Modern history

American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work

American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work

If you’ve traveled the nation’s highways, flown into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, strolled San Antonio’s River Walk, or seen the Pacific Ocean from the Beach Chalet in San Francisco, you have experienced some part of the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—one of the enduring cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

When President Roosevelt took the oath of office in March 1933, he was facing a devastated nation. Four years into the Great Depression, a staggering 13 million American workers were jobless and many millions more of their family members were equally in need. Desperation ruled the land.

What people wanted were jobs, not handouts: the pride of earning a paycheck; and in 1935, after a variety of temporary relief measures, a permanent nationwide jobs program was created. This was the Works Progress Administration, and it would forever change the physical landscape and the social policies of the United States.

The WPA lasted for eight years, spent $11 billion, employed 8½ million men and women, and gave the country not only a renewed spirit but a fresh face. Under its colorful head, Harry Hopkins, the agency’s remarkable accomplishment was to combine the urgency of putting people back to work with its vision of physically rebuilding America. Its workers laid roads, erected dams, bridges, tunnels, and airports. They stocked rivers, made toys, sewed clothes, served millions of hot school lunches. When disasters struck, they were there by the thousands to rescue the stranded. And all across the country the WPA’s arts programs performed concerts, staged plays, painted murals, delighted children with circuses, created invaluable guidebooks. Even today, more than sixty years after the WPA ceased to exist, there is almost no area in America that does not bear some visible mark of its presence.

Politically controversial, the WPA was staffed by passionate believers and hated by conservatives; its critics called its projects make-work and wags said it stood for We Piddle Around. The contrary was true. We have only to look about us today to discover its lasting presence.

PROLOGUE

PART I: IN EXTREMIS

Chapter 1. THE END OF JOBS

Chapter 2. THE PEOPLE ON THEIR OWN

Chapter 3. PLEAS ON DEAF EARS

Chapter 4. THE PHILOSOPHY OF “RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM”

Chapter 5. HOOVERVILLES AND HUNGER

Chapter 6. THE PROBLEM WITH LAISSEZ-FAIRE

Chapter 7. RUMBLES ON THE LEFT

Chapter 8. THE GUNS OF DEARBORN

Chapter 9. THE BONUS MARCH

Chapter 10. ROOSEVELT ONTO THE STAGE

Chapter 11. THE BATTLE IS JOINED

Chapter 12. A NEW DIRECTION

PART II: HOPE ON THE RISE

Chapter 1. JOBS FROM THE SKY (AND NOWHERE ELSE)

Chapter 2. AN AGONY OF WAITING

Chapter 3. ACTION AT LAST

Chapter 4. WINDS OF CHANGE

Chapter 5. THE PASSION OF HARRY HOPKINS

Chapter 6. “MONEY FLIES”

Chapter 7. THE DESIRE TO WORK

Chapter 8. THE BIRTH OF THE CIVIL WORKS ADMINISTRATION

Chapter 9. FOUR MILLION JOBS

Chapter 10. EMPLOYMENT POLITICS

Chapter 11. THE JOBS THAT PAID TOO MUCH

Chapter 12. THE BRIEF SHINING LIFE OF THE CWA

PART III: THE DAWN OF THE WPA

Chapter 1. TOWARD A PERMANENT JOBS PROGRAM

Chapter 2. PROTESTS LEFT AND RIGHT

Chapter 3. “THIS IS OUR HOUR”

Chapter 4. “WORK MUST BE FOUND…”

Chapter 5. A WORD IS BORN

Chapter 6. THE MACHINERY TAKES SHAPE

Chapter 7. FULL SPEED AHEAD

Chapter 8. “CAN YOU SPEND MONEY?”

