civilian Conservation Corps was now a working agency. It remained to be seen if its makeshift organization was adequate to cope with the mighty tasks of selection and mobilization which lay ahead.

Scarcely had enrolment begun when it became obvious that utter confusion would result unless the Army was given a larger share of responsibility. It had been decided that the strength of each CCC company would be two hundred men, to be organized and transported to camp by the Army. [15] Thus, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior had to build, equip, staff, and operate about 1,300 camps by July 1 if the President's plan was to be a success. The chief forester, Stuart, had been quite confident that the Forest Service alone could perform this feat. As Colonel Duncan Major, War Department representative on the Advisory Council, put it: "Major Stuart was very bombastic about his ability to do this, stating on several occasions that he did not need the Army. The fact was that he had no conception of the task involved." [16] However, once operations were under way, the enormity of the job soon dawned on Stuart. He quickly realized that neither the Department of Agriculture nor the Department of the Interior possessed the men, equipment, or experience to administer the camps. In a letter to Colonel Louis Howe, President Roosevelt's secretary and close friend, Stuart urgently insisted that a division of authority between the Army and the technical agencies was the only practical arrangement by which the camps could be run. He was now convinced that the Army alone had the resources to build and operate the camps, and transport, feed, and discipline the men. The technical agencies would be responsible only for the work project and for the men during working hours. [17]

The President, at Howe's urging, saw the wisdom of Stuart's suggestion and therefore made sweeping changes of the original plan. The Army's former role had ended with the transportation of the recruits to camp. It was now greatly extended "to assume under the general supervision of the Director, complete and permanent control of the CCC project." [18] The authority of the project superintendent, the technical service representative, was limited to working hours only. This division of control gave rise, perhaps inevitably, to interdepartmental disputes and rivalries, but given the exigencies of the time, it was the best practical solution. The Army accepted its expanded assignment without great enthusiasm, yet resigned itself to the fact that it was the only agency capable of accomplishing the task ahead. [19]

Other important and basic policy decisions which were made in the first few weeks of the CCC's existence added to the number of men in the camps. On April 14, 1933, for example, it was decided to extend the provisions of the Emergency Conservation Work Act to 14,400 American Indians. [20] Few ECW decisions were more popular. For some years prior to 1933 there had been a most unusual scarcity of rainfall throughout the Plains region and in the Far West where the majority of Indians lived, and erosion had ruined much of their land. The Indians, moreover, as a class had very little capital other than natural resources, and as these "could not be converted into subsistence supplies in a period of economic distress, the native American faced an almost hopeless situation in mid-1933." [21]

The Civilian Conservation Corps program on the reservations attempted to carry out various types of physical improvement and to develop natural resources. Because of the special nature of the Indian work, the rules governing administration were greatly modified when enrolment began on June 23. Practical action was carried on outside the bounds of the CCC organization. The Office of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior selected the men and administered the work. The Indians were not subject to the formal regulations of the CCC; few camps were established, because most of the enrollees were married and they were allowed to work from their homes. [22] Furthermore, a unique feature of the Indian program was the participation of the tribal council in its administration. Indians received wide latitude in the selection of work projects and supervisors in an effort to give them experience in the management of their own affairs. [23] Other provisions were similar to the CCC organization proper. The cash allowance of $30 monthly was paid to the Indians, while they also benefited from the education and health schemes.

Work on the reservations was one of the most successful aspects of the whole CCC program. It made possible the building up of resources, it provided opportunities for Indian advancement, and it changed Indian attitudes. By July, 1942, 88,349 men participated in the program and were "happy to be able to compete in this work with the white man." [24]

