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Past & Present: What Government Cooperation Can Do In Times Of Trouble

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Public Domain

On March 21, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed to Congress a full-scale works program that would provide work of “definite, practical value, not only through prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.” 

Ten days later, on March 31, Congress approved the Emergency Conservation Works Act. Through this act, Roosevelt and Congress created agencies that followed through with this legislative promise of relief.


The first agency was the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC initially provided 250,000 forestry jobs across the country, with a peak of just over 500,000 workers in 1935. While a director led the CCC, an advisory council from four government departments — Labor, War, Agriculture, and Interior — jointly supervised it, a first for a governmental agency.


The CCC created a camp work system that mirrored the U.S. Army’s basic training, and several future officers, including George Marshall, embraced the system. Each enrollee was subjected to a physical exam or a period of conditioning and was required to serve at least six months. They worked 40 hours per week for $30 a month (which would be about $590 a month today) and they were provided three meals a day, plus housing, clothing, and medical care.


The first camp, Camp Roosevelt, opened on April 17, 1933, in Virginia. By July 1, there were nearly 1,500 camps, with a peak of 2,900 in 1937. While the CCC’s goal was to provide work and relief for all, the camps, like much of the United States, remained segregated for African Americans and Native Americans. While it was disbanded in 1942 after the United States entered into World War II, the CCC paved the way for strong inter-departmental government agencies to play a role in a robust federal government during times of crisis. 

Dr. Robin C. Henry holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Indiana University and is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections among sexuality, law, and regional identity in the 19th- and early 20th-century United States.