Commission on Training Camp Activities

Founding the Commission

American soldiers on the Mexican border. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Figure 1. American soldiers on the Mexican border. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The idea for the Commission for Training Camp Activities (CTCA) emerged before the United States went to war. In August of 1916, with the prospect of American involvement in World War I becoming an increasingly greater possibility, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker sent urban reformer Raymond Fosdick to observe the conditions of army camps located on the Mexican border. Fosdick reported terrible scenes of disorder, drunkenness, and sexual immorality, and envisioned a progressive solution of camp reform that coincided with President Wilson’s vision for bettering mankind.[1] As a response, when the United States did enter the war in April of 1917, the War Department quickly established the Commission on Training Camp Activities, with Fosdick at its head, to develop a recreational morale program for the American military and to act as “the method of attack by the War Department on the evils…traditionally associated with camps and training centers.”[2]

War Activities

Read an article on the Commission on Training Camp Activities written by Raymond Fosdick. Courtesy of JSTOR.
Figure 2. Read an article on the Commission on Training Camp Activities written by Raymond Fosdick. Courtesy of JSTOR.

Over the course of the war, the Commission on Training Camp Activities developed its programs in domestic army bases and their surrounding communities, as well as overseas with the American Expeditionary Force and on Navy ships. It also enlisted the help of the seven civilian affiliates who would eventually create the United War Work Campaign (YMCA, YWCA, Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus/National Catholic War Council, Salvation Army, American Library Association, and War Camp Community Service). Programming for training camps included athletics, singing, movies, stage entertainment, libraries, and lectures, as well as unabashed modern sex education designed to curb the spread of venereal disease.[3] The Commission on Training Camp Activities also targeted communities surrounding training camps, distributing pamphlets on social hygiene to civilians, regulating the attendance and intimacy level of public dances, and encouraging cities and towns to eliminate red-light districts and provide morally sound recreational facilities.[4] By exercising control and influence over both soldiers and civilians, the Commission on Training Camp Activities could then monitor the interactions between the groups as well.

Cultural Goals

Altogether, Secretary Baker hoped that these measures would give soldiers an “invisible armor” of new social habits that would protect them from immorality in training camps and overseas.[5] The white- and middle-class-minded Commission on Training Camp Activities fought to establish these habits as an alternative to the two extremes of “archaic traditionalism and the corruption of the urban working class”—both of which they feared would threaten the success of its programs by being either too strict or too loose, respectively. Ultimately, Baker, Fosdick, and other supporters and leaders of the organization hoped that their wartime reform would carry on past the armistice, drawing the diverse population of the country into a new, more unified American society.[6]




Figure 3. Raymond Fosdick. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 Raymond Fosdick

Raymond B. Fosdick, as head of the Commission on Training Camp Activities, was the man charged with keeping the groups of the UWWC united.

Fosdick was born in 1883 and raised in western New York. During his time as a college student, Fosdick visited New York City’s Lower East Side, and the living conditions he saw there motivated him to work at the Henry Street Settlement offering social services to the neighborhood. While still working at the Settlement, Fosdick obtained a law degree from New York Law School. Later, he became a city official and investigator for New York City, uncovering details of municipal corruption.[7] Backed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Bureau of Social Hygiene, Fosdick also conducted an investigation of European and American police systems.[8]

Fosdick’s experience with urban reform prompted his selection by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker first as investigator of American troops on the Mexican border in 1916, and then as the head of the Commission on Training Camp Activities in 1917. As head of the CTCA, Fosdick was responsible for overseeing war camp programs as well as for mediating disputes between the organization’s various civilian affiliates.[9] After the war, Fosdick traveled to the Paris Peace Conference as United States General Pershing’s aid, then served as Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations until it became clear that the American Congress would not approve the League Covenant.[10]

Raymond Fosdick spent much of the remainder of his life working with the Rockefeller Foundation, including as its president between 1936 and 1948. He died in 1972 at the age of eighty-nine.[11]



          [1]Nancy K Bristow, Making Men Moral: Social Engineering during the Great War (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 4-7.

          [2]Raymond B. Fosdick, “The Commission on Training Camp Activities,” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York 7, no. 4 (February 1918): 163.

          [3]Bristow, Making Men Moral, 57.

          [4]Bristow, Making Men Moral, 65, 81.

          [5]Bristow, Making Men Moral, 15.

          [6]Bristow, Making Men Moral, 56.

          [7]Harry J. Carman, “Review of Chronicle of a Generation: An Autobiography by Raymond B. Fosdick,” Columbia Law Review 59, no. 4 (April 1, 1959): 694.; “Raymond B. Fosdick,” The Rockefeller Foundation, 2015,–fosdick.

         [8]E. Christina Chang, “The Singing Program of World War I: The Crusade for a Singing Army,” Journal of Historical Research in Music Education 23, no. 1 (October 2001): 20.

          [9]Jeanne Petit, “Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in World War I America: The 1918 United War Work Campaign” (Organization of American Historians Meeting, St. Louis, MO, 2015), 4.

          [10]Carman, “Review of Chronicle of a Generation,” 695.

          [11]“Raymond B. Fosdick,” The Rockefeller Foundation, 2015,–fosdick.