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Maine VolunteerFare

Exploring the Roots of the Modern Service Corps Movement

Published May 6, 2009

By Marieke Van Der Steenhoven, CRC AmeriCorps Member

As a Community Resource Corps AmeriCorps member working at the Maine Historical Society, I am constantly discovering new things about the rich culture and traditions of the state of Maine. Recently, I stumbled across a collection of images of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Established as a means to end the Great Depression, the CCC serves as the foundation for the modern service corps movement today.  The current recession is impossible to ignore and the mounting number of unemployed work forces begs a look back to see how our community has risen above economic crises in the past.

It is 1933. The stock market crash of 1929 has sent the nation into crisis mode and the newly inaugurated president Franklin Delano Roosevelt is faced with the task of fixing a collapsed economy that has sunk the nation into the Great Depression. Within months, Roosevelt establishes programs such as the Public Work Administration and the Works Progress Administration to provide funds locally to give jobs to the unemployed.

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In March of 1933, Roosevelt proposes to Congress a relief program that will put unemployed city dwellers to work in the forests across the nation and the Civilian Conservation Corps was born!

The CCC program was devised to take young men off the street and put them to work creating the infrastructure of the outdoor recreational system we know in today’s state and national parks. The enrollees traveled to work camps across the nation (every state in the union—including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands—have one or more camps) to take part in meaningful and gainful employment.

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The CCC program had an immediate social and economic impact. Young men who enrolled in the program were given meaningful employment, food and lodgings, and the opportunity to travel. Each enrollee received a monthly stipend of $30 and was required to send $25 of that wage home; this amount by today’s standards seems negligible, but the affect of these allotments was felt across the nation.

Maine had 10 CCC camps: in Rangeley, Flagstaff, Greenville, Seboomook, Millinocket, Patten, Beddington, Princeton, Alfred, Lewiston, and Jefferson. Enrollees included Mainers, youths from New England, and men from across the nation. About 45% of the program’s participants had never been employed. In 10 years, the CCC of Maine built 468 bridges, 818 miles of foot trails, and fought forest fires for 38,521 days among many other impressive feats.

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More images of the CCC, like the ones featured in this article, can be viewed at Maine Memory Network by searching “CCC.”

By 1940, the threat of war and the improvement of the economy diminished the need for the program and by 1943 the program was liquidated. The legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps lives on today, in the nearly three billion trees planted across the nation, the state and national parks, public roadways and buildings, and the foundation for the modern service corps programs that continue to do work for the betterment of our societies and environments. 

For more information on the Civilian Conservation Corps please explore the Maine Memory Network, Maine Memory is an online digital museum hosted by the Maine Historical Society—where there are so many avenues of Maine’s history to explore. Maine Memory is home to over 15,000 images from the collections of Maine Historical Society and over 180 organizations across the state; it is a searchable database that allows you to search for primary source documents by topic, keyword, town, or by contributing partner. Each item is represented by an image scanned at a high resolution allowing for detailed close-ups and is also accompanied by a written description.  Maine Memory is an invaluable tool that makes accessible many pieces of the unique and vibrant communities of Maine.

Further information can also be found in Perry H. Merrill’s book, Roosevelt’s Forest Army: A History of Civilian Conservation Corps 1933-1942.