The WPA commonly refers to the many agencies established by the Federal Government in the 1930s during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Brought into being on May 6, 1935, as an independent agency funded directly by Congress, the Works Progress Administration was the Federal Government’s most ambition undertaking yet to provide employment for the jobless.

Created to replace earlier attempts to the 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 Works Progress Administration was to provide jobs for the unemployed who were able to work. Sometimes called a “make work” program, the WPA eventually employed approximately one-third of the nation’s 10,000,000 unemployed, paying them about $50.00 a month. In the early 1930s, most of the work provided 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.

The Works Progress Administration of 1935 continued 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 Arts Project (FAP), Federal Music Project (FMP), Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) and the Historical Records Survey (HRS).

With the onset of World War II, the WPA began to focus on issues related to national defense and by 1941 the entire effort shifted to war preparation. As jobs in the private sector increased, remaining WPA projects were reduced. Finally all of the agencies were eliminated in July 1943, thus bringing to a close a unique period in American history.