Tuesday, June 28, 2016

WPA sewing room projects for children - a historical rebuke to our current policies of child neglect

Above: The description for this photo reads, "WPA District of Columbia - Sewing Project - John Marshall Place - sweater and hat made by WPA." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads, "Photo shows child model wearing dress that was made by a WPA sewing project." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads, "Baby garments are cut from patterns by WPA women." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Of the 382 million articles of clothing made by WPA sewing room workers, about 67 million were for boys, 78 million for girls, and 75 million for infants (including 29 million diapers). After Eleanor Roosevelt visited several WPA sewing room projects, she said: "What interests me most are the people carrying on these projects. I had opportunity to meet them clear across the continent and their enthusiasm and belief in their work is really fine to see. It is not the kind of spirit you see in people who are working because they received a certain amount of money at the end of each week. There is a fire in them, I think, through the feeling that they are really working to better conditions for their fellow beings" (Work: A Journal of Progress, September 1936, p. 2).

WPA sewing room projects were just one part of a multi-pronged effort to improve the lives of children during the New Deal. There were also WPA health clinics & immunization campaigns, PWA-built hospitals, free art classes, new playgrounds & recreation centers, thousands of miles of new water lines to deliver clean water to children, and much more. 

Today, our cultural attitude toward the well-being of children is quite a bit different, which is why you are seeing a record number of homeless children, an increasing number of children killing themselves, children drinking leaded water all across the country, and a childhood obesity rate that has ballooned since the implementation of trickle-down economics. Indeed, many of our children are in the pipeline to prison, where corporate executives, wealthy investors, and corrupt judges are waiting to make a profit off them.

As a nation, we know we can do better. The New Deal proved it. We are simply choosing a different, more bloodthirsty path. Shame on us.

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