Vital to the initial success of the whole CCC venture was the decision of April 22, 1933, to enroll 24,375 local woodsmen to act as technical assistants to the project supervisors. Usually eight such "local experienced men" (L.E.M.'s as they were known) were assigned to each camp. The reason for this decision to expand the enrolment was twofold. First, the transfer to the nation's forests of 250,000 youths, most of them quite ignorant of "outback life," could have had disastrous consequences without the adequate supervision of men experienced in woodcraft. The Forest Service did not have enough men available for the job; indeed, they were hard-pressed even to find enough qualified men to act as camp project supervisors. Consequently, Stuart wrote to Fechner on April 14, 1933, requesting the hiring of "technicians and other overhead" at Civil Service rates of pay, "in order to meet the President's insistence that all work done under the Conservation work relief program be adequately supervized." [25] He then adumbrated thirty-four types of technician which he believed were needed. Fechner approved his request tentatively on April 17, "subject to change to meet future developments or any existing situation," and subject to Bureau of the Budget acquiescence on the suggested wage scale. [26] Second, this decision enabled the Corps to deal immediately with a particularly urgent local problem. Ever since the passage of the ECW Act on March 31, Stuart had been receiving periodic reports from regional foresters that trouble could be expected from local unemployed woodsmen unless they were incorporated into the scheme of things. [27] These men had lost their jobs for reasons generally connected with the economic crisis. Some had formerly been employed by private logging interests and, with the reduced demand for timber because of the failing construction industry, they were now unemployable. Others were former state foresters jobless as a result of the general cutback of state employees. Unless they too had a part in the CCC program, they meant to oppose the importation of youths to work in areas the foresters considered their own.

The arguments for employing such men as technicians were summarized in a joint letter to the President from the secretaries of labor, the interior and agriculture, members of the Advisory Council, and Fechner and McEntee. It was stated succinctly that "It is clearly impossible to import into forest regions non-residents even from within the same state, and have peace there unless local unemployed laborers, accustomed to making their living in the woods in that very place are given fair consideration as concerns their own means of livelihood." The signatories believed that if such men were not included in the project it would inevitably cause "antagonism which may result in incendarism (with great loss of timber by fire) and even in personal tragedies." Accordingly, they recommended that the initial enrolment be increased by 24,375 men, so that such woodsmen could be included. Their request was immediately approved. [28]

There was some objection to the proposed wage scale for these men by the Bureau of the Budget, where the director, Lewis Douglas, stood strong against federal spending. Eventually, however, the representatives of the technical services gained their point: that adequate supervision required adequate remuneration. Selection of the L.E.M.'s proceeded under the Department of Labor until 1935, when the responsibility was delegated to the technical services. [29] This policy avoided the possibility of ugly incidents as the camps were built, incidents which could have done irreparable damage both to the nation's resources and to the image of the CCC. Moreover, experienced supervision on the work project was assured, even down to the "platoon level."

A third special group, veterans of World War I, was soon to be inducted into the Corps. With an average age of forty in 1933, often impaired in bodily health and mental stability by their war experiences, thousands of former soldiers had endured a long period of privation and hopelessness and were among those hardest hit by the depression. Many, out of despair, had made their way to Washington in the summer of 1932 as members of the "bonus Army" seeking early payment of their wartime service compensation pension, which was not due till 1945. They had been met instead by guns, bayonets, and tear gas. [30] Now, in May 1933, a second "bonus Army" contingent had descended on Washington, hoping that the new President would be more receptive to their petitions.

It was in this context of privation and unrest that General Frank T. Hines, the veterans' administrator, frantically searching for a solution, first saw the CCC as a way in which many of these former soldiers could be aided. Accordingly, he wrote to Roosevelt on May 6, 1933, suggesting that they be selected and put in a special camp. [31] Corps officials were receptive to the idea, and Budget Director Douglas gave it his personal blessing. [32] Thus, Executive Order No. 6129, issued on May 11, 1933, authorized the enrolment of 25,000 war veterans into the Corps, with no age or marital limitations imposed. [33] President and Mrs. Roosevelt's treatment of the second "bonus Army" had already won them a favorable reputation among the veterans and prompted the adage, "Hoover sent the Army, Roosevelt sent his wife." Now he offered every marcher the chance of immediate enlistment in the CCC. Though understandably cool to the suggestion at first, most of the men eventually accepted it, and by May 22 all possibility of a crisis was over. Once again the CCC had been used to resolve a troublesome situation. [34]

The veterans were selected on a state quota system by the Veterans Administration and became, in a very real sense, the career men of the CCC. Re-enrolment provisions were always generous, yet during the nine-year period of its existence the Corps employed more than 225,000 such men. They were housed in separate camps, and performed regular conservation work, modified to suit their age and physical condition. They too benefited from the education and medical programs. [35] To many veterans, the CCC became a rehabilitation center, a place where they could regain health and self-respect. Here they received a second chance, an opportunity to gain the knowledge, skill, or confidence they needed to earn a decent living. For others, it was a permanent home. One such veteran expressed in verse the feeling of hope rekindled, when he wrote in the CCC newspaper:

. . . while we help grow
More woods for ages yet to come
And when the bugle and the drum
Again calls forth we'll answer, "Here". . . [36]

The CCC was indeed for this man, and for many like him, proof that some people yet remembered their sacrifice in 1917-1918.

