(WPA Federal Writers’ Project)
(War and Civilian Defense Fact Finding Phase of the War Services Section)

(WPA) Works Progress Administration (1935)

Work Projects Administration (1939)
The WPA commonly refers to the many agencies established by the Federal Government in the 1930s during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Brought into being on May 6, 1935, as an independent agency funded directly by Congress, the Works Progress Administration (later re-named the Work Projects Administration) was the Federal Government’s most ambitious undertaking to date to provide employment for the jobless.

Created to replace earlier attempts to bring the Depression under control with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the purpose of the WPA was to provide jobs for the unemployed who were able to work. It was not a program for the aged, handicapped or other unemployables, all of whom would be helped by state and local governments, but rather it provided assistance to people who simply could not find a job. Sometimes called a “make work” program, the WPA eventually employed approximately one-third of the nation’s 10,000,000 unemployed, paying them an average of about $50.00 a month.

In the early 1930s, most of the work originated by the FERA, PWA, and CWA was in the construction industries. Except for local grants, unemployed office workers, teachers and professors, artists, performers, and musicians were largely ignored. There were exceptions, however. For example, in 1933 a grant given by the CWA to the Treasury Department became the Public Works of Art Project. It gave work to over 3,600 artists in the 48 states to create murals and sculptures for public buildings. The program emphasized the production of works of art rather than art education, and it was the first art project ever sponsored by the Federal Government. It ended in 1934 when the CWA was terminated but it set the stage for later establishment of the WPA’s art, music, theater, writers’, and historic survey projects.

The Works Progress Administration of 1935 continued the work of building and improving a wide variety of public facilities. It differed, however, from the previous programs by also addressing the employment needs of non-construction workers. For example, it assisted communities in expanding educational, library, health, and related community projects. Professional and white-collar workers, on the other hand, found employment with “Federal One.” Federal Project No. 1 of the Works Progress Administration was developed to give artistic and professional work to the unemployed who qualified. It consisted of the Federal Art Project (FAP), Federal Music Project (FMP), Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), and the Historical Records Survey (HRS).

Prior to the WPA (May 6, 1936), destitute writers and those who depended upon that profession for a living, had not been given any special consideration in any of the relief programs. Meanwhile, hundreds of newspapers had ceased publication, or had drastically reduced their staffs. The mortality rate among magazines, especially in the popular field, was high. Few of those surviving were able to employ special writers, and payment for contributions reached an all-time low.

Writers in Florida were particularly hard hit because so many of them had established homes in the State during the lush days of the early 1920s when local stories and articles were in great demand, and the writing of publicity for real estate developers paid high dividends. When these rich fields were suddenly denied them, Florida writers were forced to seek employment wherever it could be found – jobs as a rule that involved everything except writing.

The Federal Writers’ Project, established in Florida in October 1935, provided needy writers, editors, and research workers an opportunity to use their skills, and at the same time earn a fair livelihood. The object of the program was to provide the American people with comprehensive information about their country. This involved compilation of educational material in publishable form, or in form suitable for radio and lecture presentation; writing of articles on history, the arts, folklore, industry, and commerce; assembling maps and photographs; preparing translations and indices of rare material.

A State office was set up in Jacksonville, and local offices were soon established in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Sebring, Fort Myers, Key West, St. Augustine, Tallahassee, and Pensacola, to obtain capable workers and to gather adequate information throughout the State.

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