The Federal Writers' Project (FWP) was a United States federal government project created to provide jobs for out-of-work writers during the Great Depression. It was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal program. It was one of a group of New Deal arts programs known collectively as Federal Project Number One.
Funded under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, the Federal Writers' Project was established July 27, 1935, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Henry Alsberg, a journalist, playwright, theatrical producer, and human rights activist, directed the program from 1935-1939. In 1939 Alsberg was fired, federal funding was cut, and the Project fell under state sponsorship, led by John D. Newsom, until the FWP ended completely in 1943. The FWP produced thousands of publications over its existence including state guides, city guides, local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children's books, and other works. In addition to writers, the Project provided jobs to unemployed librarians, clerks, researchers, editors, historians, and others. It's been estimated that over ten-thousand people found employment in the FWP. The Federal Writers' Project set out not only to provide work relief for unemployed writers, but to create a unique "self-portrait of America" through publication of guidebooks.
The American Guide series, the most well-known of the FWP's publications, consisted of guides to the then 48 states, as well as the Alaska Territory, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. The books were written and compiled by writers from individual states and territories, and edited by Alsberg and his staff in Washington, D.C. The format was generally uniform, and each guide included detailed histories of the state or territory, with descriptions of every city and town, automobile travel routes, photographs, maps, and chapters on natural resources, culture, and geography. The inclusion of essays about the various cultures of people living in the states, including immigrants and African Americans, was unprecedented. City books, such as The New York City Guide, were also published as part of the series. Some full-length books are available online at the Internet Archive. The FWP also published another series, Life In America, as well as numerous individual titles. Many FWP books were bestsellers. Others, like Cape Cod Pilot, written by author Josef Berger using the pseudonym Jeremiah Digges, received critical acclaim.
In each state a Writers' Project non-relief staff of editors was formed, along with a much larger group of field workers drawn from local unemployment rolls. The people hired came from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from former newspaper workers to white-collar and blue-collar workers without writing or editing experience.
Notable projects of the Federal Writers' Project included the Slave Narrative Collection, a set of interviews that culminated in over 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. Many of these narratives are available online from the above-named collection at the Library of Congress website. Folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin was instrumental in insuring the survival of these manuscripts. Among the researchers and authors who have used this collection are Colson Whitehead for his Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad.
Other programs that emerged from Alsberg's desire to create an inclusive "self-portrait of America" were the Life History and Folklore Projects. These consisted of first-person narratives and interviews (collected and conducted by FWP workers) which represented people of various ethnicites, regions and occupations. According to the Library Congress website, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1940, the documents "chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, grueling factory work, and the immigrant experience. Writers hired by this Depression-era work project included Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, May Swenson, and many others."
The Illinois Writers' Project, represented one of the few racially integrated Project sites. The Chicago project employed Arna Bontemps, an established voice of the Harlem Renaissance, and helped to launch the literary careers of African American writers such as Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Katherine Dunham, and Frank Yerby (Mangione 1972). The Virginia Negro Studies Project employed 16 African American writers and culminated in the publication of The Negro in Virginia (1940).  Notably, it included photographs by Robert McNeill, now remembered as a groundbreaking African American photographer. The unpublished works of African American writer Zora Neale Hurston, who was employed by the Florida Writers' Project, was compiled years after her death in Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writers' Project.
For most of its lifetime, the Federal Writers' Project faced a barrage of criticism from conservatives. When Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People, was published, it was lauded by government officials, including Governor Charles Hurley. But the day after its publication, "conservatives attacked the book over its essays on the 1912 Lawrence textile strike and other labor issues. Even more sacrilegious to these critics was the coverage of the Sacco and Vanzetti affair." Scholars called the questionable passages "fair accounts;" ironically, the controversy helped increase book sales.
