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date: 08 December 2019

WPA guideslocked

  • Robert Winter

Extract

Guides to every state in the Union (and some of the major cities) that were written under the auspices of the Federal Writers Project created by the Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The idea was part of Roosevelt’s attempt to find work for the thousands of Americans who had been left jobless by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Published between 1937 and 1942, each one began with short chapters on subjects such as political history, the arts, architecture, labor movements, economics and education. These were followed by sections on major cities and their resources. About half of each guide was devoted to a series of tours that might be taken along country roads as well as major highways. They included details of small towns that are still valuable to scholars.

The Federal Writers Project hired some important authors, but few of them wrote for the guides. They were composed by people of lesser note such as unknown college professors, amateur naturalists and architecture buffs. The great majority of the researchers were people who had no training in gathering facts but who nevertheless pursued them with care. One also suspects that the high quality of the finished products was the result of the work of capable editors....

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