The inclusion of these special groups within the Corps framework, while important, was peripheral to the main task of having 250,000 young men in camp on July 1. By early May it had become distressingly obvious that at the current rate of progress, there was very little likelihood of this goal being achieved. On May 10, Only 52,000 men had been enrolled and a mere forty-two camps established. Confusion and delay in Washington had resulted in a situation which could well discredit seriously the efficiency of the CCC as a relief organization. [37] It would take a "minor miracle" to have even 100,000 men placed in camp by the July 1 deadline. [38]

The reasons for this major breakdown in mobilization were in large part implicit in the complex organization of the CCC. More specifically, they arose out of differences of opinion and misunderstanding between the co-operating agencies. Most serious were the disputes between the War Department and the Forest Service. These two agencies clashed directly over matters of fiscal procedure, over methods of camp construction, and in general over their particular areas of responsibility within the CCC organization. [39] An irate Colonel Duncan Major, War Department Advisory Council representative, protested to Howe that he was "constantly haggling with Major Stuart, due to his insistence in letting me know how the Army should perform its mission, even though he himself was unable to do it." [40] While their superiors argued in Washington, men in the field remained idle and camps were unbuilt.

The Forest Service, furthermore, was also embroiled in a dispute with the Bureau of the Budget over the wage schedule for technical service supervisors and local enlisted men. Budget Director Douglas seriously objected both to the number of L.E.M.'s contemplated and their proposed rate of pay. [41] Not until a White House conference of May 9 was the dispute resolved in favor of the technical services, and until then no supervisors could be appointed. Without them, there could be few camps. [42]

Another major source of delay was the limitation placed on Fechner's authority, together with his reluctance to use to the utmost what power he did possess. President Roosevelt virtually insured administrative confusion by insisting that all camp locations and important equipment purchases needed his personal approval. His preoccupation with a myriad of other tasks often meant that important memoranda seeking authorization for new camps or the purchase of equipment lay on his desk for days, as confusion in the Corps areas increased. [43] Moreover, those sites which did pass scrutiny often showed evidence of hasty judgment. Although projects were generously approved in the Rocky Mountain and Western states, few were initially established in the East, where the bulk of the men were enrolled. By May 1 there were 18,700 men out of an enrolment of 35,000 for whom there was no work in their own or nearby states. [44] Obviously, there was need for a greater concentration of authority in the director's office rather than the White House.

Fechner himself was in part to blame for the delays. Unsure in his new job and not yet adjusted to the pace of the undertaking, he insisted on a close personal scrutiny of all contracts for the purchase of equipment, refused to allot funds without detailed estimates and ordered that the provisions of government competitive bidding be rigidly applied in all purchases. [45] His meticulous supervision of contracts and his insistence on repeated conferences before authorizing purchases, admirable in an endeavor of less compelling urgency, threatened to reduce the whole pace of CCC advancement. Reports from the field indicated the demoralizing effect of the delays. Persons warned Fechner that many states, having selected their quotas, had nowhere to send their enrollees, and that there was a real danger of "deep public disapproval of the whole conservation program" because of "disappointed expectations." Letters from camps similarly indicated dissatisfaction with existing conditions. [46]

On the afternoon of May 10, Stuart, Persons, and Horace Albright, director of the National Parks Service, as members of the Advisory Council, met in conference with Fechner. Here they stated that "Emergency Conservation Work had reached a crisis and that nothing short of a definite stand setting up an objective to be attained would be satisfying. .. ." [47[ They informed Fechner that they had adopted the President's plan to have 250,000 men in camps by the middle of summer as the basis for their efforts but were sure that "as the project is now going, there seems little probability that any such objective will be attained." [48] The need for establishing a definite goal, one agreeable to all concerned, was seen as crucial, "otherwise," as Stuart put it, "there will be continued confusion and misdirected effort."