The most poisonous attacks against the FWP came from the House Committee on Un-American Activities (commonly known as HUAC) and its chair, the media-savvy Congressman Martin Dies Jr. of Texas. Alsberg and Hallie Flanagan, his counterpart at the Federal Theatre Project, faced tremendous scrutiny from the committee. The Dies HUAC committee, like the McCarthy committee of the 1950s, "used inquisitorial scare tactics, innuendo, and unsupported accusations." Alsberg, Flanagan and others who were accused of supporting the communist agenda could not "examine evidence against them, could not produce their own witnesses, could not cross-examine accusers." Accusations that communist activities were carried out openly, and that Soviets funded labor unions which then took control of the arts' projects, were found to be false. Future Guggenheim scholar and author Richard Wright was often under attack, with his writings pronounced as "vile."  Among the many charges leveled against the FWP and its members, was that Richard Wright was not born in the United States. (He was born in Mississippi.) Alsberg wrote a long court brief and provided supporting documents to refute each charge.
Support for the FWP came from Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as mainstream publishing companies such as Viking Press, Random House, and Alfred Knopf, which produced some of the books. Americans continued to purchase American Guide books throughout this period. By 1939, HUAC's tactics seemed to work, and the newly elected Congress cut $150,000 million from WPA budget while quadrupling HUAC's funding. In January 1939, 6,000 people were laid off from Federal One. By July 1939, Congress voted to eliminate the Theatre Project. Federal sponsorship for the Federal Writers' Project came to an end in 1939, although the program was permitted to continue under state sponsorship, with some federal employees, until 1943. In the last months of the FWP's existence, Henry Alsberg was fired. He continued to work past his firing date in order to meet contractual arrangements with the publishers of three upcoming American Guide books. By the time of his departure in 1939, the FWP had published 321 publications; hundreds more remained in various stages of publications. Some were published in the years leading up to 1943 under the renamed Writer's Program. Others were never completed. Over the lifetime of the FWP and the Writer's Program, it is estimated that 10,000 people were employed .
A National Endowment for the Humanities-funded documentary about the Federal Writers' Project, entitled Soul of a People: Writing America's Story premiered on the Smithsonian Channel in September 2009. The film includes interviews with notable American authors Studs Terkel, Stetson Kennedy, and popular American historian Douglas Brinkley. The companion book was published by Wiley & Sons as Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America.
The Slave Narratives are represented by the HBO documentary, Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives. This program features well-known actors such as Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson performing dramatic readings of the transcripts.
The 1999 film Cradle Will Rock, by Tim Robbins, while depicting the events of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), dramatizes the attacks against Federal One (via the House Committee on Un-American Activities) which helped shutter both the FTP and the FWP.
The American Guide Series was a group of books and pamphlets published in 1937–41 under the auspices of the Federal Writers' Project (FWP), a Depression-era works program in the United States. The American Guide Series books were compiled by the FWP, but printed by individual states, and contained detailed histories of each of the then 48 states of the Union with descriptions of every major city and town. In total, the project employed over 6,000 writers. The format was uniform, comprising essays on the state's history and culture, descriptions of its major cities, automobile tours of important attractions, and a portfolio of photographs.Many books in the project have been updated by private companies or republished without updating. While not states, guides for Alaska and Puerto Rico were published, however Hawaii was not.Books about New York City
Some notable books about New York City.
Belden, E. Porter. New York, Past, Present, and Future: Comprising a History of the City of New York, a Description of its Present Condition, and an Estimate of its Future Increase, New York, G.P. Putnam, 1849. (Google Books)
Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike (1999), Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-195-11634-8
Burgess, Anthony. New York. Little, Brown, 1976
Caro, Robert. The Power Broker. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
Delany, Samuel R. (1999). Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York, New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-1919-8.
Federal Writers Project. The WPA Guide to New York City. (1995 reissue) The New Press, 1939.
Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (1995), Encyclopedia of New York City, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, OL 1271559M
Jackson, Kenneth T. and Dunbar, David S. (eds.) Empire City: New York Through the Centuries. New York, Columbia University Press, 2005.
White, E.B.. Here is New York. (2000 reissue) New York: Little Bookroom, 1949
White, Norval New York: A Physical History New York, Atheneum, 1987
Whitehead, Colson. The Colossus of New York: A City in 13 Parts, New York, Doubleday, 2003.Burdock, South Dakota
Burdock is an uninhabited ghost town in Argentine Township in Fall River County, South Dakota.
