Works Progress (Project) Administration
1935-1943 NARA RG 69
Cath Madden Trindle
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.
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. Many of these records are of great importance to genealogists and historians and will be covered more fully below or on the CSGA Blog, where a posting on the 15th of each month has been supplementing the information in this series on FDR’s Alphabet Soup.
The Federal Writers’ Project (1935–1943) – At its peak, the Writers’ Project employed about 6,500 men and women around the country as writers, researchers, editors, historians, and other field workers, paying them a subsistence wage of about $20 a week.
- The American Guide Series (Digital Editions) – Publications specific to California were created by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of California.
- Historical Records Survey – See CSGA Blog
- California Historic Landmark Collection – Essays written between 1936 and 1940 which may or may not be included in Guide series.
- Finding Aid for the Federal Writer’s Project of California Records in UCLA Special Collections. These records which contain essays and research relating to city and county governments, institutions, commerce, arts, sports, history, defense, folklore and more, are specific to the Southern California section and are contained in 206 document boxes.
- Inventory of the Federal Writers Project Records, 1936 in San Francisco State University: Labor Archives and Research Center
- The OAC list includes 942 items in 525 collections including an intriguing anonymous letter alleging communist influence in the Project in Oakland and a Documentary History of Migratory Farm Labor in California. This is an online offering edited by Raymond P. Berry in 1938. Not all items were created by the FWP, many tell of its history and those that were involved, including biographical information on those that participated.
- NARA RG – 69.5.5 – Correspondence of specific projects, correspondenc and other records of the Los Angeles, CA, district office, 1935-37, information on FWP copyrights, 1935-40 over 2500 images for guides. For further information see Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Federal Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration by Katherine H. Davidson, comp., 1935- 44, PI 57 (1953).
- Library of Congress – Federal Writer’s Project — includes more than 6000 online items, including American Life Histories, manuscripts from the FWP 1936-1940. Web Guide – Federal Writer’s Project; Born in Slavery