Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What they did before the C.C.C. was their job

Columns 28 & 29 on the 1940 census concern an individual's "occupation" and "industry" respectively. As noted in a previous post some camps detailed an occupation for each individual enumerated at that camp. In other cases, this information is provided when the record of an enrollee fell upon one of the two entries located on each census page marked for collection of additional data. This additional information would appear at the bottom of the census page. To have this position of occupation and industry recorded instead of the more standard reference to their role in the camp is rare and, like level of education, offers a glimpse at the background of the individual enrollee. Most times enrollees are associated strictly with their then current work title, so terms like "laborer" or "field laborer" and "soil erosion" or "C.C.C." are typical as are other occupations around the camp and project such as "truck driver", "cook", "carpenter", "clerk", and "steam shovel operator".

At Neodesha, KS where Co. 784 was stationed, a group of 23 young men who were new enrollees were enumerated shortly after their arrival at camp. Eleven were identified simply as a "laborer" for either "farm" or "odd jobs", probably indicative of the youthfulness and relative inexperience of this group of men. The remainder included various occupations such as "deliveryman" for a "retail dairy", a "truck driver" in "road construction", a "blacksmith" in a "machine shop", a self-employed "carpenter", a "newsboy" for an El Dorado newspaper, and two musicians in Kansas orchestras.

Another group of 23 veteran enrollees, in Co. 4719 near Ottawa, KS exhibited a more varied list of occupations including seven identified as "laborer" for a variety of industries including "packing house"or "packing ind.", "farming",  "R.R.", and "contract". Others include a "lawyer", a "train messenger" for an "ex[press] agency" an "electrician" from a Topeka, KS powerplant, a "cafe operator", two farmers (and one listed "agri."), and two coal miners. Apart from the above mentioned reference to the railroad, a "fireman" and a "brakeman" are also associated with the railroad industry. Representing the oil industry are a "pipe fitter" and an "oil driller", and auto industry includes a "mechanic" and a "machinist". The list is dominated by blue collar type jobs that these men who were typically in their 40s and 50s, the backbone of an experienced labor force, might be expected to hold.

Finally, down at Parsons, KS, the 51 African-American junior enrollees enumerated for Co. 4717 are almost all identified as "field laborer" in "C.C.C. Camp" with others noted to be "cook", "truck driver", "mechanic", and "carpenter" that would fit with roles in the typical camp. A small group however have occupations listed that wouldn't seem to be part of a standard camp even though they are listed as "C.C.C. Camp". These odd jobs include "dry cleaner", "bell hop", "paper carrier", "musician", two listed for "housework", and three identified as "chauffeur". It is interesting that aside from musician, the occupations are all service-oriented positions.

Ultimately, the 1940 census data offers intriguing, if limited, glimpses of individual enrollees. While it is unfortunate that there isn't more information available for the various camps where more complete groupings of enrollees joined by their common link to the Civilian Conservation Corps would provide abundant ground for study, there are still excellent details that can be gleaned from the data with some investigation. I hope that this recent series of posts focusing on the 1940 census has demonstrated that.


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