Works Progress Administration

views updated Jun 08 2018

Works Progress Administration

Harry Hopkins (1890–1946) was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's friend, adviser, key relief coordinator, and head of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In a 1933 radio address that was later published in June Hopkins's 1999 book, Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Performer, Hopkins said: "Who are these fellow-citizens? Are they tramps? Are they hoboes and ne'erdowells? Are they unemployables? Are they people who are no good and who are incompetent? Take a look at them, if you have not, and see who they are. There is hardly a person…who does not know of an intimate friend, people whom you have known all your life, fine hardworking, upstanding men and women who have gone overboard and been caught up in this.… They are carpenters, bricklayers, artisans, architects, engineers, clerks, stenographers, doctors, dentists, farmers, ministers."

It was for these carpenters, bricklayers, engineers, and other workers that President Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) created the Works Progress Adminstration. Established in 1935, the WPA was a unique program designed to get the unemployed off relief rolls by providing jobs at minimal pay until workers could find jobs in private business. Besides employing regular laborers, the WPA extended its programs to include unemployed artists, musicians, writers, and actors. Innovative and controversial, these programs spurred growth in American art.

The Great Depression, the worst economic downturn in U.S. history, began with the crash of the stock market in late 1929. The economy steadily worsened in the early 1930s, and by 1933 over twelve million Americans—25 percent of the workforce—were unemployed. In the first few months of his presidency, Roosevelt introduced the New Deal, an array of government-sponsored social and economic programs designed to bring relief to the struggling nation. The WPA became a key program in the New Deal.

From May 1935 to July 1943 the WPA provided millions of people with work. However, because of the overwhelming number of unemployed, the program was unable to reach many of those who were eligible. So millions more had to rely on state and local relief organizations, which were often ill prepared and unable to provide adequate help. Nevertheless, the WPA was immensely important to a great many people, putting money in their pockets and giving them hope for the future. It was a bold experiment in hard times.

Beginning of work relief

Work relief was a concept Franklin Roosevelt had successfully employed while he was governor of New York (1929–33). Instead of providing direct relief, or giving money directly to the needy and expecting nothing in return, work relief programs required recipients to earn the money by performing work for the public benefit. Roosevelt felt that direct relief was damaging to self-respect, and he had become a strong believer in work relief.

The idea of work relief quickly became part of the New Deal. On April 5, 1933, a month after taking office as president, Roosevelt launched the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was a work relief program designed to employ young men to build hiking trails, fight forest fires, lay telephone lines, and build dams. Later that year, with winter weather approaching and people needing money for shelter and food, Roosevelt established the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to provide temporary jobs to a few million of the unemployed. The CWA became the largest employer in the nation's history, putting four million people to work through the winter on projects such as cleaning neighborhoods and digging drainage ditches.

The most ambitious early New Deal work relief program was the Public Works Administration (PWA), created in June 1933. Under the direction of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes (1874–1952), the PWA employed workers to construct thousands of new public facilities across the country. The projects included hundreds of municipal water systems, hospitals, schools, and major dams.

Works Progress Administration is created

By 1935 the Depression continued, and unemployment remained above 20 percent. To rejuvenate relief and recovery efforts, Roosevelt pushed through a new wave of economic programs. Among these was the Works Progress Administration, created in May 1935. In terms of the number of people it employed, the money it expended, and the number of projects it undertook, the WPA was the largest work relief program ever attempted. At its peak, the WPA employed thirty thousand administrators and an average of 2.3 million workers each year between 1935 and 1940.

Earlier New Deal work relief programs had largely been left to the states to administer. However, the WPA was to be completely administered by the federal government. Roosevelt appointed Harry Hopkins (1890–1946), his trusted adviser and head of earlier New Deal programs, to lead the WPA. Hopkins was a social worker with years of experience directing relief and work relief programs; many of those years were spent working for Roosevelt in the New York state government. So as not to compete with private enterprise, Hopkins kept WPA wages significantly below what similar jobs would pay in the private sector, even though those jobs were unavailable. WPA projects were also carefully chosen so that private businesses would not have to compete with the federal government. WPA regulations required that 90 percent of those hired had to come from existing relief rolls and that only one member of a family could be hired.

