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Reconstruction Period Research Forum

A new look at the WPA - the FWP

The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was created to provide income to many during the greate depression era. There were separate programs in Art, Music, Theater, and Literature. Thanks to the WPA, many records were preserved via a microfilming initiative.

The Federal Writers' Project (FWP) was one of the programs of the WPA - giving jobs to writers, educators and historians, dedicated to documenting 'American Life'. A separte project of the FWP, the Historical Records Survey, created indices (inventories) of extinct state and county records, church archives and historic materials.

Their American Guide Series is, perhaps, the hidden jewel of all of their publications. Guides of all of the existing states and several cities (travel guides) were produced, as well as many pamphlets and articles. Field workers in all states compiled information and first hand accounts that may have appeared in one of the state or city guides.
Some of the guides included sections on the contributions of minorities to the states' history.

"Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South" [1941]
"Arizona: A State Guide" [1940]
"The WPA Guide to 1930s Arkansas" [1941/1987]
"Florida: A Guide to the Southern-Most State" [1939]
"Georgia: A Guide to Its Towns and Countryside" [1946]
"Kentucky: A Guide to the Bluegrass State" [1939]
"Louisiana: A Guide to the State" [1941]
"Maryland, A Guide to the Old Line State" [1940] *One of the largest
"Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State" [1938]
"Missouri: A Guide to the 'Show Me' State [1941]
"The Ohio Guide" [1940/1948]
"South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State" [1941]
"Tennessee: A Guide to the State" [1939]
"Texas: A Guide to the Lone Star State" [1940]
"Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion" [1940/1946]
"West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State" [1941]
"Washington City and Capital" [1937] *Heaviest, at over 4 lbs.!

Some of the guides are the most collectible [expensive], including "Santa Barbara", "New York City Guide", "Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State", "Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State" and "Nevada: A Guide to the Silver State".
[Paperback editions may be more affordable.]

Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and Marcus Bruce Christian were just a few of the writers employed by the FWP. Take a look at the writing of Zora Neale Hurston in the Florida publications. Meet Richard Wright in "Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide", or browse through "The Ohio Guide" and "Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors". "The Negro in Virginia" is a classic FWP publication.

Although not all books in the series are still available and affordable, many larger public and university libraries house copies of the WPA/FWP publications.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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