Deaf petitioners' requests for assistance raised substantive issues for the Roosevelt administration. Was the government prepared to regulate private employers? If the government acted on behalf of deaf workers, what would be the implications for other groups of workers? Not surprisingly, the administration backed away from the simple but potentially innovative requests of its deaf petitioners. Rather than questioning the traditional prerogatives of private employers, the ad ministration embarked upon an unparalleled campaign to provide federally sponsored work for millions of unemployed adults. Deaf adults then demanded a place in the varied work programs of the New Deal and before long, the acronyms CCC, for Civilian Conservation Corps, and WPA, for Works Progress Administration, were added to the fingerspelled lexicon of American Sign Language.
The admission of deaf applicants to the CCC seemed assured because thousands had already proven themselves at the demanding physical labor envisioned by the corps. As more than two million adults and families traversed the United States in search of food and work in the spring of 1933, administrators from the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, War, and Labor hastily established CCC rural work camps throughout the country. Entrance requirements were straightforward: applicants needed to be free from physical conditions that would make it "impossible or inadvisable to attempt hard physical labor in the forests." Although they clearly seemed eligible, deaf applicants were uniformly refused admission to the CCC. Between 1933 and 1942, more than two million American men labored in the nation's forests and parks, but not one tree was felled or one mile of trail cleared by a deaf man.
Through the Depression, deaf applicants and hearing supporters from around the country organized to challenge CCC administrators. William Allen sought entry and wrote to Robert Fechner, the head of the corps, to argue that the CCC's exclusion was yet another example of unfair treatment, because deaf men had often been the first to be let go from their jobs. The Oklahoma resident charged that many families had lost their homes and most men were "barely eking out a scanty living . . . roaming the country looking for work." Next Page