Seventy-five percent of WPA enrollees worked on engineering and construction projects. Located in almost every county in the nation, WPA workers were highly productive. They built or repaired 1.2 million miles of culverts (drainage pipes under roads), laid 24,000 miles of sidewalks, built almost 600,000 miles in new roads, repaired 32,000 miles of existing roads, built 75,000 bridges and repaired another 42,000, installed 23,000 miles of storm and sanitary sewers, and constructed 880 sewage disposal plants. They built 6,000 athletic fields and playgrounds, 770 new swimming pools, and 1,700 new parks, fairgrounds, and rodeo grounds. They constructed or repaired 110,000 public libraries, auditoriums, stadiums, and other public buildings and built 5,584 new school buildings. They also served 900 million school lunches and repaired 80 million library books. Within a brief period of time the WPA had significantly improved the nation's infrastructure. (Infrastructure is the basic framework or system of public works in a country, such as roads, power plants, and public buildings.)

Ellen Sullivan Woodward (1887–1971) headed the Women's Division of the WPA and oversaw more than four hundred thousand women workers. Most of these women worked in the WPA's nine thousand sewing centers around the country. Woodward also started training and employment programs in mattress making, bookbinding, domestic service, canning of relief foods, school lunch preparation, and child care.

National Youth Administration

For young people the WPA included the National Youth Administration (NYA). The NYA provided education, training, and part-time employment to students and other young people ages eighteen to twenty-five. Young people who were out of school could work seventy hours a month for no more than $25 a month. High school students could work part-time for no more than $6 a month, and college students could make up to $20 a month. NYA workers

Congress Investigates Un-American Activities

The WPA provided work relief for millions of people during a challenging time in U.S. history, the Great Depression. The agency took the innovative approach of including artists in its employment program. However, not everyone in the United States regarded government-sponsored art programs as a positive development. Conservatives in Congress, those who hold traditional views, saw artists' organizations as a threat to traditional American values and the U.S. government. With the rise of communism in Russia and fascism in Germany and Italy, public fear of the spread of communism (an economic system in which all property and goods are owned in common and a single political party controls all aspects of society) and fascism (a strong, centralized nationalistic government led by a powerful dictator) was great in the United States. The economic hard times of the Great Depression had shaken people's faith in the American system of capitalism (an economic system where goods are owned by private businesses and price, production, and distribution is privately determined based on competition in a free market) and some turned to radical politics to seek basic change in U.S. society.

In 1938 the U.S. House of Representatives created a committee to investigate possible threats to national security posed by U.S. citizens. Named the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), it was more commonly known as the Dies Committee, after Congressman Martin Dies (1900–1972) of Texas, who was the chairman of the group. The committee immediately began to investigate Federal One and, in particular, the Federal Theater Project (FTP). Hearings were held, and passionate defenses were offered by administrators of the WPA programs and their supporters.

The Dies Committee negatively affected the arts in general and the FTP in particular by raising public suspicions of political motives of artists. The FTP was shut down in June 1939. FTP actors publicly expressed indignation through their performances by changing the endings to some plays. In one case New York City stagehands knocked down the set in view of the audience at the conclusion of the performance. Many of the FTP actors and workers found jobs in commercial or community theaters.

spruced up schools, landscaped parks, read to the blind, worked as teachers' aides, constructed recreational facilities and parks, acted as nurses' aides, worked in school cafeterias, and conducted museum tours. The NYA program allowed students to contribute to their family's income while staying in school. Most of the student workers lived at home, but rural youths were moved to residential centers. The students in both settings were trained in masonry, welding, baking, barbering, carpentry, and plumbing.

Of all the New Deal agencies, the NYA had one of the better records in providing assistance to black Americans. That success was largely due to Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955), who led the NYA's Division of Negro Affairs. An important advocate for black American rights, Bethune was the highest-ranking black American in the Roosevelt administration. Of the young people who participated in the NYA, between 10 and 12 percent—or about three hundred thousand youths—were black Americans.

Federal One

American artists were hit hard by the Depression and struggled just to survive. The number of art teachers in schools declined dramatically in the 1930s. And in New York City, 210 out of 253 theaters had closed by 1932. To bring attention to their situation, artists began staging hunger marches and outdoor sales of artwork. In New York City private charities offered relief to artists, classifying them in the same aid category as white-collar workers (workers whose work does not consist of manual labor). Franklin Roosevelt was governor of New York at that time, and under Roosevelt's leadership, Harry Hopkins organized work relief for unemployed artists in the state.

In 1933, after Roosevelt became president, Roosevelt and Hopkins took the concept of work relief with them to Washington, D.C. President Roosevelt created the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) under the administration of the U.S. Treasury Department, and one million dollars was committed to the project. More than thirty-six hundred artists participating in the PWAP worked on the decoration of public buildings. The creation of the PWAP reflected the Roosevelt administration's belief that, like other workers, singers and dancers and other artists deserved work relief appropriate to their occupation.

