Federal Work Camps and the New Deal

Feb 9,2021

Federal Work Camps and the New Deal

What were the federal work programs of The New Deal? Let me start at the beginning, to provide some background. The Great Depression unofficially began with the stock market crash in October of 1929. Herbert Hoover was president, millions of Americans were unemployed, and a large percentage of the nations’ banks had failed. In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was inaugurated as president, and pledged to implement sweeping social reforms across the nation during his first 100 days of office to offer relief to the American people. Over the next 8 years, FDR’s reform policies became known as The New Deal, and covered everything from bank reform, public works programs, and farm relief, to industry and labor reform policies.

Central to The New Deal were the work programs for unemployed young men, such as: the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Nation Youth Administration (NYA), and the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), These were programs that put young men across America to work: building dams; improving roads and bridges; building government courthouses, post offices, and other civic buildings; improving parks; planting trees, and making other improvements to the nation’s infrastructure.

Monument to the men of the CCC at Cumberland Mountain State Park, Crossville, TN

The Tennessee River Valley was one of the areas hardest hit by the Depression, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created to build dams for power generation, flood control, and to create recreational areas and lakes for the people of the region. Because of Tennessee’s central location within these programs, many of the state parks within its borders were either created by or are designated to commemorate the workers of the CCC, the WPA, and the TVA programs. A trip to almost any one of Tennessee’s state parks provides information and insight into the lives of the men who lived in the camps and worked on these projects. As I travel across the state and visit some of Tennessee’s fantastic state parks, I’ll share them with you here.

As I do that I also want to draw your attention to a question that has plagued me for some time now. With all of this focus on Federal Relief Programs, why is there very little mention of the women of the era? Surely they were as equally affected by the depression as the men, and yet there are very few public records of who they were. You will see that there are definite ties between these CCC camps and the women who also struggled to survive the most difficult era of American History. Come along with me as I dig deep to find the answers to the question, “Where are the women?”