Monday, January 13, 2014

Women and the WPA (part 4 of 10): Sewing

During the Great Depression, unemployed women across the country could find work in WPA sewing rooms. These sewing rooms produced 382 million articles of clothing for men, women, and children. It was a win-win situation, with jobless women earning money and low-income Americans receiving much-needed clothes. Additionally, many women who worked in the WPA sewing rooms subsequently found jobs in private employment, utilizing the skills they had acquired while in the WPA. Unfortunately, jobless women have no such opportunities today--our plutocratic congressmen and women abandoned them years ago, more interested in campaign contributions from the well-to-do than in helping those in need. As op-ed writer Stephen Seufert writes with respect to unemployed construction workers, our uninspiring, bland policymakers in D.C. have a "void of vision and foresight." But it wasn't always so...

Above: The caption for this photo reads, "All products on the Milwaukee WPA Sewing Project are made from original designs drawn by project artists. Mary Jane Thomas is shown designing a new cotton house dress on this project. The Milwaukee WPA Sewing Project employs 900 women. It has industrial type of machines throughout and the work plan is comparable with that of private industry." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: To contribute to the war effort, women in WPA sewing room projects produced or repaired "clothes, including shoes, and tents, blankets, knapsacks, web belting, canteen covers...draperies..." (from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43). WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Above: This WPA sewing room project was located at 4940 Eastern Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland, which is now the location of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: This WPA poster highlights occupations related to sewing. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
 
Above: Women in WPA sewing room projects also made toys and stuffed animals for disadvantaged children. These stuffed animals, and dresses, were made in a WPA sewing room project in Prince George's County, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: WPA sewing room projects could employ a large number of jobless women, as this project in Denver, Colorado highlights. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.

5 comments:

  1. This is so interesting! But sweatshops abroad employ seamstress es now. In the US, sadly, sewing is a hobby for archaic creatures like me. ;-)

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    1. Yes, it's a shame that we've let so many of our skilled jobs be sent overseas. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. My great grandmother worked in the Ozark, AR Sewing Room

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  3. My great grandmother worked in the Ozark, AR Sewing Room

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    1. Eleanor Roosevelt once visited a WPA sewing room project in D.C., and remarked that the women there had a sense of purpose. True, they needed jobs, but they were also aiding in the national recovery by providing the downtrodden with much-needed clothing (e.g., better-dressed people are better-prepared and more confident for job interviews). Many of the sewing room workers also helped with national defense, by making and/or repairing things for the military. So, your great grandmother was very much a productive participant in America's Greatest Generation.

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