Fechner reportedly expressed his disappointment at any such prospect, though he must have long suspected its likelihood, and reaffirmed the President's objective. He wanted 250,000 youths, plus 24,375 locally enlisted men, in camp by July, and he turned to the one department capable of resolving the stalemate. On May 10 he contacted Colonel Major, requesting that the War Department present a plan to the Advisory Council on May 12 analyzing the steps required if the President's objective was to be met. [49] At the May 12 meeting Colonel Major announced a bold scheme to end the emergency, a plan which presupposed a radical departure from the existing policy. Specifically, its main provisions called for:

(a) immediate action;

(b) an Executive Order, permitting the waiving of all peace-time restrictions covering bids, contracts, deliveries and open-market purchases and authorizing the exercise of the fullest possible freedom of purchase;

(c) the delegation of wide authority over the movement of men to the War Department;

(d) the maintenance by the Department of Labor of a flow of 8,540 men per day, certified for acceptance to the War Department, completing its selection of the full number by June 7;

(e) wider disciplinary powers over recruits;

(f) the approval of 290 more work projects by June 1. [50]

The plan was unanimously adopted by the Advisory Council. Howe and Douglas secured Roosevelt's approval, and it went into effect the same day. As Colonel Major, in a self-congratulatory mood, wrote later: "It was a momentous day. In a few short hours, more had been accomplished than in the previous month." [51] The task assumed by the War Department was awesome. It envisaged the establishment of 1,300 camps by July 1, at the rate of twenty-six daily. Moreover, "the rate demanded of 8,540 men received, processed, and equipped per day was greater than the average for the United States during the World War for both Army and Navy combined." [52] As the War Department plan was translated into action in the succeeding weeks, the whole temper of the CCC changed, each agency striving desperately to achieve the July 1 goal. The crucial test was whether the Department of Labor could maintain the vital flow of 8,540 men per day. This it was able to do. Indeed, with the full quota of 274,375 selected by June 7, the President's goal was well in sight. [53]

In addition to the specifics of the plan of May 12, other policies were modified to suit the Army's needs. On May 22, for example, in a move which further decentralized authority, Fechner permitted the movement of camps up to twenty-five miles from the original site without specific approval from Washington. Aimed at lessening the delay caused by faulty camp location, this directive greatly facilitated speedy camp construction and was enthusiastically received by the War Department. [54] A leader and assistant leader system, approved June 7, was set up on June 16. The men to fill these capacities were chosen from the enrollees and were paid a slightly higher wage. Twenty-six were assigned to each camp—eight to the Army, and the other eighteen to the work agency. [55] By June 16 there were 239,444 men either in camp or on the way there. The July 1 goal had every chance of being met, due almost entirely to the successful War Department plan. [56]

Of course, there were still checks and delays in Washington, though these had been greatly reduced. Important authorizations were still held up by the White House, and significant memoranda had a habit of getting buried among the mounting files on the desks of Roosevelt and Howe. On one such occasion, Stuart was called to Howe's office to locate certain correspondence which needed urgent approval but which had somehow gone astray, an occurrence which led him to be sharply critical of Fechner's filing system because no copies of the missing documents had been kept. [57] Then, too, the Forest Service and the War Department had not yet entirely solved their difference of opinion on fiscal procedure, each wishing to use its own means of disbursement in purchasing equipment, while Fechner still insisted on too many conferences to suit Stuart. [58]

Moreover, a new problem appeared, one which was to be of persistent irritation to the CCC organization. On May 12 Stuart complained to Fechner that the postmaster general, James A. Farley, had been hinting that the jobs of the technical service personnel could be used for patronage purposes. Stuart demanded that Fechner protect them from "political interference which would prevent the selection of wholly competent men." [59] The director, after investigating the charges, expressed his concern over Farley's behavior and agreed that political influences in appointments "would be harmful to the project." [60] As shall be shown later, he was not able to prevent patronage entirely. The political issue, though rarely predominant as with the WPA, was always present and on more than one occasion caused Fechner acute embarrassment.