According to the Federal Writers' Project, the origin of the name Burdock is obscure.Carita Doggett Corse
Carita Doggett Corse (March 15, 1891 – May 23, 1978) was a Florida historian and author who served as the Florida director of the Federal Writers’ Project. Her most notable books were Dr. Andrew Turnbull and the New Smyrna Colony of Florida and The Key to the Golden Islands. Corse, an early suffragette, became the director of Florida's chapter of the newly-created Planned Parenthood. In 1978, she was recognized for her work as an historian by the Florida Historical Society, and, in 1997, was posthumously inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame, an honor roll recognizing women who have “made significant contributions to the improvement of life for women and all Florida citizens.”Downtown Omaha
Downtown Omaha is the central business, government and social core of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area, U.S. state of Nebraska. The boundaries are Omaha's 20th Street on the west to the Missouri River on the east and the centerline of Leavenworth Street on the south to the centerline of Chicago Street on the north, also including the CHI Health Center Omaha. Downtown sits on the Missouri River, with commanding views from the tallest skyscrapers.
Dating almost to the city's inception, downtown has been a popular location for the headquarters of a variety of companies. The Union Pacific Railroad has been headquartered in Omaha since its establishment in 1862. Once the location of 24 historical warehouses, Jobbers Canyon Historic District was the site of many import and export businesses necessary for the settlement and development of the American West. Today dozens of companies have their national and regional headquarters in downtown Omaha.The area is home to more than 30 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with two historic districts. Downtown Omaha was also the site of the Jobbers Canyon Historic District, all 24 buildings of which were demolished in 1989, representing the largest single loss of buildings to date from the National Register.Federal Project Number One
Federal Project Number One is the collective name for a group of projects under the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program in the United States. Of the $4.88 billion allocated by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, $27 million was approved for the employment of artists, musicians, actors and writers under the WPA's Federal Project Number One. In its prime, Federal Project Number One employed up to 40,000 writers, musicians, artists and actors because, as Harry Hopkins put it, “Hell, they’ve got to eat, too”. This project had two main principles: 1) that in time of need the artist, no less than the manual worker, is entitled to employment as an artist at the public expense and 2) that the arts, no less than business, agriculture, and labor, are and should be the immediate concern of the ideal commonwealth.The five divisions of Federal One were these:
Federal Art Project
Federal Music Project
Federal Theatre Project
Federal Writers' Project
Historical Records Survey (originally part of the Federal Writers' Project)All projects were supposed to operate without discrimination regarding race, creed, color, religion or political affiliation.Federal Project Number One, also referred to as Federal One, ended in 1939 when, under pressure from Congress, the theater project was cancelled and the other projects were required to rely on state funding and local sponsorship.Folklore studies
Folklore studies, also known as folkloristics, and occasionally tradition studies or folk life studies in Britain, is the formal academic discipline devoted to the study of folklore. This term, along with its synonyms, gained currency in the 1950s to distinguish the academic study of traditional culture from the folklore artifacts themselves. It became established as a field across both Europe and North America, coordinating with Volkskunde (German), folkermimne (Norwegian), and folkminnen (Swedish), among others.Fountain Hughes
Fountain Hughes (1848 — 1957) was born a slave in Charlottesville, Virginia in the United States and freed in 1865 after the American Civil War. He worked as a laborer for most of his life, moving in 1881 from Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland. He was interviewed in June 1949 about his life by the Library of Congress as part of the Federal Writers' Project of former slaves' oral histories. The recorded interview is online through the Library of Congress and the World Digital Library.Fountain was a grandson of Wormley Hughes and Ursula Granger, and great-great-grandson of Betty Hemings, the slave matriarch at Monticello. Wormley Hughes and his family were owned by President Thomas Jefferson at the time of his death.History of slavery in Nebraska
The history of slavery in Nebraska is generally seen as short and limited. The issue was contentious for the legislature between the creation of the Nebraska Territory in 1854 and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.