On August 2, 1935, Roosevelt extended aid to artists even further by creating Federal One as a branch of the WPA. The largest New Deal program to aid artists, Federal One provided relief to visual artists, actors, musicians, composers, dancers, and writers. Holger Cahill was appointed national director. Federal One hired a range of people, from professional artists to unskilled workers who served as gallery attendants and other support staff. The program's mission was to popularize American art by producing artwork that would portray the unique character of the United States and its citizens. Administrators believed this would be best accomplished through art that realistically depicted everyday American life. They believed that art should benefit ordinary people, not just the wealthy or educated.

Federal One consisted of several programs, including the Federal Music Project, the Federal Writers Project, the Federal Art Project, and the Federal Theater Project; the variety of programs allowed artists to work in their specialties. Federal One was both praised and criticized and was always controversial. Many people in the United States had a hard time thinking of singing and dancing as work. Some Americans felt that the enrollees were simply avoiding getting a "real" job, that is, a traditional occupation such as business or a trade.

Nevertheless, Federal One made a significant contribution by documenting various aspects of American culture, such as its folklore and its music, that might otherwise have been lost. In addition, most Americans had never before heard a symphony or seen the work of accomplished artists. The cultural programs of Federal One were designed to address these gaps.

Federal Music Project

The Federal Music Project (FMP) was directed by Nikolai Sokoloff, a former conductor of the Cleveland Symphony. The FMP employed fifteen thousand out-of-work musicians to participate in orchestras, chamber music groups, choral groups, opera performances, military bands, dance bands, and theater productions. The FMP had a goal of establishing regional orchestras across the country and providing free or low-cost concerts and music lessons. At one point musicians were participating in five thousand performances—in front of three million people—each week in theaters and schools across the country. They introduced millions of Americans to different kinds of music.

The FMP also coordinated music education programs in twenty-seven states and documented (wrote down in detail) works by American composers that had never been put in writing before. The FMP collected and preserved American folk music and other types of authentic, traditional American music. The music was documented, generally for the first time, so that it would not be lost forever when the traditional musicians died. The FMP made a significant contribution to American music scholarship and was the least controversial of the Federal One projects.

Federal Writers Project

The Federal Writers Project (FWP) employed almost seven thousand writers, researchers, and librarians, who worked on projects in forty-eight states during the program's peak year of 1936. By 1942 the FWP had produced 3.5 million copies of eight hundred different publications. Its best-known product was the American Guide Series, illustrated guidebooks for every state and numerous cities. The fifty-one volumes in the series included maps, information on towns, natural features, and tourist attractions, as well as essays on history, folklore, politics, and local culture. FWP authors also wrote materials on American natural and cultural history for young children, older youths, and adults.

The FWP sent thousands of writers out to compile oral histories. (Oral histories are memories of a time or event that are passed along from person to person and generation to generation orally, not from a book.) The writers talked with Native Americans, frontier women, Appalachian miners, and others from various cultural groups across the nation; they then wrote down the details from these interviews, providing insightful portraits of life in the 1930s. One of the most dramatic collections compiled by FWP writers was the Slave Narratives, consisting of more than two thousand oral histories from black Americans who had formerly been slaves.

The Historical Records Survey (HRS) section of the FWP cataloged national records. The HRS employed approximately six thousand writers, librarians, archivists, and teachers annually. HRS workers undertook a huge task in compiling and analyzing state and county records and the records of some private organizations; this effort would aid historians, government officials, and researchers in the future. The HRS prepared bibliographies of American history and literature, an atlas of congressional roll-call votes, an index to un-numbered presidential orders, and a list of collections of presidential papers. In addition HRS workers compiled lists of portraits and manuscript collections in public buildings and church archives.

After the surprise attack by Japan on U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the subsequent U.S. declaration of war on Japan, the FWP was absorbed into the Writers' Unit of the War Services Division. Many writers employed by the FWP would go on to fame, including Ralph Ellison (1914–1994), John Cheever (1912–1982), Conrad Aiken (1889–1973), Richard Wright (1908–1960), Saul Bellow (1915–), Studs Terkel (1912–), Dorothy West (1907–1998), and Zora Neale Hurston (1903–1960).