In the panic and confusion of the CCC's early development, Roosevelt's secretary, Louis Howe, was always a central figure. Indeed, Albert B. Rollins, in his book Roosevelt and Howe credits him with the major part in co-ordinating and directing the Corps during its first two years. [61] Too much can be made of Howe's role; the President had the final word on important policy matters, as much of the initial delay indicates. [62] But in the first three months, at least, Howe's actions as an administrative co-ordinator were crucial. It was Howe who proposed that the function of the Army be enlarged to include camp administration, who settled the dispute between the Forest Service and the Bureau of the Budget, and who helped secure Roosevelt's approval for the plans of May 12. [63] As well as being a conciliator, Howe had power of decision in matters of minor policy. Thus, when Fechner wrote to him on May 24, asking for permission to enrol a limited number of college graduates into the Corps, Howe was able to decide against the proposal without referring it to the President. It was to Howe that Colonel Major sent enrolment details for analysis and comment, while he also did much of the detailed checking into proposed work projects. [64]

It is scarcely surprising that Howe's part should have been a large one. With Roosevelt unable through pressure of business to devote much of his time to the specifics of CCC organization, and with Fechner still coming to grips with his new job and still unsure of himself in Washington and needing guidance, it was obvious that another co-ordinating authority should be required temporarily. There is surely nothing unusual in the fact that it was the President's secretary and friend who under took the task, attending to much of the minor policy work, helping the director to find himself in his new position. In Howe's correspondence after June, 1933, there are significantly fewer documents dealing with CCC matters, [65] and this could well indicate that his importance diminished after the formative three months. He remained connected with certain aspects of CCC work, particularly the education program, yet once the organization was moving smoothly there was much less for him to do.

Howe was also in part responsible for the first scandal to rock the CCC organization, one which, given less delicate handling, could have had grave consequences for the new Administration. On May 16, 1933, a certain Mr. Bevier appeared at Howe's office, bearing a letter of introduction from Howe's friend, Basil O'Connor, a New York attorney. Bevier had heard that the CCC was contracting for the supply of toilet kits to the enrollees. He offered to save the government money by furnishing them at $1.40 each. Howe, apparently convinced, referred the man to Fechner, with a letter authorizing him to purchase the kits from any source. Fechner, used to receiving Howe's instructions, promptly stopped negotiations on a proposed contract with the War Department for the purchase of the kits, and signed with Bevier. [66] There the matter rested until a Republican senator, Robert Carey of Wyoming, disclosed to a surprised Senate on May 26 that the War Department would have furnished the kits for 32 cents each. Bevier's price of $1.40 was more than four times as much. It looked suspiciously like favoritism in contracts, and the Senate Military Affairs Committee was directed to investigate the transaction. [67]

Both Fechner and Howe testified before the committee. Fechner admitted arranging the contract but insisted that Howe had directed him to do so. Howe flatly denied the charge. All he had done, he insisted, was to place the affair in Fechner's hands. He had assumed that the Bureau of the Budget had investigated the contract prior to its acceptance, and the whole business had caused him great anxiety. The committee eventually found no evidence of corruption, but it considered that both Howe and Fechner had been somewhat negligent in accepting Bevier's credentials so readily. [68] The chairman, Senator Morris Sheppard, Democrat of Texas, later remarked that Howe was "fortunate" to receive so favorable a verdict. [69] Though Howe complained that the "Committee has left me in an entirely false light with the public," [70] he allowed the matter to drop and the "toilet kit incident" was soon forgotten.

In spite of this brief scent of scandal, the organization and mobilization of the CCC continued unhindered throughout June, the President's goal being assured by the success of the War Department's plan. In a report to Roosevelt on July 1, 1933, Colonel Major was able to state that the full quota of 274,375 men was now enrolled and in camp. The President's wishes had been met in full, and with justifiable pride Major disclosed that in so doing "all American war and peacetime records" had been shattered. [71] In the short span of three months the CCC had developed from a statutory authorization to the largest peace time government labor force the United States had ever known. Colonel Major more than anyone else deserves praise for the CCC's successful mobilization. It was his scheme which made the task feasible, and his close supervision helped to carry it through. Gruff, obdurate, relentless in argument, Major became devoted to the CCC and sewed the agency admirably. Unlike some of his fellow officers, he was wholehearted in his belief that it was "a most beneficial source of training for those lucky enough to have any part in it." [72]

The mobilization of the CCC had not been without pain. Certain deficiencies of organization had already appeared, cracks which needed immediate attention if the success of the experiment was not to be compromised. Moreover, the director had yet to show that his ability as an administrator matched his undoubted talent as a conciliator. Yet, despite this administrative confusion and structural shortcoming, the success of the War Department's plan cannot be impugned. The Army had successfully undertaken the largest peacetime mobilization of men the United States had ever seen, had built more than 1,300 camps, and had installed recruits in all of them. The CCC was off to a fine start.


The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study
salmond/chap2.htm — 03-Jan-2008

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