San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

FDR’s Alphabet Soup

Records from the Great Depression
Cath Madden Trindle

WPA - Works Progress (Project) Administration

 1935-1943   NARA RG 69 

Established on 6 May 1935, the goal of the Works Progress Administration was to relieve unemployment through the creation of jobs.  It succeeded FERA and the CWA, both created in 1933.  In July of 1939 it was renamed the Works Project Administration and placed under the Federal Works Agency (FWA).  Although officially abolished on 30 June 1943, the Division for Liquidation of the Work Projects Administration was set up in the Federal Works Agency allowing programs to wind down by 30 June 1944.
In the nine years it was in place the WPA employed over 8.5 million workers in construction, the arts and more.  The goal was to make sure there was at least one wage earner in every family. WPA workers were paid the prevailing wage for the area where they lived, but they could not be paid for over 30 hours in a week.  For the most part the jobs were intended to be temporary and there was little attention to teaching skills for permanent job placement. 
Aquatic Park Bathhouse,
Beach Street, West of Polk Street,
 San Francisco, San Francisco County, CA – WPA 1939
 The result was buildings, bridges, dams and other structural projects were funded in communities in every state.  Artistic endeavors were encouraged.  It is hard to find a community that does not have a striking example.  In San Francisco the Beach Chalet has wonderful murals painted by Lucien Adolphe Labaudt and the Botanical Gardens were planted with WPA funds.  In Inglewood the “History of Transportation” a massive mosaic by Helen Lundeberg, most likely the largest New Deal art work commissioned has been restored. In Fresno the Memorial Auditorium is a prime example of New Deal architecture.  Details of other California WPA projects can be found on the website of University of California – Berkeley’s  The Living New Deal.
The WPA was run at four levels federal, regional, state administrations and district offices.  Most federal records, including those of special projects and field offices are held in Washington D.C.  Many have been microfilmed including over 10000 rolls of field office records, 634 for California.  Those records include correspondence, administrative files, project folders, sponsors’ reports organizational and functional charts, accomplishment reports, as well as other records, covering the years 1935-1943. (RG 69.6).  

The Library of Congress has hundreds of online items in their WPA collections, including: photographs, films, manuscripts, narratives, books, music and more.  Finding Aid to Works Progress Administration Records at LOC, search the aid for California for more specific information on California Collections.

The Online Archive of California lists 257 collections with WPA references. These include records for many statewide and local projects.   

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