Federal Art Project

The Federal Art Project (FAP) employed more than six thousand artists. Since few Americans had seen a great work of art, the FAP sought to make art more accessible. The best-known works of art created under the FAP were the murals painted in hospitals, schools, and other public buildings across the nation. (Murals are large paintings applied directly to a wall or ceiling.) The subjects were commonly taken from everyday life: a fishery or steelworkers or the poor. The FAP murals represented a renewed interest in American life by portraying Americans in common situations, such as at work. Such subjects were rarely the focus of artists before the FAP. The Painting Division artists also made smaller paintings, which could be exhibited anywhere, illustrating aspects of American life. They created more than forty thousand paintings and eleven hundred murals.

The Graphic Arts Division funded the creation of prints, replicas of original FAP artwork that were mass-produced on inexpensive paper. The general public could now afford art for display and enjoyment in their own homes and offices. Other divisions produced sculpture, posters, and stained glass. The FAP also employed artists to comprehensively document American folk art and antiques. These artists compiled the Index of American Design, which documented American painting, sculpture, and folk art. The Arts Service Division produced posters, handbills, and book illustrations. The Exhibitions Division was responsible for exhibiting the work of WPA artists.

The Art Teaching Division employed teachers at various places, including hospitals, mental health facilities, and community arts centers, to educate the public about art. One hundred art centers with exhibition space and classrooms were established in twenty-two states.

Many FAP artists later became famous, including Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Anton Refregier (1905–1979), and Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1893–1953). However, since there were no standards for quality in the FAP, critics charged that much of the art was bad and that anyone could claim to be an artist. With common portrayals of workers laboring in the factories or fields, many of the FAP subjects were too pro-labor to suit the conservatives in Congress. Conservatives also felt that the art was "leftist," that is, that the artists portrayed the poverty and harsh conditions in the United States—such as black Americans in the rural South or immigrants in slums of northern cities—in a radical way to turn citizens against the government. President Roosevelt responded that, whether good or not, the art reflected Americans' perceptions of their nation and the people in it.

Federal Theater Project

The most controversial of the Federal One programs, the Federal Theater Project (FTP) was led by Hallie Flanagan. Flanagan had been the head of the Vassar College Experimental Theatre and a college classmate of Harry Hopkins. Flanagan was dedicated to building a truly national theater. The FTP started regional theater groups all over the United States, performing both classic productions and original plays for thousands of Americans. Because it was a relief program, the FTP favored productions with large casts and extensive technical needs—to employ as many people as possible.

The FTP stimulated theater in the United States, producing more than twelve hundred plays and introducing the work of one hundred new playwrights. At the peak of the program's operation, one thousand performances were given before one million people each month. Because admission to productions was often free, many Americans were able to get their first exposure to live theater. The FTP also broadcast "Federal Theater of the Air" to an estimated ten million radio listeners.

FTP actors tackled social issues, educational and cultural works, new plays and musicals, plays never before presented in the United States, standard classics, and children's theater. The FTP also supported vaudeville, variety shows, circuses, marionette and puppet troupes, experimental theater, operas, and dance troupes.

The FTP had regional groups and tour groups that played widely, but the range of productions in New York City alone was remarkable, offering the program's most innovative work. The New York City unit included the Living Newspapers, the Popular Price Theatre, the Experimental Theatre, the Negro Theatre, the Tryout Theatre, a one-act play unit, a dance theater, the Theater for the Blind, a marionette theater, a Yiddish vaudeville unit, a German unit, an Anglo-Jewish theater, and the Radio Division. One of the most popular classic plays was the Negro unit's production of Shakespeare'sMacbeth, called Voodoo Macbeth. This all-black production was set in Haiti instead of Scotland and included voodoo priest-esses as the three witches. The Living Newspapers staged plays in the form of documentaries, providing information and taking a stand on the issues of the day.

Many actors, directors, and producers employed by the FTP would go on to great career success, including Orson Welles (1915–1985), Arthur Miller (1915–), John Huston (1906–1987), Joseph Cotten (1905–1994), E. G. Marshall (1910–1998), Will Geer (1902–1978), Burt Lancaster (1913–1994), and John Houseman (1902–1988). More important, the FTP introduced thousands of Americans to theater during a difficult period in U.S. history. Largely uncensored and a vehicle for free expression, the productions aired the variety of political views at the time. Even though the FTP received strong criticism from Congress for undermining traditionally held American values, FTP productions attracted an estimated thirty million Americans before the program was disbanded in 1939.