Chapter 9. THE DIRT FLIES: PRELIMINARIES

PART IV: FOLLY AND TRIUMPH

Chapter 1. DEATH OF A POPULIST

Chapter 2. HOPKINS ASCENDANT

Chapter 3. HURRICANES AND PIPE DREAMS

Chapter 4. A LODGE AT THE TIMBERLINE

Chapter 5. A NATION AT WORK

Chapter 6. KENTUCKY’S PACKHORSE LIBRARY (LIBRARIAN GRACE OVERBEE)

Chapter 7. THE 1936 CAMPAIGN

Chapter 8. HOPKINS IN LOUISIANA

Chapter 9. AT WORK ON THE TIMBERLINE (LABORER AND HELPER HENRY MOAR)

PART V: THE ARTS PROGRAMS

Chapter 1. THE DILEMMA OF ART AND POLITICS

Chapter 2. THE FEDERAL THEATRE PROJECT: PRELUDE

Chapter 3. THE CURTAIN RISES

Chapter 4. THE VOODOO MACBETH

Chapter 5. SELLING THE THEATER (YOUTH PUBLICIST FRANK GOODMAN)

Chapter 6. THE ART PROJECT: MURALS AND INTRIGUE

Chapter 7. THE INDEX OF AMERICAN DESIGN (AND COMMUNITY ART CENTERS)

Chapter 8. THE MUSIC PROJECT: “REAL MUSIC” FOR AMERICA

Chapter 9. THE WRITERS’ PROJECT

Chapter 10. AT WORK FOR THE WRITERS’ PROJECT (RESEARCHER THOMAS C. FLEMING)

Chapter 11. ONE NATION, ONE PLAY

Chapter 12. AT WORK OFFSTAGE (ANTHONY BUTTITTA AND MILTON MELTZER)

Chapter 13. THE AMERICAN GUIDES: IDAHO VERSUS WASHINGTON, D.C.

Chapter 14. LAYOFFS AND PROTESTS

PART VI: THE PHANTOM OF RECOVERY

Chapter 1. FLOOD ON THE OHIO

Chapter 2. WPA FIGHTS THE “FEROCIOUS FIRE DEMON”

Chapter 3. THE COURT-PACKING DEBACLE

Chapter 4. WPA CUTS AND THE “ROOSEVELT RECESSION”

Chapter 5. THE ROOSEVELTS AT TIMBERLINE

Chapter 6. DECLINE AND REVIVAL

Chapter 7. BUILDING ROADS IN NORTH CAROLINA (JOHNNY MILLS)

Chapter 8. KENTUCKY ARCHAEOLOGY (JOHN B. ELLIOTT)

Chapter 9. HURRICANE!

PART VII: THE WPA UNDER ATTACK

Chapter 1. WAR AMONG THE DEMOCRATS

Chapter 2. THE RISE OF THE RED-BAITERS

Chapter 3. THE “RUNAWAY OPERA”

Chapter 4. SACCO AND VANZETTI

Chapter 5. IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Chapter 6. HARRY DEPARTS

Chapter 7. CHANGES IN THE WIND

Chapter 8. CAN ANYBODY SPARE A HOT SCHOOL LUNCH?

Chapter 9. THE DEATH OF THE THEATER

Chapter 10. A DIFFERENT PLAYING FIELD

PART VIII: WPA: WAR PREPARATION AGENCY

Chapter 1. NO MILITARY WORK

Chapter 2. THE PICATINNY ARSENAL

Chapter 3. RACE AND ISOLATIONISM

Chapter 4. HOLD THE JOKES, PLEASE

Chapter 5. PINK SLIPS AND PINKOS

Chapter 6. BEFORE THE DELUGE (VINCENT JAMES “JIMMY” BONANNO)

Chapter 7. A “HURRICANE OF EVENTS”

Chapter 8. RIGID PRIORITIES

Chapter 9. THE THIRD-TERM EQUATION

Chapter 10. BREATHING SPACE

Chapter 11. A FEVER OF PREPARATION

Chapter 12. THE LAST HURRAH

EPILOGUE: THE LEGACY OF THE WPA

SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WPA

A CHRONOLOGY 1929–1946

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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