Monday, March 30, 2015

A New Deal for West Virginia

(Eleanor Roosevelt speaks at a 2013 New Deal Festival in Arthurdale, West Virginia, while FDR surveys the crowd. Photo by Brent McKee.)

A few months ago, Slate staff writer Betsy Woodruff reported that West Virginia, before turning Republican, had a "deep-seated, long-lasting loyalty to the party of FDR...Eleanor Roosevelt also won affection for helping start Arthurdale, a planned community for economically disadvantaged West Virginians."

West Virginia had good reason to appreciate its New Deal legacy. Here are some interesting New Deal facts & figures for the Mountain State...

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were 85,000 West Virginians working in the CWA, building or repairing schools, roads, bridges, and more.

(Source: "Analysis of Civil Works Program Statistics," 1939, p. 18)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Between 1933 and 1942, over 55,000 West Virginia men were employed in the CCC. This included about 50,400 junior and veteran enrollees and 4,700 staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 27 million trees and the stocking of 4.4 million fish.

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, p. 188)

(This cabin represents just a small fraction of the work that the Civilian Conservation Corps did at Lost River State Park, in eastern West Virginia. Photo by Brent McKee.)

  (Speaking with a CCC veteran who worked at Lost River State Park. Photo from personal collection, taken by a newspaper photographer in 2011.) 

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 1,225 college students in West Virginia were employed in FERA's College Student Aid Program. This was a program "undertaken in order to enable young persons who would not otherwise have been able to do so to continue their education, and thereby reduce the influx of young workers into the labor market" (recall that during the Great Depression there was a large drop in the demand for labor).

Between 1933 and 1935, FERA granted $46 million to West Virginia for relief efforts (about $783 million in today's dollars). FERA funds typically went towards cash relief, rural relief projects, and a wide variety of work programs.

(Source: "Final Statistical Report of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration," 1942, pp. 64, 103, and 232)

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $19.5 million in funding towards 150 infrastructure projects in West Virginia (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $328 million.

(Source: "America Builds: The Record of PWA," 1939, p. 284)

(The Tygart River Dam, near Grafton, West Virginia. PWA funds helped construct the dam between 1935 and 1938. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(The West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, Romney, West Virginia. PWA funds helped construct this elementary school building between 1938 and 1939. It still serves schoolchildren today. Photo by Brent McKee.)

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 404 schools and colleges in West Virginia were participating in the NYA program, employing about 7,400 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 5,200 young West Virginia men & women in the NYA's out-of-school work program.

(Source: Federal Security Agency - War Manpower Commission, "Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943," 1944, pp. 246-247, and 254)

Post Offices:

During the New Deal era, the U.S Treasury built or expanded Post Office buildings in West Virginia and commissioned artists to decorate them. See the Living New Deal's West Virginia pages for examples.

(The U.S. Treasury built more than just post offices, as this Department of Agriculture Building in Elkins, West Virginia highlights. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (Cornerstone on the Elkins Department of Agriculture Building, showing a construction date of 1936. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Region 8 of the PWAP (Pennsylvania and West Virginia), unemployed artists were paid to create 5 bas reliefs, 27 murals, 30 oil paintings, 40 water color paintings, and other works of art, for use in public buildings and parks.

(Source: Public Works of Art Project, "Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, December 8, 1933 - June 30, 1934," 1934, p. 8)

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in West Virginia produced 5.2 million articles of clothing; served 29 million school lunches; created or improved 20,500 miles of roads; built or improved 1,700 bridges; installed or improved 30,000 culverts; engaged in 1,600 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 158 playgrounds & athletic fields; installed 300 miles of new storm & sewer drains; constructed 28,000 linear feet of new airport & airfield runway; and more.

(Source: "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," 1946, pp. 134-136)

(WPA workers helped construct this school in Circleville, West Virginia, in 1938. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (WPA workers helped restore Fort Ashby, in Fort Ashby, West Virginia, in 1939. The fort has history dating back before the American Revolution. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (WPA plaque on the Fort Ashby building. Photo by Brent McKee.) 

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