WPA comes to a close

WPA projects continued into the early 1940s, even as the United States became involved in World War II (1939–45). Many WPA workers transferred to various wartime agencies. The WPA was disbanded entirely in 1943, having served its purpose well. At a time when millions of Americans were without work, the WPA provided not only jobs but also hope for the future.

For More Information


baker, t. lindsay, and julie p. baker, eds. the wpa oklahoma slave narratives. oklahoma city, ok: university of oklahoma press, 1996.

bascom, lionel c., ed. a renaissance in harlem: lost essays of the wpa, by ralph ellison, dorothy west, and other voices of a generation. new york, ny: harpercollins, 1999.

bindas, kenneth j. all of this music belongs to the nation: the wpa's federal music project and american society. knoxville, tn: university of tennessee press, 1996.

bold, christine. the wpa guides: mapping america. jackson, ms: university press of mississippi, 1999.

bustard, bruce i. a new deal for the arts. seattle, wa: university of washington press, 1997.

buttitta, tony, and barry witham. uncle sam presents: a memoir of the federal theatre, 1935–1939. philadelphia, pa: university of philadelphia press, 1982.

draden, rena. blueprints for a black federal theatre, 1935–1939. new york, ny: cambridge university press, 1994.

flanagan, hallie. arena. new york, ny: duell, sloan & pearce, 1940.

harris, jonathon. federal art and national culture: the politics of identity in new deal america. new york, ny: cambridge university press, 1995.

hopkins, june. harry hopkins: sudden hero, brash performer. new york, ny: st. martin's press, 1999.

housema, lorraine brown, ed. federal theatre project. new york, ny: routledge, chapman & hall, 1986.

la vere, david. life among the texas indians: the wpa narratives. college station, tx: texas a&m university press, 1998.

mangione, jerre. the dream and the deal: the federal writers project, 1935–1943. syracuse, ny: syracuse university press, 1996.

meltzer, milton. violins and shovels: the wpa arts projects. new york, ny: delacorte press, 1976.

Web Sites

federal theater project collection. (accessed on august 17, 2002).

"new deal for the arts." u.s. national archives and records administration. (accessed on august 17, 2002).

"selections from the federal theatre project." library of congress american memory collection. (accessed on august 17, 2002).

Works Progress Administration

views updated May 29 2018


WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION. When he assumed the presidency, Franklin Roosevelt defied the insistence by his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, on maintaining the traditional taboo against the "dole." Instead, he created the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FERA) with authority to make direct cash payments to those with no other means of support. However, both Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, the former social worker he chose to head FERA, preferred work relief that would provide recipients the self-esteem of earning their keep and taxpayers the satisfaction of knowing they were getting something for their money. In that spirit the Civil Works Administration (CWA) replaced FERA in the winter of 1933 and soon employed over 2 million persons on roads, buildings, and parks. Despite the program's success, Roosevelt worried that the CWA's policy of paying wages equivalent to those in the private sector would make it too expensive to rescue many of the millions of unemployed. He turned then to Congress for something that would offer subsistence wages and thus a motivation to find permanent employment.

On 8 April 1935, the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act granted the president's request for $4.8 billion to fund the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the largest relief program in American history. Projects were supposed to have a nonpolitical social value and not compete with private enterprise. However, politics was a factor because state and local jurisdictions controlled the choice of almost all projects except those for the arts. Subsequent legislation heightened concerns by requiring Senate approval for any WPA official earning more than $5,000 a year. Yet, even with the patronage appointments this system facilitated and some misuse of funds, the WPA managed to do useful work with low overhead.

The main thrust of the WPA projects had to be directed toward semiskilled and unskilled citizens, whom the Great Depression had hit the hardest. There followed a major effort in the construction of public facilities that left a permanent WPA stamp on the landscape. By 1941, the agency had invested $11.3 billion in 8 million relief workers who built such diverse projects as 1,634 schools, 105 airports, 3,000 tennis courts, 3,300 storage dams, 103 golf courses, and 5,800 mobile libraries.

Unlike the traditional relief program focus on manual labor, the WPA sought to fit tasks to recipients' job experience on a broadly inclusive scale. A Women's Division offered suitable tasks and equal pay and, when it combined with the Professional Division, gave women influence beyond their 12 to 19 percent enrollment. The WPA also inspired the black Urban League to declare that discrimination had been kept to a minimum. The 350,000 blacks employed annually constituted 15 percent of all persons in the program, a percentage half again as great as the number of blacks in society, though less than their proportion of the unemployed. The WPA Education Program raised many thousands of black recipients to literacy and trained thousands more to be skilled craftsmen and teachers.