There was apparently a particular acceptance of African Americans in the Nebraska Territory when they first arrived en masse. According to a publication by the Federal Writers Project,
In the Territory of Nebraska the fight to exclude slavery from within the territorial boundaries spread from the Senate to the press and to the pulpit. Even among the slaves in the South the word spread that here was a place where the attitude toward Negroes was tempered with tolerance.History of slavery in South Dakota
The history of slavery in South Dakota is generally seen as short and limited. The issue was contentious for the legislature between the creation of the Nebraska Territory (which South Dakota was a part of) in 1854 and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. However, there was apparently a particular acceptance of African Americans in the Nebraska Territory when they first arrived en masse. According to a publication by the Federal Writers Project,
In the Territory of Nebraska the fight to exclude slavery from within the territorial boundaries spread from the Senate to the press and to the pulpit. Even among the slaves in the South the word spread that here was a place where the attitude toward Negroes was tempered with tolerance.Lantry, South Dakota
Lantry is an unincorporated community in Dewey County, South Dakota, United States. Although not tracked by the Census Bureau, Lantry has been assigned the ZIP code of 57636.According to the Federal Writers' Project, the origin of the name Lantry is obscure.Literary Hall
Literary Hall is a mid-19th-century brick library, building and museum located in Romney, a city in the U.S. state of West Virginia. It is located at the intersection of North High Street (West Virginia Route 28) and West Main Street (U.S. Route 50). Literary Hall was constructed between 1869 and 1870 by the Romney Literary Society.
Founded in 1819, the Romney Literary Society was the first literary organization of its kind in the present-day state of West Virginia, and one of the first in the United States. In 1846, the society constructed a building which housed the Romney Classical Institute and its library. The Romney Literary Society and the Romney Classical Institute both flourished and continued to grow in importance and influence until the onset of the American Civil War in 1861.
During the war, the contents of the society's library were plundered by Union Army forces, and many of its 3,000 volumes were either scattered or destroyed. After a reorganization in 1869, the society commenced construction of the present Literary Hall in downtown Romney. It transferred ownership of its Romney Classical Institute campus to the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind in 1870 and in that year completed Literary Hall, where the society reconstituted its library collection and revived its literary activities.
The Romney Literary Society's last meeting was held at Literary Hall in 1886. From that point to 1973 the building was used as a meeting space by the Clinton Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star. In 1973, the building was purchased by prominent Romney lawyer Ralph Haines, who used it as a law office and museum. From 1937 to the early 1940s the building also housed a community library. Literary Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 29, 1979.Nemo, South Dakota
Nemo is an unincorporated community in Lawrence County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 546 at the 2010 census. Nemo has been assigned the ZIP code of 57759.According to the Federal Writers' Project, the origin of the name Nemo is obscure.Nuevo Santander
Nuevo Santander (New Santander) was a region of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, covering the modern Mexican state of Tamaulipas and extending into modern-day southern Texas in the United States. A history of Texas, commissioned by the U.S. government's Federal Writers' Project in 1934, noted that "The borders of New Santander did not stop at the Rio Bravo" (the Mexican name for the Rio Grande); and added that the borders "went north to the Nueces, near Corpus Christi, then west and north to the Medina, then south again on a line along Laredo to the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madres, deep in Mexico." Nuevo Santander was named after Santander, Cantabria, Spain, and settled by Spanish American colonists in a concerted settlement campaign peaking in 1748–1750. It fell under the jurisdiction of the Real Audiencia of Guadalajara in judicial matters, and in 1776 Nuevo Santander became part of the semi-autonomous Provincias Internas.
