While many know Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, less well known is the Emergency Conservation Work (EWC) Act — more commonly known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Next Wednesday, May 24, at 7 p.m., the Ocean View Historical Society will host a public lecture on the CCC given by Carol Psaros, a local history advocate and author.
Psaros, published her second book in 2015, titled, “Chickens & Mosquitoes: The Art of Uncertain Times,” which followed the life of a young man who drops out of college and joins the Civilian Conservation Corps to help support his family.
Her talk, “Civilian Conservation Corps Camps and Iconic Spots in 1930’s Sussex County,” will discuss camp life and how the Corps’ “We Can Take It” spirit changed Sussex County and the nation forever.
Psaros began her research on the CCC after finding her own father’s scrapbooks from his time in one of the camps.
“My dad was a historian by heart. He taught high school history at Georgetown High School later in his life, after the CCC. He loved that job. He saved everything from the time he was a young man, even in high school, he started creating these scrapbooks. So, I have them and I started reading them.
“And I was just totally floored by the jobs that he had had and all the things he had done that I had no clue about — particularly during that period when he really wanted to be in college, but instead, because of the stock market crash, he had to drop out when he was a sophomore and find work to help support his family because he was the oldest child.
“I decided it was a time period I wanted to research and learn about. Using the documents in his scrapbook is how I wrote my book…”
During the Wednesday talk, Psaros will discuss the state of Delaware during the Depression, a topic which she said has not been covered much by the historical society.
“The Civilian Conservation Corps was a grand experiment that was part of the Works Progress Administration, which FDR created many, many, many programs across our country to try to put people back to work in the midst of the Great Depression.
“I wanted to do a presentation that would talk about the Civilian Conservation Corps Camps in Delaware. In 1935, there were eight of them. Four were mosquito-control camps, which no other state had under the CCC. My talk will be about those camps and also what they did to improve the moral of those men and to improve the financial status and the millions of men enrolled in the CCC in that decade.”
The lecture is free for OVHS current members and costs $5 for non-members. Light refreshments will be served, and free parking is available in the Ocean View Town Hall parking lots.
“We thought, with all of our building projected, we decided to charge a little bit for our lectures. Hopefully, it won’t discourage people,” said Psaros.
Following the crash of the stock market in 1929, in which billions of dollars were lost and 30 percent of the workforce was unemployed, the country endured an economic depression.
According to the CCC Legacy website, “Enrollees throughout the country were credited with renewing the nation’s decimated forests by planting an estimated three billion trees between 1933 and 1942. Today the legacy of the CCC is continued through the effort of thousands of young people who work on the same ground first restored by the men of the CCC.”
Psaros said she’ll be covering what the men in those camps did and how they impacted Delaware.
“I’m also going to talk about some Depression-day iconic spots in Delaware. Those places that you’d really want to be, and in Sussex County particularly, some of which were Oak Orchard, Rosedale Beach, Riverdale, Carey’s Camp, the Bellhaven Hotel, the Seaford Nylon Plant... spots in Sussex County that were kind of the ‘place to be’ for various reasons.
“It’ll be a look at Sussex County on the 1930s, which was a slower, sweeter time but certainly not a less stressful time. There was a lot of financial stress, there was the approaching war — it was a turbulent time, and there were some things that made it unique to look back on.”
She will be giving a history of the CCC and its Delaware camps, as she said most are unfamiliar with their work.
“It’s a part of history most people don’t focus on, because nobody likes to talk about terrible times, and they were for a lot of families. Certainly, for my father’s family from Delmar, it was a struggle. His family had seven children… I’m sure it was tough on most people.”
Psaros herself said she knew little of them and that her family rarely spoke of the Depression.
“When I was a child growing up, I heard my mom and my dad talk about the Depression as, ‘terrible times, terrible times.’ And then they would move on, because nobody likes to talk about terrible times. Sixty years later, after, unfortunately, both of them had passed on, I found a box that contained my father’s scrapbooks.
“There were millions of men enrolled, and it’s amazing those records are there. Thank goodness they did document. I have my dad’s written records of the first Delaware camp. He stayed with the CCC longer than most. I was able to get a sense of what being inside one of those camps was like.
“They did many, many different things. I’ll be talking about what the typical camp was like and what kind of camps we had in Delaware during my lecture.”
While her research stemmed from her father’s own time in the camps and his personal scrapbooks, the lecture will focus on the CCC and not him personally, she noted, as many men throughout the country were involved in the CCC.
“The men were [each] paid $30 a month for his labor. But he didn’t get it — $25 of it was sent to his family back home. Because of that, the CCC reached millions of more people, instead of the 3 or 4 million men who were enrolled, reached probably 12 to 15 million people, they think, just in the money that went back home.”
Psaros said she hopes community members will be able to attend the lecture and learn a little more about the history of Delaware.
“It should be a nice evening,” she said.
“Chickens & Mosquitoes: The Art of Uncertain Times,” will not be for sale during the lecture; however, those interested purchasing in a copy may speak with Psaros after the lecture or contact her via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.