Following Hopkins's dictum that artists have to eat like everyone else, the WPA offered a place where artists could make use of their gifts. The Federal Theatre Project, headed by an adventuresome Vassar professor named Hallie Flanagan, entertained 30 million people with performances ranging from traditional classics to "Living Newspaper" depictions of current issues and vaudeville shows traveling in caravans to the hinterland. Painters decorated public buildings with murals; and the Federal Writers Project informed Americans about their country by producing city, state, and regional guides. The arts projects also pioneered integration. WPA orchestras performed works by black composers; the Theatre Project mounted operas and plays with all-black casts, and the Writers Project gave aspiring black writers like Richard Wright and Sterling Brown the chance to develop.

The WPA generated opposition as well. Cynics derided the program as a boondoggle for loafers. Other critics feared that the huge WPA workforce would become a pressure group able to control policies and elections. Their fears were inflamed when Hopkins insisted that the WPA should be enlarged and made permanent, given that the program never enrolled more than 3.2 million of the 8 to 15 million unemployed.

World War II ended the argument over the WPA. On 30 June 1943, with wartime production absorbing most of the unemployed, Roosevelt gave WPA its "honorable discharge," and three months later the agency mailed its last checks. Never since has there been a significant federal job creation program. Instead, the government has sought to resolve unemployment through fostering opportunity in the private sector for specific hard-core groups. The passage of the Employment Act of 1946, which had been proposed as a way of ensuring a decent living for all, emerged with power only to encourage that goal. Policymakers have further hedged their commitment by accepting the view that an unemployment rate of 4 to 6 percent is a hedge against the inflation that would result if labor were a scarce, expensive commodity.


Brock, William R. Welfare, Democracy, and the New Deal. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Harris, Jonathan. Federal Art and National Culture: The Politics of Identity in New Deal America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Hopkins, June. Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.


See alsoNew Deal .

Works Progress Administration

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the first major unemployment program of the New Deal and one of the most successful of the public works programs authorized by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in April 1935. The program, under the leadership of Harry Hopkins (18901946), provided about 3 million public sector jobs per year to unemployed heads of families. Most WPA workers built libraries, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, airports, bridges, and roads, but the program also employed writers, actors, musicians, and visual artists at jobs in their fields. The concept that the federal government, and not private industry, should create jobs was a sharp departure from conventional policy, and aroused significant controversy. Many objected that the WPA was a handout, joking that its initials really meant "We Putter Around." Some charged that WPA writers and artists were Communist sympathizers who did not deserve a government paycheck. Despite such criticisms, the WPA was a well-managed program that funneled almost 85 percent of its total budget into wages and salaries. From 1935 to its end in 1943, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million people and instituted almost 1.5 million projects, including sewer and road construction, murals in public buildings, written guides to each state, and the Historical Records Survey. Equally important, the program improved morale for millions of jobless Americans.

See also: Harry Hopkins, New Deal

Works Progress Administration

views updated Jun 11 2018

Works Progress Administration

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal relief programs. With work difficult to find during the Great Depression (1929–41), the WPA was established to provide employment to citizens while improving the nation's public works. Congress authorized the WPA

through passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in April 1935. In 1939 the name was changed to the Works Projects Administration.

During its existence, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million people on over 1.5 million projects. With the intention to put most of its funding into wages rather than materials, the WPA undertook a vast range of projects. It constructed more than six hundred thousand miles of highways, roads, and streets, and repaired and constructed more than a hundred thousand bridges, a hundred thousand public buildings, thousands of parks and airfields, and thousands of recreational facilities. Federal projects in theater, writing, and visual arts employed artists in painting murals in public spaces, producing public theater performances, and writing state guidebooks. Dentists, nurses, biologists, and other skilled professionals also received work.

The WPA was in many ways a success, helping many individuals, stimulating business during the Depression, and benefiting the nation as a whole. However, political complications, including charges of favoritism, waste, and disorganization owing to the sheer size of the program, hindered its effectiveness. In 1943 President Roosevelt dissolved the program. As a result of World War II (1939–45), the unemployed were finding work in wartime production, and the WPA was no longer necessary.

Works Progress Administration

views updated Jun 11 2018

Works Progress Administration (WPA) National project in the USA created by Congress in 1935 under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to stimulate national economic recovery. Billions of dollars were contributed to the scheme in which work programmes provided jobs for the unemployed. About two million people were registered on WPA rolls at any one time between 1935 and 1941.