José de Escandón founded the colony in 1747. In 1755 Jiménez was founded which became the major town and capital of the colony. The state was subsequently renamed to Tamaulipas once Mexico gained its independence in 1821.Odd Fellows' Cemetery Mound
The Odd Fellows' Cemetery Mound is a Native American mound in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Ohio. Located in the village of Newtown in Hamilton County, the mound is an oval approximately 110 feet (34 m) long and 90 feet (27 m) wide; its height is 11.3 feet (3.4 m). It is believed to have been built by the Adena culture.The mound is one of the few remnants of what was once a large complex of prehistoric earthworks and other archaeological sites. While multiple village sites are still in existence around Newtown, including the Perin Village Site just 0.3 miles (0.5 km) to the northwest, many of the earthworks have been destroyed. Because of its location in a cemetery, the Odd Fellows' Cemetery Mound has been spared destruction; although a few graves have been dug around the mound, there has been no significant damage done as a result. A smaller mound, known as the "Odd Fellows' Cemetery Mound 2," is located within the same cemetery; it is only a small fraction of the larger mound's size. This mound has been damaged by the digging of six graves into its side; however, no artifacts are known to have been found during the interment process.For many years, the Odd Fellows' Cemetery Mound has been a landmark in the community. In 1943, a survey of Newtown performed by the Federal Writers' Project highlighted it and noted that it was "the only mound distinctly visible" in the vicinity of the village. Thirty years later, the mound was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its potential to become an archaeological site. Four years later, the nearby Perin Village Site was granted a similar status.Romney Literary Society
The Romney Literary Society (also known as the Literary Society of Romney) existed from January 30, 1819, to February 15, 1886, in Romney, West Virginia. Established as the Polemic Society of Romney, it became the first organization of its kind in the present-day state of West Virginia, and one of the first in the United States. The society was founded by nine prominent men of Romney with the objectives of advancing literature and science, purchasing and maintaining a library, and improving educational opportunities.
The society debated an extensive range of scientific and social topics, often violating its own rules which banned religious and political subjects. Even though its membership was relatively small, its debates and activities were frequently discussed throughout the Potomac Highlands region, and the organization greatly influenced trends of thought in the Romney community and surrounding areas.
The society's library began in 1819 with the acquisition of two books; by 1861, it had grown to contain approximately 3,000 volumes on subjects such as literature, science, history, and art. The organization also sought to establish an institution for "the higher education of the youth of the community." In 1820, as a result of this initiative, the teaching of the classics was introduced into the curriculum of Romney Academy, thus making the institution the first school of higher education in the Eastern Panhandle. In 1846, the society constructed a building which housed the Romney Classical Institute and its library, both of which fell under the society's supervision. The institute was administered by noted Presbyterian Reverend William Henry Foote. Following a dispute with the society, Foote founded a rival school in Romney, known as the Potomac Seminary, in 1850.
The Romney Literary Society and the Romney Classical Institute continued to grow in influence until the onset of the American Civil War in 1861. The contents of the society's library were plundered by Union Army forces, and only 400 of the library's volumes could be recovered following the war's end in 1865. Reorganized in 1869, the society took a leading role in Romney's civil development during Reconstruction. Between 1869 and 1870, it completed construction of Literary Hall, where the society held meetings and reassembled its library. The organization used its influence to secure the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind for the town of Romney, and offered the school its former Romney Classical Institute campus. The schools opened on September 29, 1870. Interest in the society waned during its final years, and its last recorded meeting was held in 1886.Slave Narrative Collection
Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States (often referred to as the WPA Slave Narrative Collection) was a massive compilation of histories by former slaves undertaken by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration from 1936 to 1938. It was the simultaneous effort of state-level branches of FWP in seventeen states, working largely separately from each other. The collections, as works of the US federal government, are in the public domain. The collection has been digitized and is available online. In addition, excerpts have been published by various publishers as printed books or on the Internet. The total collection contains more than 10,000 typed pages, representing more than 2000 interviews. The Library of Congress also has a digitized collection of recordings that were sometimes made during these interviews.Unchained Memories
Unchained Memories is a 2003 documentary film about the stories of former slaves interviewed during the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project and preserved in the WPA Slave Narrative Collection. This HBO film interpretation directed by Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon is a compilation of slave narratives, narrated by actors, emulating the original conversation with the interviewer. The slave narratives may be the most accurate in terms of the everyday activities of the enslaved, serving as personal memoirs of more than two thousand former slaves. The documentary depicts the emotions of the slaves and what they endured. The "Master" had the opportunity to sell, trade, or kill the enslaved, for retribution should one slave not obey.Wheelock, North Dakota
Wheelock is a ghost town in Wheelock Township, Williams County, in the northwestern part of the U.S. state of North Dakota. In 1938, the Federal Writers' Project found a population of 115 in Wheelock. In the 1990 census, the population was 23. All census population figures after 1990 are estimates. The town was disincorporated in 1994, and now is reverting to the elements.