MMS students present Women of the CCC Camps
While the work of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps is evident throughout Pocahontas County in its state parks and forests, youth born three or four generations later are largely unaware of the historic public works program.
A group of seven Marlinton Middle School students is changing that. They've researched old letters, handled the very tools used by some of those CCC boys and heard the stories of a woman who worked as a cook on the CCC camp.
The group of 10-to-13-year-olds has written a play about the stories they've collected and will be presenting it at the Pocahontas County Opera House, in Marlinton, on April 25.
With six out of of the seven middle school playwrights and actors being girls, the play focuses on the women and girls of the CCC era-a story that has rarely been told.
"We simply asked the students to talk to their grandparents," said the group's theatre coach, Emily Newton. "Tara Doss came back with a three-page, hand-written letter written by her grandmother, about the life of her great-great grandmother. Her grandmother's name was Carrie Elizabeth Darnell."
"When the young student read the letter, the other students piped up, 'Whats a CCC camp?'" continued Newton. "And the teachable moment was born."
The story of Darnell's work as a cook in a CCC camp led the students to Mike Smith, superintendent of Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park and a CCC historian.
"One thing he shared with the students was a collection of old camp newsletters from the CCC camp on Droop-Camp Price-that Mike copied from microfiche," said Newton. "He also brought in old tools, that were actually used at Camp Price, and photographs. And most importantly he shared stories that were told to him by men who he interviewed who actually worked at Camp Price."
The students were eager to learn about this chapter of their community's history that they knew little about, said Newton. As the students gained more expertise on the subject, Newton said their pride in new-found local knowledge grew and the play developed.
Newton said the credit for focusing on the women's perspective belonged to fellow theatre coach, Brynn Kusic.
"I just kept saying, 'Oh, whatever, it's acting,'" said Newton. "I know we are working with a group of mostly middle school girls, but it's theatre. It's acting. They can act like CCC boys."
But Kusic persuaded Newton that the students would feel a stronger connection to the history they were portraying if the characters were people they could relate to.
"Much of the goal of this theatre program is to connect the students with their local history," said Newton. "So wanting to give them the strongest connection possible, something they could relate to-that is where the idea to focus on the women came from."
As the students read up on the history of the CCC, Newton said, they noticed how seldom women were mentioned in the stories and history in general. This in turn, led to a discussion about how seldom stories of West Virginia are found in history books or on the national news, said Newton.
When asked "What would you like other people in the country to know about West Virginia?" Newton said a number of the students declared that West Virginians are self-sufficient-a theme, no doubt, of the CCC, as well.
The play is a combination of scenes written by the students and prerecorded narration taken from actual conversations Newton and Kusic had with the students throughout the process. These conversations are used as a narration for the play, accompanying the students' live performance.
For most of the students, it's the first time they've been on a stage or in a theatre production.
"It's been very fun," said seventh-grader Macayla Beck. "My favorite part is probably when we first got to work down at the Opera House."
In addition to Beck and Doss, the cast includes Chelsey Lee, Deana Workman, Jarod Liptrap, Brianna Hefner and Layla Shinaberry.
The Women of the CCC Camps will be presented at the Opera House Wednesday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.