A project, The Legacy of the CCC and the WPA in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: 1933-1942 will highlight the work of the men of the WPA and the CCC on Sunday, July 19 at 2 p.m. at the Refuge at the Environmental Education Center (located on the North side of Lake Quanah Parker) where family members of these men can share their stories and photographs to honor their contribution. Funding for the project is provided in part by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council (OHC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Cosponsors: Friends of the Wichitas and Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
The Impact of the CCC and WPA
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided critical jobs for citizens in distress during the trying times of the Great Depression. As both the oil and agricultural industries were hit hard by the nationwide economic crisis, many in Oklahoma were in desperate need of work in the 1930s. With local and state relief agencies strained beyond capability, the federal government beginning in 1933 created a variety of programs, collectively termed the “New Deal,” to bring America through the crisis. The CCC and WPA were two of the New Deal work relief programs that left an indelible mark upon Oklahoma. The CCC and WPA impacted Oklahoma not only through the construction of numerous permanent buildings and structures but also by saving families on the edge of disaster. The wages paid by the CCC and WPA to “needy employables” allowed families to have food to eat, clothes on their back, and a roof over their head. The work relief programs also allowed many men to acquire useful skills and hands-on experience that served them throughout their lives. One of the original programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the CCC was created in early 1933 with the express purpose of taking idle young men off the streets and putting them to work conserving the nation’s natural resources. The men lived in military-style camps operated by the War Department. The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture developed the conservation projects and the Department of Labor identified the young men eligible for the program, who typically had to be unmarried and initially between the ages of 18 to 23, later extended to 17 to 28 years old.
Of the $30 a month paid to the typical CCC worker, $25 was sent to their family. This money made a tremendous difference for families previously living on little to nothing. Gainful employment not only enhanced the young man’s self-worth but also reshaped their bodies due to better nutrition and the outdoor physical labor. Created in May 1935, the WPA was aimed specifically at employing the unemployed on worthwhile public work projects. With the work in the local area, the WPA typically allowed the workers, who were usually married or the head of the household, to live at home. Usually only one family member could obtain work through the WPA at any one time. In 1939, as part of the transfer to the Federal Works Agency, the name of the program underwent a change from the Works Progress Administration to the Works Projects Administration. To maximize the effect of the projects, WPA projects were typically labor intensive with workmen quarrying and hauling stone from local sites. The WPA paid a flat security wage which was generally more than a direct relief payment but less than comparable private wages. In 1937, the average pay for an unskilled WPA worker in Oklahoma was $36 a month. Skilled and semi-skilled workers were paid more, depending on the skill and their experience. Aimed at a broader segment of the population than the CCC, WPA projects included construction projects, such as the improvement of the road to Mt. Scott, improvement of Highway 49, the “Scenic Highway,” and the construction of permanent buildings for the Holy City, as well as a variety of other programs, including employment for women in WPA sewing rooms in communities across Oklahoma. The ability to earn a wage doing work that contributed to their community allowed the WPA workers a sense of self-respect that was otherwise difficult to come by in the dusty days of the 1930s.
WPA and CCC workers or their families are invited to bring pictures and stories from the 1930s to the Environmental Education Center on Sunday, July 19 at 2 p.m. Following a short presentation about the impact of the CCC and WPA, volunteers will be available to scan photos and assist in recording stories with the information being added to the Refuge archives. Refreshments will also be available. The Center is located on the north side of Quanah Parker Lake. For information, to RSVP, or to join the Friends of the Wichitas, call 580-678-0990 or go to friendsofthewichitas.org and send a message.