CWA Helped Thousands; Grand Forks County Reaps Benefits

Grand Forks
March 15, 1934

It lasted only four months, but the Civil Works Administration has helped 13,000 North Dakotans get through the tough winter months. Right here in Grand Forks County 480 people found employment with the agency, thus providing income to buy food and fuel.

In November with winter fast approaching, President Roosevelt created the CWA to provide jobs for the countless Americans who were out of work. How did it operate? First of all, each state received a quota based upon population and the number of people who needed help. North Dakota was allowed to hire 13,000 people. Each county was allotted a certain number of workers - 480 for Grand Forks County.

CWA workers on the University of North Dakota campus. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.

Workers were paid 50 cents an hour for unskilled work and $1.20 for skilled. Each worker was limited to 30 hours per weekCabout $15 for unskilled and $36 for skilled workers. Not everyone who wanted to work on CWA could. In this county 2,300 signed up but only the 480 jobs were available. The County Commission selected the most needy and later cut weekly hours to 24 so more people could work.

As with most federal-help programs, control rested at the local level. Local government boards suggested what projects should be done, and county officials selected those that would be done. In Grand Forks County, CWA’s work benefited a broad range of people. In the city of Grand Forks workers renovated Central High School, remodeled the five elementary schools, constructed a 200- foot high ski jump in Lincoln Park, landscaped three parks, and made repairs at the airport, courthouse, and auditorium. At the University of North Dakota, over 500 workers (not included in the county’s allocation) conducted surveys, repaired library books, and generally improved the physical plant.

The small towns and rural folks also received help. Municipal improvements were made in Manvel, Thompson, Reynolds, Niagara, Kempton, and Inkster. Workers graveled miles of rural roads and repaired country schools.

UND President John C. West prepares a meal for some unemployed men. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.

What has gone on here in Grand Forks County has gone on in every part of North Dakota. Because of special federal projects such as those at the University, many more people than the 13,000 job allocations have found work. At the employment high mark on January 18, just over 35,000 North Dakotans were at work on CWA projects. That is somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of the state’s total workforce. Clearly, the CWA has saved thousands of North Dakotans from a very cold and hungry winter. At the same time CWA’s work greatly improved the quality of North Dakota life.


January 31, 1939

Just under 32,000 young North Dakota men have been employed over the last few years in the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. Together the men have earned about $7.5 million of which about 80 percent has been sent back home to help out their families.

The CWA and CCC helped keep thousands of North Dakotans from hunting for jobs that were not there. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Farm Security Administration).

Each young man is assigned to a camp. In North Dakota these camps are located near the towns of Fargo, Grand Forks, Medora, Bismarck, Mandan, Dunseith, Foxholm, Kenmare, Kramer, Larimore, Kelvin, Edmunds, Upham, and Mohall. Most of the camps are engaged in soil conservation work. Improvements have been made at the International Peace Garden, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, and the Theodore Roosevelt Park. CCCers have planted over one million trees, built almost a thousand miles of park roads, re-vegetated almost 7,000 acres of rangeland, and constructed dozens of park buildings. The work program of a CCC camp is demanding. The men rise at 6:00 AM, have a hearty breakfast and are ready for work at 8:00 AM. They go out to their projects and work hard until 4:00 PM, stopping only for a lunch break.

The government tries to make life in camp as rewarding as possible. Social and educational programs keep the men busy when they are not working on projects. Most camps have baseball, softball, and basketball teams. Intramural and intercamp games are very popular. Each camp has its own newspaper which reports on camp activities and serves as an informational outlet for camp administrators. Regular dances are held on Saturday nights when town girls are allowed and encouraged to come to camp.

Each camp runs an educational program that offers a wide variety of opportunities for self-improvement. Academic courses in subjects such as journalism and grammar allow the men to earn high school and college credit. Vocational courses such as auto mechanics and carpentry provide basic skills that may qualify men for jobs after their stay (usually six months) in the CCC.

The CCC is doing what it was intended to do. Give employment to young men and improve the land. But, it has done much more. The CCC has given thousands of young North Dakotans direction in life. Trygve Wiseth, who has completed his time in the CCC, has told the North Star Dakotan, “I enjoyed all the time I spent in the CCC because I know I bettered my education, am making friends, securing a better understanding of life and its problems. I have found myself and know what I want to do with my life.”

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

2-5, 7-12

Subject Matter

Social studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change