Work Projects Administration

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Work Projects Administration

Work Projects Administration (WPA), former U.S. government agency, established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Works Progress Administration; it was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, when it was made part of the Federal Works Agency. Created when unemployment was widespread, the WPA—headed by Harry L. Hopkins until 1938—was designed to increase the purchasing power of persons on relief by employing them on useful projects. WPA's building program included the construction of 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 mi (1,047,000 km) of road and the improvement of 800 airports. Also a part of WPA's diversified activities were the Federal Art Project, the Federal Writers' Project, and the Federal Theatre Project. Close to 10,000 drawings, paintings, and sculptured works were produced through WPA, and many public buildings (especially post offices) were decorated with murals. The experiments in theatrical productions were highly praised and introduced many fresh ideas. Musical performances under the project averaged 4,000 a month. The most notable product of writers in WPA was a valuable series of state and regional guidebooks. WPA also conducted an education program and supervised the activities of the National Youth Administration. At its peak WPA had about 3.5 million persons on its payrolls. Altogether WPA employed a total of 8.5 million persons, and total federal appropriations for the program amounted to almost $11 billion. There was sharp criticism of the WPA in a Senate committee report in 1939; the same year the WPA appropriation was cut, several projects were abolished, and others were curtailed. A strike of thousands of WPA workers to prevent a cut in wages on building projects was unsuccessful. Steadily increasing employment in the private sector, much speeded just before and during World War II, caused further drastic cuts in WPA appropriations and payrolls. In June, 1943, the agency officially went out of existence.

Bibliography

See D. S. Howard, WPA and Federal Relief Policy (1943).

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New Deal agencies, like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, Federal Writer's Project, in addition to the US Forest Service, were employed to clean up the damage.
Some Library of Congress online archives and collections found to be of utility in their research included the following: American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project; 1936-1940 Explore Your Community; A Community Heritage Poster for the Classroom; Learning About Immigration Through Oral History; Local Legacies, Oral History and Social History; Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural History; Veterans History Project-Questions; Folklife and Fieldwork: An Introduction to Field Techniques; Personal Stories and Primary Sources-Conversations with Elders; and Teacher's Guide-Analyzing Primary Sources.
Part of a series, this volume presents 108 examples of writings focused on outlaws and desperadoes produced by the New Mexico Federal Writer's Project from its beginnings through its 1939 transformation into the New Mexico Writers' Program.
One woman interviewed in the Federal Writer's Project comments on this phenomenon: "You know, there was an overseer who used to tie mother up in the barn with a rope around her arms up over her head, while she stood on a block.
Another slave interviewed for the Federal Writer's Project elaborates: "Master had four overseers on the place, and they drove us from sun up 'till sunset.
These collections are all easily searchable for interviews, but they do not foreground oral history with the same emphasis as American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1940, which is part of the larger collection The United States Works Progress Administration Federal Writer's Project and Historical Records Survey.

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