Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement

By Neil M. Maher | Go to book overview

ONE/IDEAS
Franklin Roosevelt’s Progressive Era Influences

Early in 1933, Joseph D. Wilson began a personal letter-writing campaign to the president. In numerous correspondences addressed to the White House during the following three years, the thirty-six-year-old unemployed electrician and father of two repeatedly claimed that he, not Franklin Roosevelt, had originated the idea for the Civilian Conservation Corps. In his letters, Wilson asked for a job with the CCC as payback for having furnished the Corps idea. Wilson even went so far as to contact several newspapers, telling reporters that the president stole his idea and refused to give him credit.1 When the White House finally wrote back, stating that Roosevelt had conceived of the Corps while governor of New York, Wilson decided to take up the matter directly with the commander in chief. Telling his wife that he was going out to look for work, the Atlanta native left his home and traveled north to Washington, D.C., where on October 7, 1936, he demanded a meeting with the president to clarify the dispute concerning the origins of the CCC. When two guards denied him access to the executive office, Wilson became despondent, pulled a knife from his pocket, and cut his wrists in an unsuccessful attempt to take his own life.2

Although extreme, Joseph Wilson’s desire to be anointed as the intellectual founder of the CCC was far from unique. Throughout the 1930s, dozens of individuals laid claim to having conceptualized what was often heralded as the New Deal’s most popular program. British forester Richard St. Barbe Baker was perhaps the first of such claimants, arguing that he suggested the CCC idea to Franklin Roosevelt during a meeting in Albany just before the presidential election of 1932. A Brooklyn, New York, resident named

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